Spring is approaching, and despite all the good things that come with it, there’s also a dark side to this change in the weather. The United States has the highest incidence of tornadoes in the world. Due to our nation’s size, central flat lands, and intersecting weather patterns, the conditions exist for tornados to be a common and frequent occurrence. “Tornado Alley” typically experiences the most each year. This area covers much of Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Texas.

Tornados aren’t always an obvious funnel shape dropping down from a dull-green angry sky. Sometimes the funnel isn’t even visible, if it’s free of debris and moisture. If a tornado watch is in effect or a tornado is suspected, look for the following signs.

—During daylight hours, you may see thick stormy clouds with a strong, constant rotation at the base
—Whirling dust or debris on the ground under a storm cloud, caused by a tornado that isn’t visible.
—At any time, listen for a loud continuous rumble, which sounds like a train approaching and doesn’t fade like thunder.
—At night, you may also see small, bright flashes at ground level near a thunderstorm (that don’t look like streaks of lightning). This could be power lines snapping, broken by winds or a tornado.

The best way to prepare your family for unpredictable spring tornadoes is by picking shelter spots in your home and staying alert to this hazard. Here’s how.

1. Stay Informed
Tornados can happen any day (or night) of the year. Keep an NOAA weather radio in your home, with loud alert tones to signal of local weather emergency. You may also be able to set up weather alerts on your mobile phone. These systems are a great alternative to the constant watching of live local television for alerts.

2. Get Out Of (and Away From) Trailers
Even the best built and most modern of mobile homes and trailers cannot handle the high winds and incredible wrenching forces of tornados. The two main weaknesses of these abodes are the open space under the trailer and the lightweight building materials. The space underneath allows wind to flow under the trailer, which can end up flipping it or lifting it into the air. The lightweight construction that makes these dwellings moveable also enables tornados to move them, occasionally shredding them into tiny pieces. Flee a mobile home if there’s a threat of tornado in your area, and seek shelter in a sturdy building immediately. Even if the building is a store or some other business, hang out there until the danger has passed.


3. Head to a Storm Shelter
A storm cellar is the best thing to have when you hear the locomotive rushing closer, but you’re nowhere near the tracks. These shelters can be modified basements or purpose built havens. They should be very close to the home, if they are a separate structure. Make certain they stay unlocked from the outside, and the doors can be fastened down securely from the inside. You don’t want to be fumbling for keys, or not have the key, when a twister comes calling. Keep some drinking water and shelf-stable food down there too, in case the area is decimated. For further protection in there (or anywhere else), crouch low with your face downward. Cover your head with your hands. If you have a sports helmet, wear it for protection against head injury. Wrap up in blankets or sleeping bags to pad against bodily injury, or flop a mattress on top of you for protection from debris.

Have you made it through a tornado? What did you do? Please tell us your story in the comments.

Photograph by NOAA, via Wikimedia Commons