The recent tornado that struck the Crooked Run & Pleasant Hill area of Dover Township has caused concern and raised questions about tornado safety. It is apparent that three tornadoes, two confirmed and one unconfirmed, have caused damage in this same area since 1969. The 1969 incident caused damage in a very limited area, and according to witnesses of the aftereffects, it is quite likely that this incident was a brief tornado touchdown; the other two touchdowns are well documented. It is unknown whether the topography of the valley and the surrounding area contributes to weather patterns that spawn tornado activity in this area, but given three incidences over forty-odd years in the same area, it seems prudent to take reasonable proactive measures.

Dover Township has tried to place warning sirens in logical positions that will cover more densely populated areas and they will continue to look to the future as areas develop and populations increase in certain locations. At this time it would require more than thirty sirens to completely cover all of Dover Township. Presently the trustees are looking at adding an additional outdoor warning siren in the Pleasant Hill area to improve warning for residents in this vicinity.

Keep in mind, sirens are provided to warn people who are outdoors and should not be expected to be clearly heard inside buildings. The purpose is to get those who are outside to seek shelter.

While the sirens are sounded once a year for the statewide test, and occasionally for a very brief period during maintenance, the only other time you will hear the siren is during a tornado warning. If either an official NOAA warning has been transmitted or local authorities have made the discretionary decision, based upon sound information, that there is reason to believe a tornado is or will be in the vicinity the siren will be sounded. If a tornado “watch” is issued for your area, it means that a tornado is “possible.” If a tornado “warning” is issued, it means that a tornado has actually been spotted, or is strongly indicated on radar, and it is time to go to a safe shelter immediately. The tornado sirens are only sounded to indicate a “warning”.

Now is a good time to review the types of things to think about to be prepared if a tornado strikes. One of the most important things you can do to prevent being injured in a tornado is to be ALERT to the onset of severe weather. Most deaths and injuries happen to people who are unaware.

Those who ignore the weather may not perceive the danger. If you don’t regularly watch or listen to the weather report, but strange clouds start moving in and the weather begins to look stormy, turn to the local radio or television station to get the weather forecast. Residents may want to consider purchasing a “NOAA weather radio”, but should be aware that it is still vital to pay attention to current weather conditions and take reasonable precautions. The two tornadoes that recently struck Dover Township offered little or no warning other than severe weather conditions occurring just prior to the touchdowns.

The following are possible warning signs, some or all of these signs may occur prior to a tornado: a sickly greenish or greenish black color to the sky; sudden strong and unusual winds which either abruptly change directions or seem to be coming from two directions; if there is a watch or warning posted, then the fall of hail should be considered as a real danger sign; a strange quiet that occurs within or shortly after the thunderstorm, perhaps with a dramatic clearing accompanying the stillness; clouds moving by very fast, especially in a rotating pattern or converging toward one area of the sky; a sound a little like a waterfall or rushing air at first, but turning into a roar as it comes closer, however, there is not always a characteristic sound associated with a tornado; debris dropping from the sky; an obvious “funnel-shaped” cloud that is rotating, or debris such as branches or leaves being pulled upwards, even if no funnel cloud is visible

Aftereffects of a tornado can be trees and other damage that seems to radiate in different directions- wind incidents, micro-bursts and similar activity will tend to leave damage patterns generally in one direction. Remember that although tornadoes usually move from southwest to northeast, they have been known to move in other directions.

Encourage your family members to plan for their own safety in many different locations. It is important to make decisions about the safest places well BEFORE you ever have to go to them. The following are things to consider in planning for tornado preparedness: places of shelter include your basement, away from the west and south walls. Hiding under a heavy work-table or under the stairs will protect the family from crumbling walls, chimneys, and large airborne debris falling into the cellar. A family in Alabama area survived when a hutch toppled and was held up by the dining room table they were under.

If there is little or no warning, get on the floor, facedown, or duck into the bathroom or a closet, as the walls are close together and may provide “box-like” protection. Getting into the bathtub may be a good idea. The extra framing that it takes to put a bathroom together may make a big difference. If there is no downstairs bathroom and the closets are all packed with “stuff,” a hall may be the best shelter. Put as many walls as you can between yourself and the tornado.

If you are in a building other than your home, the things you need to consider are: go to interior rooms and halls on the lowest floor; stay away from glass enclosed places or areas with wide-span roofs such as auditoriums, theaters, and warehouses; crouch down and cover your head; deaths have occurred in large, single story department stores. They have occurred inside the building when the roof or wide-span brick walls collapsed. A corner would be safer than the middle of the wall. A bathroom, closet, office, or maintenance room with short walls would be the safest area, especially if it was on the north or east side of the building.

While for years we in Ohio thought in terms of a “tornado season”, no such patterns seem to exist anymore because of the recent changes in weather patterns. The very best thing to do is to plan ahead, talk with and go over safety considerations with your family, have tornado “drills”, and stay alert and aware when threatening weather occurs.

Stay Safe!

Originally published in the Second Half 2010 Newsletter. Download here.