Colorado Severe Weather Awareness Week-Tuesday: Tornadoes

By: James Hopkins Email
By: James Hopkins Email

This is Colorado Severe Weather Awareness Week...a time when the National Weather Service reminds you of the hazards associated with thunderstorms. The topics being discussed today are tornadoes and tornado safety.

The threat of tornadoes increases rapidly across eastern Colorado and the central high plains during the late spring and early summer months as heat and moisture in the lower atmosphere become more abundant. In Colorado, the greatest threat of tornadoes typically occurs from May through early August, with June being the most active month. However, tornadoes can and do occur during other months.

On March 28, 2007 an outbreak of tornadoes occurred along the Colorado-Kansas border with one deadly tornado striking the town of Holly. Last year on May 22nd, a strong tornado moved across north central Colorado striking the town of Windsor, resulting in one fatality and damaging hundreds of homes. Now is the time to review your tornado safety procedures.

Although tornadoes have occurred at every hour of the day...almost 90 percent occur between 1 pm and 9 pm. While tornadoes have been reported statewide, by far the largest number develop in the eastern Colorado plains along and to the east of Interstate 25.

Most tornadoes are considered weak. Approximately 89 percent of tornadoes have a short life span, often less than 10 minutes and result in less than 5 percent of tornado fatalities. Wind speeds associated with weak tornadoes are generally less than 110 mph. Winds of this magnitude will damage a wood frame construction home but may completely destroy a mobile home or an outbuilding.

About 10 percent of tornadoes in Colorado are considered strong. These tornadoes may last about 20 minutes and travel over 20 miles. They are responsible for nearly 30 percent of all tornado deaths. Wind speeds associated with strong tornadoes can reach 165 mph and will cause considerable damage to most buildings.

Violent tornadoes account for only 1 percent of all tornadoes but they result in nearly 70 percent of all tornado fatalities because they destroy much of what is in their path. Violent tornadoes can last over an hour and travel over 50 miles before dissipating. The only chance of surviving a violent tornado is to be inside a safe room or underground shelter.

Here are some safety items to consider if a tornado threatens. An easy phrase to remember for tornado safety is, "get in, get down and cover up." Get inside a sturdy building, get down to the lowest floor or most interior room in that building and cover your head.

The safest place to be if a tornado approaches is inside a well-built structure within a basement, preferably a safe room or an underground storm shelter. If none of these options are available, move to a hallway or a small interior room on the lowest floor usually a closet or bathroom. Remember, the greatest risk of injury from tornadoes is from flying debris. Cover yourself with a blanket or get under a sturdy piece of furniture.

Modular homes, even those tied down, offer little protection from tornadoes. If a tornado approaches, leave these locations and seek safety in a nearby building or storm shelter.

If you are driving in open country and see a tornado and if time permits, the best thing to do is simply drive away from the tornado path. Do not take shelter beneath a highway overpass because wind speeds may actually be higher in these areas and are often collection points for debris. If you are in an automobile and a tornado is fast approaching with little time for action, abandon your vehicle and lie face down in a dry ditch or culvert away from your vehicle and cover your head.

If you are caught outside and cannot seek shelter inside a sturdy structure, crawl into a culvert or lie down in a narrow dry ditch or ravine and cover your head. But remember that the worst place to be when a tornado threatens is outside in the midst of flying debris.

During spring and summer months in Colorado this means keeping abreast of the current weather conditions in your area and knowing what to do if threatening weather occurs.

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