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To be weather-ready, please be aware of your surroundings, keep an eye on changes in severe weather alerts, have a plan in case of tornado or flash flood, and sign up for text/push notifications from the National Weather Service (click here for information).

Make sure you know where you will go and what will you do if:
  1. A tornado is in the area - the basement or lowest floor of your home is the safest place to be during a tornado. Shelter in a small room (bathroom, closet, stairway) with no windows near the center of your home, if possible. Try to get under something sturdy, if possible, or cover yourself with a blanket, sleeping bag or mattress.

Tornadoes can strike without warning, and give you seconds to protect yourself, so DO NOT try to go outside to bring in plants or other loose objects (do that BEFORE a storm moves in), DO NOT waste precious seconds grabbing heirlooms or important documents (do that BEFORE a storm moves in), DO NOT HESITATE.

  1. A flash flood warning is issued - seek higher ground, do not drive through flood waters (one foot of moving water can sweep your vehicle away), stay away from bridges and waterways if out, do not try to walk or swim through flood waters.

  2. If both a tornado warning and flash flood are issued at the same time - curse the universe for your bad fortune, go to the FIRST FLOOR of your home -- DO NOT GO TO THE BASEMENT, and otherwise follow the same rules for a tornado and flood (don't go out, don't drive, don't swim, shelter in place).

Ways to protect your community during severe weather:
  1. Check in with friends and family before and after the severe weather passes through - do not try to go out during severe weather.

  2. Try to keep off the roads after severe weather moves through -- emergency personal may need quick access to large areas of your community and traffic causes unnecessary delays. Also, flooding may continue to worsen even if the rain has passed, so driving may not be safe,.

  3. Please don't be a jerk and order take-out during severe weather. That's just mean.

I've also been asked a few times today about why I refer to tornado intensity as "EF" instead of "F," so I quickly put together a little background on that below.

Back in the day (pre-2006), we used the Fujita scale to determine the intensity of tornadoes. Fujita was a scientist who based his tornado-intensity scale on the level and types of damage a tornado left in its wake.

The scale assessed a sort of “points” system based on the how much the tornado destroyed – so an F1 might rip some shingles off the roof, an F3 might blow off the roof and even outside walls, and an F5 would destroy everything in its path.

Because the scale was introduced by Dr. Fujita in 1971 and our radar technology was still in its early days, the wind speed was a guess more than anything, so the scale depended less on the wind speed/size than the damage left behind.

That’s problematic because not all tornados hit houses. We needed a way to measure intensity that accounted for those tornadoes that move 200 miles across the desert so we can understand the frequency and geography of tornadoes to better predict and model them.

So the National Weather Service commissioned a four-year study of the Fujita scale to improve it and make it more reflective of the tornadoes themselves.

In 2006, the “Enhanced Fujita” scale was adopted, which created a wind scale, much like the Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale, to classify tornadoes.

The scale retained the damage element of the original scale, but defined wind speed ranges based on historical data and the physics behind wind speeds.

Other nations use scales entirely based on wind speed, like the UK’s TORRO scale, and of course the Beaufort Scale (applies to wind speed in general, including tornadoes and hurricanes).

There was another important reason why the damage element of the original scale was maintained: we don’t have radar and instrumental data infrastructure in a lot of parts of the United States, and needed a way to still be able to assign intensity to tornadoes that touch down in areas where we remain data-blind.

The tornado that destroyed my parents’ home on Easter Day in 2020 touched down in one such radar gap. Three of our neighbors died, and a man driving through who stopped for safety was also killed near our home.

There was no warning. The damage was catastrophic. Thankfully, my dad was in Texas (he’s a truck driver so isn’t home for long stretches), and my mom left the house less than 45 minutes before it hit.

Had either been home, they would have been killed.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has been working on improving radar technology and coverage for years, and has made significant strides in their advanced Doppler coverage, but we’re a long way away from where we should be.

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