A destroyed apartment complex in Joplin, Missouri. (Photo: AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Last weekend the most-deadly tornado in 60 years hit the Midwest, killing more than 117 people in Joplin, Missouri. And earlier this month, at least 305 tornados have cast a wide swath of devastation across the South earlier this month, killing approximately 327 people.
The Midwest is not yet out of the woods; on Tuesday it was announced that more windstorms are on the way to the area extending from south-central Oklahoma to south-central Kansas.
Although tornados are thought to hit areas that are not near rivers, lakes, and mountains, the reality is that the twisters can happen anywhere, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In fact, in the 1980s, a tornado nearly destroyed a 10,000 foot mountain in Yellowstone National Park.
When on the watch for a tornado, the National Weather Service advises people to look for dark, often greenish skies, wall clouds, large hail and loud sounds−similar to that of a freight train.
Residents in Joplin had just a 20-minute warning before the category F4 storm hit the blue-collar city.
Though the storms can be unpredictable, the following steps can help families prepare for a tornado:
1) Gather information about hazards. Familiarize yourself with your community signals. What does the tornado signal sound like? Are there other community warning signals for which you should be aware?
2) Create a supply kit. Create a kit that includes batteries, water, blankets, flashlights, and a battery-operated radio. Also, keep enough food and water supplies in your home to last for three days.
3) Make sure your home insurance covers tornado damage. In addition, store originals of your important documents in a safe place and keep copies of the documents in a separate watertight container.
4) Meet with your family to create an emergency plan. Pick a spot to take cover. In the event of a tornado, basements are a good shelter. If you do not have a basement, a doorway or hallway with no windows works well. Make sure to protect your head from flying debris. Pick two places to meet: a spot outside your home for an emergency, such as fire, and a place away from your neighborhood in case you can't return home. Choose an out-of-state friend as your "family check-in contact" for everyone to call if the family gets separated.
5) Write down emergency phone numbers. Record the local Red Cross number, relatives’ numbers, and emergency medical services' numbers in the event that your cell phone battery dies.
After a tornado, let your family know you’re safe by registering on the American Red Cross’ “Safe and Well” site. If you don’t have Internet access, call 1-866--INFO to register yourself and your family.