It was March 23, 1913. Five twisters across Nebraska and Iowa killed 115 people in total. At this time, there was no such thing as a tornado warning . In fact, the first tornado warning system was made by United States Air Force Captain Robert C. Miller and Major Ernest Fawbush on March 25, 1948. Time and technology brought sophistication to the tornado warning systems and today, Doppler weather radar can detect rotational funnel cloud formations earlier than is typically possible by trained spotters. On May 29, 2013, the National Weather Service reported nearly a dozen tornadoes in south-central and southeastern Nebraska, however reported no injuries, which speaks volumes to the advances in warning systems.
Growing up in rural Nebraska, I learned at a very young age the dangers of the devastating winds and tornadoes. I remember being ordered to the cellar when the warnings would come on our small television, where we could find blankets, a radio, flashlights and yes, even an old camping lantern and some matches and would wait out the storm. Today we receive our warnings much more efficiently with the invention of computers and the internet, but how many of us actually know how to prepare for a tornado or stay safe once one is forecast? The American Red Cross not only responds to these disasters, they offer safety tips and a free lifesaving tornado application available for download on the iPhone and Android. Just search for “Tornado by American Red Cross” in your applications store.
You can prepare for a tornado by gathering important emergency supplies, such as food, water, medications, batteries, flashlights, and a portable radio. If you are in a tornado watch, you will want to keep a close monitor on the television, internet or radio for updates that may warn you when your tornado watch is upgraded to a tornado warning. A tornado watch means that conditions are favorable for a tornado, while a tornado warning means a tornado or funnel cloud has actually been sighted. It is important to know the signs of a tornado. Look and listen for a strong, persistent rotation in the cloud base, whirling dust or debris on the ground under a cloud base (as some tornadoes have no funnel), hail or heavy rain followed by either a dead calm or a fast, intense wind shift, or a loud continuous roar or rumble which doesn’t fade in a few seconds like thunder.
When a tornado is approaching, you should immediately take shelter in a basement or first-floor room or hallway. Avoid windows and large, open rooms (such as a gym or an auditorium). Seek protection by getting underneath large, solid pieces of furniture, such as a mattress or a solid oak table. Avoid automobiles and mobile homes and if you do happen to get caught outside, lie flat on the lowest ground you can find while you wait for the storm to pass. Avoid seeking shelter under bridges, as there can be deadly traffic hazards while the bridge actually provides very little protection against flying debris. Stay away from trees, as they can be picked up by the tornado and tossed. Most importantly, do not panic. Crouch down and cover your head when you have found your safe place. Tornadoes are a frightening reality of living in the Midwest, however if you stay alert, prepared and calm, you have a better chance of surviving the storm.