Preparing for the Next Tornado

According to the 2014 Insurance Factbook, Colorado consistently ranks near the top nationally for tornado activity and April has the highest volume out of any month of the year. The state has had 1,948 documented tornados since 1950, with Weld and Adams counties being home to the most activity with 410 tornados. This number of tornadoes is surpassed by only six other states of which two are neighboring states, Oklahoma and Kansas. The CSD Pool has not been immune. Members have seen devastating results from tornado activity. A tornado in May 2008 caused half a million dollars in damage to three member districts. Another equally destructive storm impacted five districts the following year.

Colorado residents need to be able to recognize a tornado in order to take the proper safety precautions. A tornado is a violently rotating column of air that is in contact with both the surface of the earth and the clouds. Tornados vary by shape and size, with the funnel cloud being the most widely recognized shape. Destructive tornados usually develop from “super cell” storm systems and are accompanied by heavy rain, frequent lightning, strong wind gusts, and at times, hail.

Most of Colorado’s tornados are low intensity, measured on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, with EF0 being the weakest and EF5 being the strongest. In the United States, 80% of tornados are either EF0 or EF1. Less than 1% of tornados are EF4 or higher. They are characterized by wind speeds of 207 mph or more and were responsible for 67% of tornado-related deaths in the US since 1950. Colorado has never had an EF4 or higher tornado, yet the potential for one always exists. Neighboring Oklahoma has had 65 EF4 or higher tornados since 1950, according to the National Weather Service.

It is important that people become familiar with tornado safety. The most important thing you should do is to stay alert during the onset of severe weather. Make sure to watch and listen to the weather report regularly, especially if you notice strange clouds or stormy weather outside. Be aware of the weather terminology used. A tornado watch indicates that a tornado is possible. A tornado warning indicates that a tornado has been spotted or is strongly indicated on radar. Seek shelter immediately once a tornado warning is issued. Consider investing in a NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Weather Radio to keep abreast of messages from the National Weather Service. Remember, weather radios and other safety equipment are eligible for up to 50% reimbursement through the Pool’s Safety and Loss Prevention Grant Program.

The safest place during a tornado is an underground shelter, basement or safe room. In absence of a good basement, interior rooms and halls make the best shelter. People should stay away from elevators, glass walls and windows. Other safe areas include bathrooms, closets, or maintenance rooms with short walls.

Districts should have an emergency plan ready for every disaster, especially tornadoes. These plans should include:

  • Procedures and escape routes for every location
  • Instructions for shutting down the district’s facilities and turning off utilities (gas, water, electricity, etc.)
  • Designated shelter areas for employees and guests both inside and outside the district
  • Employee contact information, schedules and rosters to take headcounts once offsite
  • Rescue and medical duties assigned to specific employees
  • An OSHA-approved first aid kit stocked appropriately for the size of your staff
  • Emergency kits including food, water, blankets, and other essentials

After a tornado passes, stay in your shelters and listen to the local news or a NOAA Weather Radio. Do not come out until authorities say it is safe to do so. Don’t move anyone who is seriously injured unless they are in immediate danger, and administer first aid as appropriate to anyone who has suffered an injury.

Avoid damaged structures as they may be unsafe; this includes hazards such as exposed nails, broken glass, and downed power lines. After the storm, members should partner with the CSD Pool’s claims team for inspection and clean-up of their damaged scheduled properties and to properly follow inspection and clean-up protocols when dealing with tornado damage at your district.

Additional Resources

Tornado Quick Facts

  • Tornado wind speeds can reach 300 MPH
  • They leave swaths of damage in excess of a mile wide and as much as 50 miles long
  • They may strike quickly, with little or no warning
  • They may appear nearly transparent until dust and debris are picked up or a cloud forms in the funnel
  • The average tornado moves Southwest to Northeast, but tornadoes have been known to move in any direction
  • The average forward speed of a tornado is 30 MPH, but may vary from stationary to 70 MPH
  • Tornadoes are most frequently reported east of the Rocky Mountains during spring and summer months
  • Peak tornado season in the northern states is late spring through early summer
  • Tornadoes are most likely to occur between 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. but can occur at any time

Source: Federal Emergency Management Agency

Common Tornado Myths

Myth: When traveling by car, seek shelter under an overpass.
Reality: Overpasses are not sturdy and wind speed may increase while passing through an overpass.

Myth: Tornados never strike twice.
Reality: Tornados have struck the same location twice on numerous occasions.

Myth: Major cities are immune from tornado strikes.
Reality: Tornados have struck the downtown areas of dozens of major cities.

Myth: Mountains, ridges, river valleys, and lakes protect cities from tornados.
Reality: Tornados are capable of traveling over or through anything.

Myth: You should seek shelter in the southwest corner of the building.
Reality: Tornados can move in any direction.

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