Tornado Safety for Families

It’s Spring time in the South, and if you’ve lived in Madison County for any amount of time your “Tornado Spidey Sense” might be tingling right about now. Huntsville has a long history of weathering these storms, and there’s a big reason we’re #2 on The Weather Channel’s “Top 10 Tornado Cities” list.

If you’re a parent, Tornado Season might be at the top of your anxiety list. But there are things you can do now to be prepared, and we’ve enlisted the help of WAFF 48 Chief Meteorologist, Brad Travis, to give you some tips.

What is the most important thing families can do to be safe this Spring during Alabama’s “tornado season”?

The safest thing is to make sure your family has a plan. Schedules get hectic this time of year and it’s always important to stay aware of the changing weather. There are days that are what I call “Red Letter Days”. These are the most likely days to see dangerous weather, primarily from Supercell Thunderstorms form severe weather outbreaks. These are higher risk days that can lead to large and violent tornadoes. We typically have at least a two day advanced notice when we expect this type of tornado outbreak.

We will begin talking about the potential for severe weather days in advance. If forecast trends continue there will be a tornado watch issued just hours in advance of the severe weather threat. Our most likely time of year to see this type of tornado is between March and May. By June the threat for most tornadoes begins to shift to our north and west. Not all tornado warnings are the same. The sound of the meteorologist’s voice is a strong indication of how bad or life threatening a tornado warning is. Always have more than one way to stay informed and remember the outdoor sirens are intended for those that are outside so you might not always hear them.

Have at least two of the following:


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  • NOAA weather alert radio
  • a weather app that can provide weather alerts and streaming
  • television with off-air antenna broadcast
  • a battery operated radio so you can get the simulcast if you cable/satellite goes out

If there is an outbreak of severe weather forecast you should make sure you have plenty of gas in the tank, make sure you have a flashlight with fresh batteries and make sure you have plenty of water. This is something everyone will need if we have a large power outage like we did with the April 27, 2011 outbreak. Also, make sure you have your cell phone charged.

Photo courtesy of American Red Cross
Photo courtesy of American Red Cross
What are a few of your favorite safety tips to share with parents to help them prepare?

Helmets in the shelter or even in the house are a great thing to have. Recent research has shown that most tornado deaths occur due to blunt force trauma. I also recommend: a first aid kit, water, a flashlight with extra batteries and blankets. Shoes by the bed can help in the event you are asleep and get up in the middle of the night and seek shelter. Prepare for broken glass at the very least.

During the storm: You need to get as many walls between you and the tornado as possible. You want to find the smallest room in the house that is away from exterior walls. A small closest works best. Glass is the most likely debris so you need to cover your face from that and stay away from windows even during a severe thunderstorm warning. If someone is in a wheel chair it will take extra time to get them to the shelter if it is underground. If you get a direct hit by a tornado or straight line winds over 70mph chances are you will have trees on the house, gas lines can also break and power lines can fall. Never light matches after you have damage in the area and always assume power lines are still charged. Never go close to downed power lines.

After the storm: Never store your gas powered generator indoors or even in the garage. Toxic fumes can build up and cause carbon monoxide poisoning. Many injuries can occur after to storm due to clean up. Be careful using tools you have not used before and be careful not to overdo it cleaning up. Reports of people falling off ladders and roofs happen a lot more than you think.


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What kinds of items should a family have in their Severe Weather toolkit?

Similar to what you would want in your safe place. Perhaps if you are on the road I would recommend spare clothes/shoes, a hand held weather alert radio. A road map is always good if you are on the road or if you are just listening to the meteorologist coverage being simulcast on the radio. This way you have an idea about the location of other storms that are in the area. Have some cash on hand in case the power is out for a long period of time. Also keep plenty of gas in the car. You can never have too much drinking water and duct tape.

Are there any specific tips for families with babies?

Make sure you have enough formula/supplies for your baby. Shield your baby with your body if you can. You should know CPR and other first aid for babies because if you get a direct hit it will take a while for emergency crews to respond if it is a bad tornado. Trees can cover the highway and all other roads leading to your house and helicopters can’t fly during severe weather.

How can you keep your pet safe during severe weather?

Anxiety is a problem for many pets. I have heard that “Thundershirts” are good for dogs. They are available online. I have not heard much about any relief for cats.

Where are local public tornado shelters located in Madison County?

Here is a link to the public shelters in Madison and Limestone counties.


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Google Map of North Alabama Tornado Shelters
And more about the right and wrong way to use those shelters.

Are there any myths or misconceptions about tornados you would like to bust to help people stay safe?

People think tornados don’t climb mountains or cross bodies of water. They do. It was once thought that you could open all the windows in your house to equalize the pressure before the tornado hits. No homes are truly air-tight so you are just wasting time.

Are there any weather apps you can recommend?

I recommend the WAFF Weather and News app. It does send weather alerts but one of the best things I like about it is you can watch our streaming coverage over the phone in your place of shelter. You can also get weather alerts through Safe T Net. The radar app I use is called Radar Scope. It’s about $9.00, and a one-time fee. It provides the latest radar information from the NEXRAD Doppler radar sites from across the country. They update about once every 5-7 minutes. There are also services like WeatherCall that will call you when severe weather is moving in.

Brad Travis thumbnail.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR: Brad Travis is Chief Meteorologist of the WAFF 48 Storm Team. He joined the 48 StormTeam in November of 1996. Before coming to Alabama he was the Chief Meteorologist in North Platte, NE. Brad and his wife live in Monrovia with their two boys and two dogs.

Tornado Season PINTEREST