Play good odds to stay safe in tornado season

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Lincoln commuters on the way home from work Monday had to deal with more than traffic as a storm pounded the area, dropping snowdrifts of hail up to football size, as much as 6 inches of rain and spawning at least one tornado.

Red Willow and Frontier counties were spared serious damage when two or three tornadoes twisted through the area Sunday, but summer 2016 seems to be shaping up as a stormy season.

A reminder to our neighbors and ourselves: a siren doesn't mean go outside and look for tornadoes, it means get you and yours into safe shelter. Sirens aren't made to be loud enough to warn people indoors of approaching tornadoes, so you should tune into local radio stations when you're not outdoors.

Tornadoes seem to be the great equalizer, striking where, when and whom they choose at random.

But there are trends and probabilities we should take into account when trying to stay safe.

Folks living from Texas to Nebraska are most likely to see tornadoes between April and June, according to a summary by the Associated Press.

Five years ago, 175 tornadoes killed 316 people in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee and Virginia on April 27-38, 2011. The previous worst storm was April 3-4, 1974 when 127 tornadoes killed 310, mostly in the Ohio Valley.

While tornadoes have been reported in every state, including Alaska, they're more likely to occur in Tornado Alley, with Texas leading, followed by Kansas, Florida and Oklahoma. Texas had the most killer tornadoes, followed by Arkansas, Tennessee and Missouri.

Oklahoma City is the city which has been struck by the most twisters, more than 100 since 1893.

Hallam, Nebraska, had the second-largest tornado on record, on May 22, 2004, just a little smaller than one 2.6 miles wide that struck El Reno, Okla., on May 21, 2013.

A storm that killed 36 people at Moore, Okla., on May 3, 1999, had winds reaching 302 mph.

McCook doesn't have the best reception for National Weather Service weather radio broadcasts, but if your area does, buy a good one and have it turned on.

Make sure the path to your shelter is clear, and put as many walls as possible between you and the outside, such as an interior bathroom, closet or basement.

Stay tuned to local broadcasters, your local NWS office and follow them on social media if you check in often. Avoid streaming services that won't automatically cut in with warnings for your area.

A "watch" means just that, watch for storms to develop. A warning means you should take cover immediately.

If you are in a car, drive to a safe place if possible, but be aware of other drivers. If all else fails, get out of your vehicle and into the lowest place possible, while avoiding flash flood dangers. Don't hide under a bridge, which may actually amplify winds as air pressure changes.

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