The start of spring brings blooming flowers, balmier temperatures and something else not so pleasant: the threat of tornadoes. Believe it or not, tornadoes have occurred in every month in Missouri.
That’s why it’s always a good idea to have a plan in place should you find yourself in a dangerous thunderstorm. With the first half of severe weather season over for our area, we asked Zach Paul, KRCG-TV13 chief meteorologist, to address some common misconceptions about severe storms, specifically tornadoes.
Two of the most misunderstood terms in weather are “severe weather watches” and “severe weather warnings.”
What’s the difference? When you hear the term “watch” — tornado, severe thunderstorm or flash flood — it means that all the necessary ingredients are available in the atmosphere for tornadoes, severe thunderstorms or flash flooding to develop. It’s a good idea to have a TV, radio or other device nearby for forecast updates.
This is also the time to make sure your cellphone and/or tablet is charged.
When a “warning” is issued, it’s a different story. This means there is severe weather currently happening or being observed, and if it’s in your area, you need to take immediate action.
Knowing this basic information is the first step to staying safe during a thunderstorm.
Fiction: Lakes, rivers and mountains protect areas from tornadoes.
Fact: No geographic location is safe from tornadoes. On March 12, 2006, there was significant damage in the Gravois Arm of Lake of the Ozarks. An F2 tornado leveled a bunch of trees on the west shoreline, traveled across the water, flipped docks and damaged multiple homes. Fiction: A tornado causes buildings to “explode” as it passes overhead.
Fact: It’s actually violent winds and debris slamming into buildings that cause the most structural damage.
Fiction: Open windows before a tornado approaches to equalize pressure and minimize damage.
Fact: Virtually all buildings leak. Leave the windows closed. Take shelter immediately. An underground shelter, basement or safe room is the safest place. If none of those options are available, go to a windowless interior room or hallway. Fiction: Highway overpasses provide safe shelter from tornadoes.
Fact: The area under a highway overpass is very dangerous in a tornado. If you are in a vehicle, you should immediately seek shelter in a sturdy building, not an overpass. Fiction: It is safe to take shelter in the bathroom, hallway or closet of a mobile home.
Fact: Mobile homes are not safe during tornadoes. Abandon your mobile home, and seek shelter in a sturdy building immediately. If you live in a mobile home, ensure you have a plan in place that identifies the closest sturdy buildings in case of a severe weather threat.
You should find it comforting to know that the number of tornadoes we see every year has not gone up. In fact, during the past few years, the numbers were lower than average (30 per year in Missouri). The chance of a tornado striking a building you are in is very small; however, by staying alert to the weather around you, you can greatly reduce your chance of injury.
Have a weather question? Let me know at email@example.com.
Zach Paul is the chief meteorologist at KRCG-TV13. Growing up Kansas City, Paul has seen his fair share of severe Missouri weather, and he enjoys chasing these thunderstorms and even the tornadoes that develop from them. While at KRCG, he’s logged 10 tornadoes, but since 2000 he’s spotted more than 30. The most active day in central Missouri that sticks out most to him is March 12, 2006, when an F3 passed near the towns of Marshall, Arrow Rock and Moberly, and an F2 passed through Sedalia and Gravois Mills.