October 25, 2010

Tornadoes were reported yesterday in Tennessee and Alabama, and a particularly destructive tornado struck Rice, Texas at 5:30 p.m. on Sunday, destroying homes, turning over vehicles and knocking a railroad car right off the tracks, according to Navarro County Chief Deputy Mike Cox. Fortunately the only injuries were relatively minor, but also caused extensive damage to Rice Elementary School, which means it struck very close to home for local kids.

 Children who live in "Tornado Alley" (from Texas north to Nebraska) can learn what to do to protect themselves and their families. I’m going to reiterate some of what I’ve written previously on this subject, as well as answer some questions that kids are likely to ask. Giving elementary-age (and older) children information is the best way to offer reassurance and reduce anxiety.

 Why is this happening when it’s not "tornado season" (usually defined as April through July, with May and June being the peak months)? Like thunderstorms, tornadoes can form any time of the year.

 What is a tornado and why does it cause such destruction? A tornado’s funnel looks like a huge elephant’s trunk hanging down from a cloud. The funnel acts like a giant vacuum cleaner…whenever the "hose" touches the ground, it sucks things up into the air.

Usually, tornadoes are local storms. A typical tornado is only 400 to 500 feet wide, has winds of less than 112 miles per hour, and last only a few minutes. But sometimes, monster tornadoes a mile wide with winds up to 500 miles per hour are born in very large thunderstorms - also called supercells - and they can cause tremendous destruction. Tornadoes have moved houses down a whole block, bounced 20-ton tractor-trailers up and down on the highway, even picked up a pond full of frogs and rained them down on a nearby town!

If you live near an area that is prone to tornadoes at this time of year, the most important things to remember are:

*     Pay attention to early warning sirens and alerts on radio and television, so that you can take shelter before a tornado strikes.

*      Cars and mobile homes are NOT safe during a tornado. Go to the basement of a solidly built house.

 *     If you are in an apartment or home without a basement, getting into a bathtub and covering yourself with a couch cushion or a mattress protects you on all sides.

*     If you are out walking or biking, life flat in a ditch if there is no rain. If there is rain, there may be a danger of flash flooding, so stay out of the ditch, get away from trees and power lines, crouch down and make yourself as small as possible - be a "human basketball"!

You don’t have to worry too much in advance about tornadoes, but finding out when they are coming and knowing what to do is certain to help you if one strikes.     

Posted by: Seymour Simon

(0) Comments  •   Labels: science news, Weather, Tornadoes   •  Permalink (link to this article)   •  Share: