Tornado Awareness Safety Tips

March is the fifth year anniversary (March 23) of the Clovis and Logan tornados. With the recent deadly tornado outbreak this week in the Midwest, we can officially say Tornado and Severe Weather season is here, it may not seem like it in Eastern NM and West Texas because of the warm temperatures and drought, but it is that time of year. Storms have devastated parts of Branson Missouri, Illinois, and other parts of the United States already this year. Tornadoes are nature’s most violent storms. Spawned from powerful thunderstorms, tornadoes can cause fatalities and devastate a neighborhood in seconds. A tornado appears as a rotating, funnel-shaped cloud that extends from a thunderstorm to the ground with whirling winds that can reach 300 miles per hour. Damage paths can be in excess of one mile wide and 50 miles long. Every state is at some risk from this hazard.

Some tornadoes are clearly visible, while rain or nearby low-hanging clouds obscure others. Occasionally, tornadoes develop so rapidly that little, if any, advance warning is possible.

With severe weather season here, New Mexico and Texas Local Emergency Management, Local TV Weather Stations and the National Weather Service want you to be prepared for tornadoes and severe thunderstorms. Take some time to make a tornado plan for your family, friends and co-workers. (See the Safety Matters Website for your Designated Tornado Location)  Planning ahead will lower the chance of injury or even death in the event a tornado strikes. Again, Tornadoes can occur with little or no warning. You may have only a minute’s time to make life-or-death decisions. It is important to know the basics of tornado safety so that you can survive should one strike. (Clovis, Logan, Plainview, Roswell, Clayton and Tucumcari all have had tornados in the past years)

Listen to the local radio, local television, The Weather Channel, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather radio for information or our Alert Siren at Clovis HQ.

A Tornado Watch means conditions are favorable for the formation of a Tornado.

A Tornado Warning means a Tornado/Funnel Cloud has been spotted or is indicated on Doppler radar by the National Weather Service.

If you are under a Tornado WARNING, seek shelter immediately!





 Don’t wait until a warning is issued to begin planning how you will respond. Take responsibility for your safety.

  • Have a plan.
  • Meet with household members and co workers to discuss how to respond to an approaching tornado.
  • Learn how to turn off the water, gas and electricity at the main switches.
  • The safest place to be during a tornado is underground in a basement or storm cellar.
  • If you have no basement, go to an interior hallway or smaller interior room without windows, such as a bathroom or closet.
  • Go to the center of the room.
  • Get under something sturdy such as a table.
  • Curl up in a ball using your hands and arms to protect your head and neck.

Mobile homes are particularly vulnerable to damage from high winds. Residents, even those who live in mobile homes with tie-downs, should seek safe shelter when a tornado threatens. Go to a prearranged shelter when the weather turns bad. If you live in a mobile home park, talk to management about the availability of a nearby shelter. If no shelter is available, go outside and lie on the ground, if possible in a ditch or depression. Use your arms to protect your head and neck and wait for the storm to pass. While waiting, be alert for the flash floods that sometimes accompany tornadoes.

Never try to outrun a tornado in a car. A tornado can toss cars and trucks around like toys. If you see a funnel cloud or hear a tornado warning issued, get out of your vehicle and find safe shelter. If no shelter is available, lie down in a low area using your arms to cover the back of your head and neck. Be sure to stay alert for flooding.

Hail indicators and Tornados. A lot of tornado storms have hail as a good indicator as to likelihood of a tornado in a hail storm here are a few indicators to look for:

Dime size hail                            5-10 % chance of a tornado forming in this storm

Quarter size hail             20-25% chance of a tornado forming in this storm

Golf ball size hail                       40-50% chance of a tornado forming in this storm (RED FLAG You should start watching for any rotation with these storms)

Baseball or larger size hail       80-90% chance of a tornado forming in this storm (EXTREME CAUTION tornados are VERY PROBABLE with these storms)

How Do Tornadoes Form?

 Before thunderstorms develop, a change in wind direction and an increase in wind speed with increasing height create an invisible, horizontal spinning effect in the lower atmosphere.  Rising air within the thunderstorm updraft tilts the rotating air from horizontal to vertical.  An area of rotation, 2-6 miles wide, now extends through much of the storm. Most strong and violent tornadoes form within this area of strong rotation.

Woodward OKA lower cloud base in the center of the photograph identifies an area of rotation known as a rotating wall cloud. This area is often nearly rain-free. Note rain in the background.

Woodward OKMoments later a strong tornado develops in this area. Softball-size hail and damaging “straight-line” winds also occurred with this storm.

Tornadoes Cause Damage in Three Ways.

Strong Winds

The strong winds of a tornado can rip just about anything off of the ground including trees, vehicles, and even houses. The winds inside of tornadoes travel at over 310 miles per hour. Even weak tornadoes can pull shingles and siding off houses.


The second damaging effect of tornadoes is actually from the debris that the storm picks up. People have been buried alive by houses or mud picked up and then dropped by a tornado. Smaller objects become damaging projectiles when thrown by tornadoes. One tornado took a broom handle and penetrated through an oak tree!

Hail and Lightning

It is not only the wind that causes damage in a tornado, but also the hail and lightning that the storm produces. Large hailstones can damage cars or property and injure people and lighting can cause fires and electrical problems.

Be alert to what is happening outside. Here are some tornado danger signs:

  • If there is a watch or warning posted, falling hail should be considered as a danger sign.
  • An approaching cloud of debris can mark the location of a tornado, even if a funnel is not visible.
  • Before a tornado hits, the wind may die down and the air may become very still.
  • Tornadoes generally occur near the trailing edge of a thunderstorm. It is not uncommon to see clear, sunlit skies behind a tornado.

Here is a quick reference chart to use to take shelter before or during a tornado:

If you are in:


A structure (e.g. residence, small building, school, nursing home, hospital, factory, shopping center, high-rise building) Go to a pre-designated shelter area such as a safe room, basement, storm cellar, or the lowest building level. If there is no basement, go to the center of an interior room on the lowest level (closet, interior hallway) away from corners, windows, doors, and outside walls. Put as many walls as possible between you and the outside.Get under a sturdy table and use your arms to protect your head and neck.DO NOT open your windows! You won’t save the house, as once thought, and you may actually make things worse by giving wind and rain a chance to get inside.
A vehicle, trailer, or mobile home Get out immediately and go to the lowest floor of a sturdy, nearby building or a storm shelter. Mobile homes, even if tied down, offer little protection from tornadoes. Cars are no match for these powerful winds. For tornadoes, get out of your car immediately and seek shelter. Don’t try to race it. Tornadoes are fast and very erratic. If you can’t find shelter, find a low-lying area, lie flat and cover your head. You’re safer out of your car than in it. Over half the people killed in previous years tried to seek shelter in cars!!!
The outside with no shelter Lie flat in a nearby ditch or depression and cover your head with your hands. Be aware of the potential for flooding.Do not get under an overpass or bridge. You are safer in a low, flat location.

Never try to outrun a tornado in urban or congested areas in a car or truck. Instead, leave the vehicle immediately for safe shelter.

Watch out for flying debris. Flying debris from tornadoes causes most fatalities and injuries.

Tornado Facts

Tornadoes are violently rotating columns of air extending from severe thunderstorms to the ground.

Tornadoes usually are preceded by very heavy rain and possibly hail. If hail falls from a thunderstorm, it is an indication that the storm has large amounts of energy and may be severe. In general, the larger the hailstones, the more potential for damaging thunderstorm winds and/or tornadoes.

The most violent tornadoes are capable of tremendous destruction, with wind speeds of 250 M.P.H. or more.

An average tornado damage path is one to two miles long, but can be in excess of one mile wide and 50 miles long.

Widths vary considerably during a single tornado, from less than ten yards to more than a mile, but typically are about 50 yards wide.

The average tornado moves from southwest to northeast, though tornadoes have been known to move in any direction.

The average forward speed of a tornado is 30 m.p.h. but may vary from nearly stationary to 70 m.p.h.

Tornadoes can occur throughout the year; however, the peak season in New Mexico and Texas is March through June.

Tornadoes are most likely to occur between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m., but have been known to occur at all hours of the day or night.

The NWS is now using Doppler weather radar to sense the air movement within thunderstorms. Early detection of increasing rotation aloft within a thunderstorm can allow time for lifesaving warnings before the tornado forms.

The Great Plains of the Central United States are uniquely suited to bring all of these ingredients together, and so have become known as “Tornado Alley.” The main factors are the Rocky Mountains to the west, the Gulf of Mexico to the south, and a terrain that slopes downward from west to east.

During the spring and summer month’s southerly winds prevail across the plains. At the origin of those south winds lie the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, which provide plenty of warm, humid air needed to fuel severe thunderstorm development. Hot dry air forms over the higher elevations to the west, and becomes the cap as it spreads eastward over the moist Gulf air. Where the dry air and the Gulf air meet near the ground, a boundary known as a dry line forms to the west of Oklahoma. A storm system moving out of the southern Rockies may push the dry line eastward, with severe thunderstorms and tornadoes forming along the dry line or in the moist air just ahead of it.

Below are two maps of average tornado wind speeds and recent (2011) tornado activity:

Photo: Clovis NM Tornado Damage March 2007

Tornado StatisticsDr. T. Theodore Fujita first introduced The Fujita Scale in the SMRP Research Paper, Number 91, published in February 1971 and titled, “Proposed Characterization of Tornadoes and Hurricanes by Area and Intensity“. Fujita revealed in the abstract his dreams and intentions of the F-Scale. He wanted something that categorized each tornado by intensity and area. The scale was divided into categories:

A modification of the original Fujita Scale developed by “Dr. Tornado”, T. Theodore Fujita of the University of Chicago.

New EF Scale:

Old F-Scale:

Typical Damage:

EF0 (65-85 mph)

F0 (65-73 mph)

Light damage. Peels surface off some roofs; some damage to gutters or siding; branches broken off trees; shallow-rooted trees pushed over.

EF1 (86-110 mph)

F1 (73-112 mph)

Moderate damage. Roofs severely stripped; mobile homes overturned or badly damaged; loss of exterior doors; windows and other glass broken.

EF2(111-135 mph)

F2 (113-157 mph)

Considerable damage. Roofs torn off well-constructed houses; foundations of frame homes shifted; mobile homes completely destroyed; large trees snapped or uprooted; light-object missiles generated; cars lifted off ground.

EF3 (136-165 mph)

F3 (158-206 mph)

Severe damage. Entire stories of well-constructed houses destroyed; severe damage to large buildings such as shopping malls; trains overturned; trees debarked; heavy cars lifted off the ground and thrown; structures with weak foundations blown away some distance.

EF4 (166-200 mph)

F4 (207-260 mph)

Devastating damage. Whole frame houses Well-constructed houses and whole frame houses completely leveled; cars thrown and small missiles generated.

EF5 (>200 mph)

F5 (261-318 mph)

Incredible damage. Strong frame houses leveled off foundations and swept away; automobile-sized missiles fly through the air in excess of 100 m (109 yd); high-rise buildings have significant structural deformation; incredible phenomena will occur.

EF No rating

F6-F12 (319 mph to speed of sound)

Inconceivable damage. Should a tornado with the maximum wind speed in excess of F5 occur, the extent and types of damage may not be conceived. A number of missiles such as iceboxes, water heaters, storage tanks, automobiles, etc.will create serious secondary damage on structures.

Photo: Clovis NM Tornado Damage March 2007

Severe Weather Preparations

Everyone should consider the following tornado/high wind tips:

Stock disaster supplies: portable phones, batteries, radio, flashlight, first aid kit, essential medicines, food, water, cash, camera, film, generator, fuel, chainsaw, sand bags, tarps.

Learn how and when to call 911, police, or the fire department and which radio station to tune for emergency information. Teach responsible parties how and when to turn off gas, electricity, and water.

Protect property:

Trim dead and weak branches from trees.

Bring in trash cans, lawn furniture, etc.

Clean gutters and drains.

Check roof flashing to ensure the entire roof perimeter is securely fastened.

Review your insurance policy to verify that all buildings are listed.

Establish agreements with contractors for supplies and repairs.

Photograph both building and content damage for insurance claims.

Photo: Clovis NM Tornado Damage March 2007

The aftermath

By listening to your portable radio, you’ll know when the windstorm is over (if you don’t have a radio, wait at least one half-hour after all is quiet to make sure that the storm is over). There is much to do in the aftermath of a tornado. Knowing what to do, and when, will save you time and money and help ensure your family’s safety.

Watch for potential hazards. A major storm creates a number of dangers of which you should be aware.
Weakened roads or bridges.
Broken or damaged power lines (electric, gas, etc.)
Broken glass, splintered wood and other sharp, dangerous objects.
Be smart and safe with food. Refrigerated foods will spoil quickly when electricity is out. Eat perishable foods before they get a chance to spoil. Save dry and canned foods (which have long shelf lives) for later. Also, if you keep the freezer closed, “frozen” foods will keep for several days.
Be safe about water. There is a chance that your water may be contaminated. Listen to the radio for reports and carefully inspect your water. Your best bet is to have several gallons of bottled water on hand. On the average, keep three gallons of water per family member. This will hold you for at least three days. That should be more than enough.Suggestions for a Family Disaster Supplies Kit


  • Battery-operated radio
  • Flashlight
  • Extra batteries
  • Water
  • High calorie, non-perishable food
  • First Aid kit (one for your home and one for each car)
  • Prescription and non-prescription drugs
  • Tools and supplies (paper cups, utility knife, hammer, matches, etc.)
  • Supplies to maintain sanitation (toilet paper, paper towels, household chlorine bleach)
  • Clothing and bedding
  • Necessities for babies or small children
  • Necessities for pet
  • Important family documents
  • Entertainment (games and books)

Non-perishable contents should be changed or replaced every six months.

Other Safety issues

  • Be aware of new safety issues created by the disaster. Watch for washed out roads, contaminated buildings, contaminated water, gas leaks, broken glass, damaged electrical wiring, and slippery floors.
  • Inform local authorities about health and safety issues, including chemical spills, downed power lines, washed out roads, smoldering insulation, and dead animals
  • Open cabinets. Be alert for objects that may fall.
  • Clean up household chemical spills. Disinfect items that may have been contaminated by raw sewage, bacteria, or chemicals. Also clean salvageable items.
  • Appliances. If appliances are wet, turn off the electricity at the main fuse box or circuit breaker. Then, unplug appliances and let them dry out. Have appliances checked by a professional before using them again. Also, have the electrical system checked by an electrician before turning the power back on.
  • Use battery­ powered flashlights when examining buildings—do NOT use candles.
  • Keep all of your animals under your direct control
  • Take pictures of damage, both of the building and its contents, for insurance claims.

Recovering from a disaster is usually a gradual process. Safety is a primary issue, as are mental and physical well-being. Knowing what to do in case of one of these weather related events is the first step to survival during a weather disaster. Remember Safety ABC’s this Spring Severe Weather Season. Always, Be Careful. Safety First, Safety Always

Want to learn more come attend Spring Severe Weather Hazards Presentation by Amarillo KVII Chief Meteorologist Steve Kersh in Clovis on March 28st either at 9:00-10:00 am or 10:00-11:00 am at our Fishbowl.

Additionally, there will be a free storm spotter’s course March 20th in Clovis and Portales. If you are interested please contact me I will get you the information.


 Photo: Clovis NM Tornado Damage March 2007



Information provided by Albq National Weather Service (Kerry Jones), NOAA and KVII Channel 7 Amarillo Chief Meteorologist Steve Kersh

Today’s post comes to us courtesy of Ken Oswald

Safety and Security Manager for Plateau