Surviving the storms: Knowing how to respond to a tornado vital in storm season
By Austin Ashlock
Forum News Service
GRAND FORKS, N.D. — After a tornado touched down outside Grafton on Friday afternoon, it is safe to say tornado season, and the dangers it brings, has arrived in the northern Red River Valley.
Greg Gust, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Grand Forks, said now is the likeliest time for tornado activity in this region, with peak season landing in the months of June, July and August.
"With the dangers and realities of tornado activity on clear display throughout Oklahoma," Gust said, there is no better time than now to prepare for the possibility of a tornado.
Preparing for a tornado
The National Weather Service issues three sets of warnings: outlook, watch and warning.
Gust said keeping an eye on any developments in the weather, and looking out for tornado watches and warnings, is important for everyone.
"Use the resources you have around you," Gust said. "It can be your smartphone, TV, radio or computer, just stay aware of what is happening in your area."
However, before watches and warnings go out, people should be prepared.
Knowing where to find the safest place for shelter is the easiest way to prepare for a tornado. Gust said the safest place is typically in the basement or underground shelters far away from windows.
"For those without basements or outside shelter, you should go to a room without windows," Gust said. "And try to put as many walls as possible between you and the tornado."
For those in Grand Forks without a basement or private shelter, Noren Hall on the University of North Dakota campus acts as a public shelter during tornado watches and warnings through Aug. 2.
When disaster hits
Gust said once a tornado warning is issued, people in the affected area have simple instructions to find shelter, wherever it may be.
"Safest places in a home are smaller rooms, particularly under the stairs because there is more structural stability," Gust said. "And stay there, no matter what."
One common mistake Gust warns of is leaving home to get out of the path of the storm or to pick up a child from school or daycare. Gust said leaving your home after a tornado warning has been issued is a mistake and often unnecessary.
"Having people get into their car and drive is just not a good idea, especially when there are heavy rains," Gust said. "If a tornado is coming, get to your shelter. The school, or wherever your child is, most likely has a place for the children to go. So, just stay home."
For those already traveling in their vehicles when a warning is issued, Gust advises to drive away from the area under warning.
"In open country you can often see where the threat area is," Gust said. "So you should drive away from it."
However, driving away from a problem area is not always possible. Those driving in the path of a tornado must quickly get to any sort of permanent structure for shelter, Gust said.
"Even a small building is better than a car," Gust said.
While warnings are given out over an entire county, not all residents of the affected county are in the path of a tornado, so for those who are out of danger, Gust said continue to keep track of the weather on TV or the radio for any changes or updates.
However, Gust said for nearby residents to be wary of tornado myths, such as the idea that tornados cannot cross rivers.
In 1887 a tornado hit parts of East Grand Forks, Minn., and downtown Grand Forks, killing dozens. Such an incident, Gust said, quickly discredits the idea that tornados can’t cross rivers.
"Tornados don’t care where a town is, they don’t care about rivers or anything," Gust said. "They keep going until they stop, and they damage and destroy everything in their path."
In the case that a tornado does hit Grand Forks County, emergency manager Jim Campbell said the county has a plan of action.
"The emergency management office, as well as emergency responders around the area will carefully assess the damage following any natural disaster," Campbell said. "Then, we file a preliminary disaster report with the governor’s office, who then determines whether to claim a state of emergency with the president."
Campbell said the local Red Cross and the Salvation Army would assist in civilian relief as well, helping find families temporary shelter and aid in recovery.