Severe Weather Preparedness: Tornadoes

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Tornadoes are one of nature’s most violent elements and and a frequent visitor to the state of Mississippi. On average, Mississippi is hit by 43 tornadoes a year.

Mississippi lies in an area known as Dixie Alley, similar to the more well known Tornado Alley, except Dixie Alley has two seasons, one in spring and one in the fall.

Chief Meteorologist Brian Hutton, Jr., says, "Dixie Alley has been referred to a lot especially in recent research from a lot of meteorologists including locally at Mississippi State. (It) has shown that tornadoes in Dixie Alley, or across the south including Alabama and Mississippi, while we don't see as many as Tornado Alley does, we see more violent and deadly ones down here. We have a lot higher occurrence of EF4 and EF5s like what we saw a few years ago. They also tend to be night time tornadoes."

Tornadoes occur with such frequency that one Mississippi county has the highest chance of any county in the U.S. to see a tornado.

Hutton says, "Locally you have the highest chance of being hit by a tornado in Smith County than you do anywhere else in the country. A lot of people don't realize that we are in essence the tornado hot spot in the country."

There are three types of weather statements concerning tornadoes.

Tornado Watch means conditions are favorable for the development of tornadoes. These are usually issued hours before any storms form, giving you plenty of time to plan for severe weather.

A particularly dangerous situation tornado watch, or PDS tornado watch, are rare, only happening about once or twice a year. These watches mean conditions are favorable for large, violent, long track tornadoes. \

A warning means a tornado has been confirmed either by spotters or indicated by radar. When under a Tornado Warning you need to immediately take shelter. A tornado emergency means that there is a confirmed, large, violent tornado posing an imminent threat to life.

So how can you stay safe should a tornado arise?

Hutton says, "First stay calm. Secondly, make sure you can get watches and warnings whether it be from us or a weather radio. Also make sure you have a plan of action in place; it's too late to decide what to do once a warning is issued. That’s why a watch is issued well in advance. Make sure you know where to go and what to do should a tornado head in your direction."

Tornado sirens are meant to warn people outside and should never be relied on to provide warning to you when you’re inside. It is best to invest in a NOAA weather radio to provide you with warning alerts when severe weather threatens.

If you come under a warning:

Get to a sturdy well build structure if you are caught outside. Go to the lowest floor of your home; go to an interior room, putting as many walls between you and the outside as possible. NEVER seek shelter in a mobile home. NEVER seek shelter under an overpass. Have a bike helmet or a pillow to protect your head from debris. Take your shoes with you should you have to walk out into debris.

It is very important that you familiarize yourself with the local geography. Knowing what county you're in, what community you're in, and nearby roads and highways is vital to receiving warnings, as these features are often referred to by meteorologists tracking the storm.