I was five years old when my parent’s best friend’s house was destroyed by a tornado. And when I say best friend’s house, I mean more than one family. An entire neighborhood.
On April 27, 1984, a 6.5 mile long by 100 yard wide F4 tornado traveled through my town, missing my street, but touching down in the subdivision next door, where many of our closest family friends lived. The National Weather Service reported:
THE TORNADO LEFT A SIX AND A HALF MILE LONG AND A 100 YARD WIDE PATH OF DESTRUCTION JUST SOUTH… SOUTHEAST…AND EAST OF WALES. THE HARDEST HIT AREA WITHIN THE TORNADO/S PATH WAS THE DOVER BAY SUBDIVISION IN DELAFIELD. ONE WOMAN WAS KILLED AND 14 OTHER PEOPLE WERE INJURED.
IT WAS LATER DETERMINED THROUGH DAMAGE SURVEYS THAT THE WALES TORNADO WAS A VIOLENT F4…THE SECOND HIGHEST LEVEL ON THE FUJITA TORNADO SCALE.
F4 tornadoes have wind speeds of 207-260 miles per hour.
The Wales, WI tornado was not the only tornado on April 27th 1984. On the same day, the Milwaukee Journal reported that there were 15-20 tornadoes accompanied by severe thunderstorms, high winds, and hail roared through the state.
April 27, 1984 was not a good day for our friends or the entire state of Wisconsin, for that matter.
And that kind of thing is something that sticks with you your entire life.
Wisconsin’s “tornado season” runs from April to September. The top four tornado months are: June, July, May, and August, respectively. Historically, according to the National Weather Service, there have been 1537 documented tornadoes in Wisconsin since 1844 causing 511 directly related deaths and at least 3056 directly related injuries. While 23 tornadoes a year is our average here in Wisconsin, in 2005 there were 62! Lastly, if you are one for facts the majority of tornadoes have struck during mid-afternoon or early evening (3pm – 7pm); however- they can strike at any time with little or no warning. The second deadliest tornado in Wisconsin history the Barneveld/Black Earth twister (June 8 1984) occurred at 1 am without warning and killed 9/injured 200 while causing 40 million dollars’ worth of damage (in 1980 $$)!
Tornado Safety is not something that should be taken lightly. Although I haven’t lived through another 15-20 tornado day (knock on wood), it’s important that families teach their children what to do in case of a tornado. It’s important to have a plan.
Key Weather Terms
Tornado Watch: Conditions are favorable for the development of severe thunderstorms with the potential of tornadoes. Think to yourself “we’re just watching for one right now”.
Tornado Warning: Tornado has been sighted or detected on radar. If a Tornado Warning has been issued, take shelter immediately. Think to yourself “Warning! Warning! Warning!”
Definition of a Tornado
The dictionary defines a tornado as “a mobile, destructive vortex of violently rotating winds having the appearance of a funnel-shaped cloud and advancing beneath a large storm system.” They can vary in size, intensity, and appearance. Wind speeds from 100 mph to over 300 mph are possible. The width of a tornado may range from just a few yards to well over a mile and they can travel a path of just a few hundred yards to hundreds of miles.
What do you do?
- Listen- when severe weather is possible (thunderstorm watch or tornado watch)- pay attention to the news or a weather source. Personally, I keep the US National Weather Service local branch Facebook page as a “see first” on my Facebook newsfeed- since I am always on Facebook. You can also purchase a weather alert radio (my parents had one of these growing up… I remember it going off which usually meant a trip downstairs to the basement)
- Act- when you hear that there is a tornado warning (remember- “Warning!, Warning!, Warning!” seek the best shelter you can find. Do it now! Don’t check with other people to see if they saw the announcement too. Find shelter- then check with the other people.
If you are indoors
- Move to the basement if you have one
- Get under a sturdy table or stairs
- Move to a small interior room without windows / hallway
- Cover yourself with anything close at hand (blankets/pillows) this is so you are protected from flying glass and debris
- Get under a sturdy table or stairs
If you are outdoors
- Try to seek shelter
- Get into a vehicle, buckle the seatbelt, drive to the nearest sturdy shelter
- If flying debris occurs while you are driving you should either stay in the vehicle with the seatbelt on and place your head below the windows – or- if you can run someplace lower than the roadway (ie- deep culvert)- exit the vehicle and lie in the area, covering your head with your hands. Do not seek shelter under a bridge or overpass.
- Do not stand under a natural lightening rod, such as a tall, isolated tree in an open area.
- Avoid being the tallest thing around (ie- standing on a hill, in an open field, on the beach, etc)
- Get out of and away from any water
- Get away from any tractors or other metal equipment
- Get off of and away from motorcycles, scooters, golf carts, and bicycles. Put down golf clubs.
- Stay away from wire fences, clotheslines, metal pipes, rails, and other metallic objects that could carry lightening to you from some distance away.
Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA)
Local and State Emergency Official and the National Weather Service have a tool for alerting the public to dangerous conditions- called Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA). These emergency alerts will be activated by cell towers – so if you are driving through an alerted area, you will automatically see the message on your cell phone. These messages include tornado warnings (not watches).
So, be alert and ready, Wisconsin! Have a plan and practice it.
And no…. you cannot outrun a tornado.