ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — An EF-0 tornado touched down in southern Monroe county Wednesday. That’s a headline we don’t often get to write here in WNY, but it’s certainly not the first tornado the area has seen.
That last statement is the important one. Tornadoes happen here. It’s a far cry from Oklahoma or Alabama, but they happen.
We sent WROC reporter Eriketa Cost to cover the damage in Scottsville. She popped by the weather center this afternoon asking for information about the storm survey process & tornadoes in general. Then she said something that stopped me in my tracks. She said that several of the people she spoke with didn’t know what to do because they were under a Tornado Warning. Do they take shelter? Do they dive under the bed? Do they simply go to the window and see if they can see anything?
That comment struck me as a critical moment. Much of my career in weather comes from a place where tornadoes are like snow squalls here…they happen all the time. As such, those people have tornado protocol burned into their minds. They know, step-by-step, exactly what to do in those moments as if their life depends on it. And guess what? Their life depends on it. How can I possibly expect that same level of severe weather acumen when the last Monroe county Tornado Warning was more than 10 years ago?
And this, ladies and gentlemen, offers all of us a learning opportunity. Nearly all of you reading this article will find yourself again within a Tornado Warning polygon at some point in the future. It might be days, weeks, or decades. But it’ll happen. And I want you to know exactly what to do when that happens.
First and foremost, you can’t act if you don’t know there’s a threat. We recommend everyone having multiple, reliable ways of hearing weather warnings. A weather radio is an ideal source. You can purchase them for less than $30, set it on your nightstand & not worry about for years. There are many apps on your phone that track your location via GPS and will alarm when a Tornado Warning is issued. The WROC app is one of many that will get you by. Don’t rely on sirens, word of mouth or your Aunt Edna giving you call there’s a tornado nearby.
THINK LIKE AN ARCHITECT: Have a storm shelter? Me neither. If you do, this is a short and sweet conversation. Go there if you’re ever under a Tornado Warning. For the rest of us, we need to figure out which part of your house/apartment offers you the best chance of taking a direct hit from a tornado and coming out on the other side to talk about it.
ALTITUDE: You want to find the lowest level of you home. Height is your enemy, so your basement is an immensely better choice than the attic. Don’t have a basement? No problem…the same logic still serves you well. Your safe place search starts on the first floor, or lowest level, of your home.
WALLS & WINDOWS: Now that you’ve found your floor, we need to find your room. Most homes will have at least one room that can be considered an “interior” room. That means it doesn’t have a wall shared with the outside on the other side of it. Does the room have windows? No good. Tornadoes will blow them out and shards of glass will fly like projectile missiles. We’re looking for a room without windows with as many walls between you and the outside as possible. For many people, this is an interior closet or a bathroom.
WHAT ABOUT AN APARTMENT/MOBILE HOME? Ideally, if we expect a situation where tornadoes are possible, we’ll be giving you as much of a heads up as we can. But many times, Tornado Warnings are issued with very little heads up. Even if you live above the first floor, the walls & windows concept will still serve you well. Find the interior room, ideally without windows, and prepare to ride it out. A mobile home is the absolute last place you want to be. If you know severe weather, including tornadoes, are likely, it’s best to plan to spend the day with family or friends in a sturdier structure. This involves some planning ahead, but we’re here to offer that planning.
If you wanted to get really fancy, your storm prep can be taken a few steps further. The majority of injuries and fatalities from tornadoes occur from flying debris to the head. Many residents in Tornado & Dixie Alley are prepped with bicycle helmets for all involved to minimize this risk. Shoes are good to have with you. Heaven forbid, you take a direct hit from a tornado…now you have to walk out with sharp debris all over the place. Your feet will thank you.
We live in a part of the world where tornadoes are an infrequent threat. We also benefit from the fact that the vast majority of said tornadoes are going to on the lower end of the intensity spectrum. Both good things. I’ll argue, however, that those nuggets and the associated complacency that can follow can be dangerous. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a few minutes to act from Warning to tornado. You don’t want to waste precious seconds having to figure out where the heck to go when seconds count. I’m a believer in the mentality of better to be safe than sorry. If you agree, the above guidance and advice will serve you well.
-Chief Meteorologist Eric Snitil