During tornado season, a friend of mine often tells a family story: Years and years ago, her great-uncle, then a little boy, was taking a bath in his home located in a rural North Carolina town. It was summertime, and, as is frequent in the South, a tornado watch was issued. Since the house had no basement, everyone in his family headed to a neighbor's cellar and told little George to get out of the tub and flee. Ever the stubborn child, George refused, and the family left the willful boy on his own. Minutes later, after spotting an upcoming storm, he came running down the main street -- in his birthday suit -- screaming, "A cyclone's coming! A cyclone's coming!"
Fortunately, the tornado did not hit town, and George's close encounter became the stuff of small town legend and a charming family anecdote. But, all joking aside, tornadoes are very serious weather events. Some of the most violent storms on the planet, tornadoes are columns of air that rotate from the base of a thunderstorm to the ground. They can appear to be transparent until they pick up dust and debris to form a funnel cloud.
Although tornadoes can follow tropical storms or hurricanes, they also can strike suddenly with little or no warning and cause massive damage. Tornadoes frequently occur in the U.S. east of the Rocky Mountains during spring and summer. In the South, tornadoes are most prevalent from March to May, while in the North, they strike most frequently in the late spring and early summer. Although tornadoes usually move southwest to northeast, they can go in any direction and range in speeds from 30 to 70 miles (48 to 112 kilometers) per hour. Usually, they happen between 3 and 9 p.m. when the ground and air are at their warmest temperatures.
Scary stuff, right? Sure, but there's a lot you can do to prepare for a tornado and keep your family safe. With an emergency kit on hand and a talk to your family about a tornado plan, you can safely weather a tornado.