Goodbye winter, hello spring!

As winter bids us farewell with a few inches of snow and sub-freezing temperatures (increasingly rare here in central Virginia), we note that the likelihood of tornadoes will be increasing as the weather turns warmer.  As they say, there is no real tornado “season,” because one can happen any time and in any place, but we see that internet searchers are looking for information on tornado preparedness more often now, so here is some information that we hope will be helpful in preparing for the tumultuous spring weather than can give birth to tornadoes and other severe storms.

As always, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention web site offers excellent information and advice on tornadoes as part of their Emergency Preparedness and Response information, specifically their Natural Disasters and Severe Weather page.   Click on the “Tornado” link for some great information on what you should know and what to do before a tornado, during and afterwards.  For instance, what do you think is the most dangerous aspect of a tornado?  Where is the most dangerous place to be in a tornado?  The answers may surprise you!

Many states will be running tornado preparedness drills in March.  Here’s the Virginia site that lists information about the state-wide drill on March 17, as well as how to run a tornado drill.  Check out the information on the page about how to find the safest place inside your building to shelter from a tornado. 

NOAA weather radios are wonderful to have in your building if you are in an area that is particularly vulnerable to servere storms, or you just want to keep in touch with weather events.  They are available with a range of features and at a price range from $25 and up, from a variety of sources.  (Amazon lists many models and prices.)  Ours has alerted us several times to thunderstorms in the summer, which helped us to be prepared for possible power disruptions and wind/water damage.  The NOAA radios receive information continuously from the National Weather Service, and you can set them to sound an alert to your specific area so that the alarm doesn’t sound more often than necessary.   Best wishes to everyone for a safe and happy spring season!


Tornadoes: Peak Seasons

Many news reports have recently been written about the large number of tornadoes that have hit the United States this year, primarily, meteorologist say, due to the southern dip in the jet stream. Indeed, there is a possibility that this season could be one of the most active and deadliest. Here is a map from NOAA that documents the peak seasons for each state in the contiguous United States.

Virginia Tornadoes: Report from Sentara Obici Hospital

Beth Wescott was able to contact Jan Daum at the Sentara Obici hospital. Here is her report:

I spoke at length with Jan Daum of Sentara Obici in Suffolk, Virginia. Seems the tornado hopped over the hospital and demolished an adjoining strip mall and inflected heavy damage to their outpatient pediatrics center. Yes, there were windows broken and Jan stayed on the job until 9:30 pm. However, since it was wind, not water, doing the damage, her basement level library was unscathed. The cars in the hospital parking lot fared well, but those 200 yards away were twisted and broken. They saw lots of cuts and bruises and a broken arm or two, but escaped death and mayhem.

Tornadoes in Virginia

Six tornadoes have now been confirmed in eastern and southern Virginia yesterday. The Richmond Times Dispatch reported that Sentara Obici Hospital had received some damage, primarily broken windows. Beth Wescott, SE/A Network Access Coordinator, is attempting to reach the network member contact person at Obici.

Click here for video reports of tornado damage in the Suffolk area.

This is a good time to review the map below. If your area has a history of tornadoes, please make sure your tornado response procedures are up-to-date.

Weather Alerts Today


The weather is creating news today. A powerful low pressure front is pushing through towards the Northeast from the Mississippi Valley, hitting the warm temperatures we’ve had this week, and creating some fierce thunderstorms and spawning tornadoes in Tennessee and Kentucky this morning. We’ve sent a weather alert to our staff reminding everyone of what our procedures are for responding to a tornado warning or sighting in our area:

  • Tornado warning: announce the warning is in effect, ask staff and patrons to move away from windows and exterior doors
  • Tornado sighted in the area: announce we are initiating Shelter-In-Place, and that everyone should take shelter on our basement level in the hallway. (Best shelter from a tornado: as low in the building as possible, as close to the center of the building as possible)

In addition to monitoring the weather via computers, we have an All-Hazards radio that will issue an alarm in the event of an official alert. So far, we have not had to use it, but today it may come in handy.

We hope our colleagues to the west of us have fared well today. Stay in touch!

Preparing for Tornado Season

Winter is a good time to begin preparing for tornado season. Do you live and work in an area which has experienced tornadoes? If so, what’s your plan for alerting patrons that a tornado warning has been issued for your area? What are the safest places in your building? What’s your tornado safety plan for your home?

Unless you’ve been in a tornado, it’s hard to imagine its destructive powers. On May 13, 2000, my family and I sat in our Honda Civic at a local high school parking lot while an F1 tornado went over us. We had been out for ice cream and had no idea of the possibility of a tornado. In fact, we were parked in the parking lot because I wanted to get a good look at some spectacular storm cloud formations coming in from the southwest. After striking the high school, the tornado then took northeasterly track right over our house, resulting in several downed trees. An F1 tornado is quite low on the Fujita scale, however, the winds from the tornado, estimated at 80 to 100 mph, tore off roofing from the high school and sent metal barrels tumbling past our car. Did it sound like a train? Not this one. However, our car shook violently and visibility was reduced to almost nothing due to the intensity of the rain. Our girls, age 7 and 5 at the time, sat screaming in the back seat through the whole event, which probably lasted less than a minute. My wife and I, greatly concerned, kept assuring them that everything was going to be fine. Everything did turn out to be fine, and we all now have a much greater respect for tornadoes.

The map below is from data provided by the National Climatic Data Center.