Important Tornado Information - Fujita Scale - What To Do
From Bob Crispen at
From Lee Audirsch
Approximately 1,000 tornadoes hit the United States every year. In fact, within the last few hours at least twenty tornadoes touched down in the American South [and no, this is NOT normal]. CNN reports that
At least two tornadoes ripped through the heart of Nashville Thursday afternoon, April 16, damaging at least 300 buildings, including the State Capitol, and injuring more than 100 people.
Despite a path of damage six miles long, the only reported fatalities were two people killed in car crashes believed to be related to the storm.
[quoted from index.html]
Unfortunately, the folks living in the bedroom communities surrounding Birmingham, Alabama, weren't so lucky. On April 8th, three tornadoes moved across central Alabama, killing 33 people and injuring over 200. The largest of the three tornadoes was rated as an F5, the most violent tornado that occurs.
Tornadoes are measured using a scale that measures the amount of damage the tornado causes. The scale is known as the "Fujita Tornado Intensity Scale":
F0 (Gale tornado) 40-72 mph Some damage to chimneys; breaks branches off trees; pushes over shallow-rooted trees; damages sign boards.
F1 (Moderate tornado) 73-112 mph The lower limit is the beginning of hurricane wind speed; peels surface off roofs; mobile homes pushed off foundations or overturned; moving autos pushed off the roads; attached garages may be destroyed.
F2 (Significant tornado) 113-157 mph Considerable damage. Roofs torn off frame houses; mobile homes demolished; boxcars pushed over; large trees snapped or uprooted; light object missiles generated.
F3 (Severe tornado) 158-206 mph Roof and some walls torn off well constructed houses; trains overturned; most trees in forest uprooted
F4 (Devastating tornado) 207-260 mph Well-constructed houses leveled; structures with weak foundations blown off some distance; cars thrown and large missiles generated.
F5 (Incredible tornado) 261-318 mph Strong frame houses lifted off foundations and carried considerable distances to disintegrate; automobile sized missiles fly through the air in excess of 100 meters; trees debarked; steel reinforced concrete structures badly damaged.
F6 (Inconceivable tornado) 319-379 mph These winds are very unlikely. The small area of damage they might produce would probably not be recognizable along with the mess produced by F4 and F5 wind that would surround the F6 winds. Missiles, such as cars and refrigerators would do serious secondary damage that could not be directly identified as F6 damage. If this level is ever achieved, evidence for it might only be found in some manner of ground swirl pattern, for it may never be identifiable through engineering studies
[quoted from fscale.htm#top]
Between 1950 and 1994, 74% of all of the tornadoes that touched down in the United States were "weak" (F0 or F1), 25% were "strong" (F2 or F3), and only 1% were "violent" (F4 or F5). In fact, growing up in Oklahoma, I remember learning in school that there were only one or two F5 tornadoes in the United States each year.
Of the three tornadoes that touched down in Alabama on April 8th, one was an F2, one was an F3, and one was an F5. The National Weather Service Office in Birmingham has issued a preliminary report on all three of these tornadoes at
This page describes what happened during each of the three tornadoes, shows you the path that each tornado took, and gives you pictures of both the damage and the radar images caused by these tornadoes. I would _strongly_ recommend that you take a look at the path that the F5 tornado took. You can do this by either clicking on the F5 portion of the map on this page, or pointing your Web browser to
This image will take a little while to load (it is 427 K!), but it shows you the entire path of the F5 tornado from its touchdown to its end. Fortunately, this tornado traveled through sparsely populated areas. However, take a look at this image and imagine what would have happened if this tornado had come in just a few miles to the south (the black line on the image is the tornado's path, and downtown Birmingham is in the upper right corner of the image, at the intersection of Interstates 65 and 20).
Unfortunately, tornadoes aren't limited solely to the United States. In fact, Australia has the second highest incidence of tornadoes, and hundreds of other countries around the world experience tornadoes every year. So how can you protect yourself?
If you are at home when a tornado is sighted:
* Go at once to the basement, storm cellar, or the lowest level of the building.
* If there is no basement, go to an inner hallway or a smaller inner room without windows, such as a bathroom or closet. Get away from the windows. [When I was a kid in Oklahoma, we were taught to open all windows to "equalize the pressure." It turns out that the only thing that this does is get your carpet wet. In other words, KEEP YOUR WINDOWS CLOSED ... and STAY AWAY FROM THEM!]
* Go to the center of the room. Stay away from corners because they tend to attract debris.
* Get under a piece of sturdy furniture such as a workbench or heavy table or desk and hold on to it.
* Use arms to protect head and neck. [Remember all those movies where the airplane is about to crash and everyone is told to "assume crash positions?" That's what you need to do.]
* If in a mobile home, get out and find shelter elsewhere. [It sounds silly, but you'll be a heck of a lot safer lying outside in a soggy ditch.]
All of these tips come from the United States Federal Emergency Management Agency's Tornado fact sheet:
READ THIS WEB PAGE! PRINT IT OUT! This page tells you what to do before, during, and after a tornado, as well as what you should do if you are caught in a tornado at work or school, outdoors, or in a car. We don't pull our little bus of Internet happiness into too many Web sites that can save your life. This one can. Read it.
In most parts of the world, people depend on their local television weather centers for tomorrow's forecast. Most weather centers are staffed with weatherpeople who are usually just newsreaders, people hired to read the weather each night but who have no formal training in meteorology. Heck, late night talk show host (and former host of the Academy Awards) David Letterman used to be a weatherperson.
In my part of the world, we depend on our local television weather centers with our _lives_ (after all, we just had 20 tornadoes in the past couple of hours). That's why most of the local television stations in the south -- most of the GOOD stations at least -- invest millions of dollars in the latest high-tech weather forecasting equipment. To man this equipment, the stations hire the best meteorologists in the world. In my humble opinion, two of the best are James Spann and Dan Satterfield.
James Spann is the chief meteorologist at ABC 33/40 in Birmingham (actually, he's one of THREE full-time meteorologists at 33/40). When severe weather threatened Alabama both on April 8th and earlier tonight, Spann went on the television (and on several Birmingham radio stations) and stayed on the air, live, non-stop, 5 or 6 hours, no commercials, until the danger passed. Spann used ABC 33/40's Pinpoint Doppler Radar to show his audience which _neighborhoods_ (and, in some cases, which streets) were effected by the storms, giving people in the path of the tornadoes as much as 15 or 20 minutes advance warning before the tornadoes struck.
Spann (and the rest of the ABC 33/40 weather center) saved countless lives over the past couple of days. For that, I thank him. In fact, I figured I'd pull our bus into one of his Web pages to show my appreciation. If you are interested in seeing some of Spann's favorite Web sites, take a look at his "Favorite Links" page at
While James Spann covers central Alabama, Dan Satterfield covers north Alabama. Satterfield is chief meteorologist at WHNT in Huntsville, Alabama, and is the only lead weather anchor in the Tennessee Valley with a degree in Meteorology (he graduated from the University of Oklahoma and was on the tornado intercept team at the National Severe Storms Lab (the movie "Twister" was loosely based on the work done by Satterfield and the other folks at the NSSL)). Like Spann, Satterfield also stayed on the air nonstop to cover both tonight's tornadoes and the ones on April 8th. In fact, because most of tonight's tornadoes were located in Tennessee (and because part of Satterfield's audience lives in southern Tennessee), most everyone in northern Alabama and southern Tennessee turned to Satterfield for the latest information about the storms. [My family lives in the Tennessee Valley, so most of my night was spent on the phone with my family, listening to Satterfield's reports.]
I guess I had better find a way to thank Satterfield as well. Since a number of our TOURBUS riders are either teachers or parents, I'd highly recommend visiting Dan Satterfield's "Wild Wild Weather Page" at
This page is an absolutely WONDERFUL interactive weather page for kids, and it explains everything from El Nino to wind. I particularly recommend his "tornado" page that explains tornadoes in terms that even I can understand.
... now if only I could convince Spann and Satterfield to put the video of their forecasts on the Net, _everyone_ would see how lucky we Alabamians are to have two of the best meteorologists in the world watching out for us. :)

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