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Severe Weather and Flood Safety Week: What to do during a tornado

Wednesday is the fourth day of South Carolina’s Severe Weather and Flood Safety Week. Stay up to date on weather conditions by following the South Carolina Emergency Management Division, the National Weather Service, SCETV and South Carolina Public Radio.

South Carolina isn’t known for its tornadoes, but the state still averages about 11 tornadoes a year and ranks twenty-sixth in tornadoes strikes nationally. Frank Strait, Severe Weather Liaison of the South Carolina State Climatology Office, said residents should prepare for tornadoes year-round.

“Mid-March to mid-May is prime time for the most destructive tornadoes,” Strait said, “but tornadoes can occur any month of the year.”

Tornadoes are ranked from EF0 to EF5, the latter being the strongest. South Carolina doesn’t experience EF5 tornadoes, but historically there have been a few EF4 tornadoes in addition to several EF3 and EF2 tornadoes. Tornadoes can also occur during hurricanes.

Strait said not to believe in myths like tornadoes being unable to cross over water, thinking it could keep you safe. Instead, do what you can do prepare during blue skies.

“Responding to a tornado begins before the tornado,” Strait said, “Give thought to the strongest area of your home, and how you will protect your kids and your pets. If you happen to be caught at work during a tornado, know where the best place to shelter would be.”

Some homes are not safe to stay in even during a weak tornado. Mobile homes can easily be destroyed, and coastal homes on stilts are also at risk. Consider if you need to decide on a dedicated shelter elsewhere should your home not be fit to withstand a tornado.

Jeff George, director of the South Carolina Emergency Information Network, said the lead time for tornadoes has improved drastically over the last few decades. Still, there is typically only a few minutes of warning. If you receive a tornado warning, you must act immediately.

“Get to the lowest, most inner portion of your home,” George said, “even a bathroom, hallway or a closet works.”

Since so many injuries are due to flying debris, its critical to put as many walls between you and the outdoors as possible. Strait recommends having a few helmets handy in your home’s designated shelter, and a crate for your pet to protect them from any debris as well.

If caught outdoors, get to an indoor shelter as soon as possible, even if it’s a store or a gas station.

Wait until dangerous conditions have passed before you leave your shelter. Avoid downed power lines and stay out of heavily damaged buildings. Strait said to “dress for the occasion” when cleaning up, as there could be dangerous debris outside.

Tomorrow, we’ll learn about another weather hazard faced by South Carolinians, flooding.