Public Health Corner: Ready? Set? Have a plan for tornado

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) defines a tornado as a violently rotating column of wind that extends from a thunderstorm to the ground. These storms can bring winds that rotate at greater than 200 miles per hour, causing severe damage or destruction to buildings, homes, and other structures in a path that can be up to a mile wide and as long as fifty miles in length. Minnesota experiences approximately twenty-eight tornadoes on average yearly with the majority of tornadoes occurring in the months of May, June, and July. However, they can occur as early in the year as March and as late in the year as November. This extended period of risk highlights the need to be prepared year round.

Before a storm, it is important to understand the various watches and warnings, what to do when they are issued, and to have a plan in place for how to receive them. A tornado watch is issued by the National Weather Service (NWS) when the weather conditions in your area are showing increased risk of becoming severe enough to produce a tornado. During a watch, pay attention to what the weather is doing and maintain access to the latest weather information via radio, TV, or other sources.

A tornado warning is issued when a tornado has been spotted by a trained spotter or has been indicated on radar. When a warning is issued, you should seek shelter immediately by moving to your basement or storm cellar or a small, interior room, away from windows, doors, and outside walls on the lowest level of your home if no basement or cellar is available.

Weather alerts can be received via radio, TV, weather radio, or via a personal electronic notification or smartphone app. For a list of some of the available options, visit Brown County Emergency Management’s website at The outdoor sirens are meant to warn those that are outdoors when a warning is issued and may not be heard by those who are in their homes, so it is important to not rely on sirens alone in times of severe weather.

In the event of a tornado, the American Red Cross’s website recommends that your family have a disaster survival kit prepared with such essentials as water, non-perishable and easy to prepare foods, a flashlight and battery powered or crank radio, extra batteries, first aid kit, hygiene items, cell phones with chargers, and more. They also remind you to consider the particular needs of your family, such as if anyone has any special medical needs and if your family includes children or pets. This might mean including items such as hearing aids, glasses, medication, or syringes, or formula, diapers, baby foods, and entertainment items for children in your kit. If your family does include a pet, recommends the basics of food, water, and pet first aid kit, but also an extra collar, leash, and id tag, a crate or carrier in case evacuation becomes necessary, and a picture of yourself with the pet to assist in finding your pet should you become separated. Kits should be portable in case evacuation becomes necessary.

For more information on how to make sure your family is prepared in the event of a tornado, please visit FEMA’s website at, the American Red Cross’s website at , or