With the trees budding and the first tender shoots of grass emerging, spring seems to be such a mild season. But March through May in North Carolina is also tornado season, the months when the state sees the most of those severe, hard-to-predict storms that can cause high winds of up to 300 mph.
Ideal conditions for tornado formation are warm, humid air in the lower atmosphere and cooler air above, which occur more frequently in spring in North Carolina than at other times of the year. year.
So far, during the 2018 tornado season, the National Weather Service has issued only a few tornado watches for eastern North Carolina because the weather has been relatively cool. These came out in Wayne, Cumberland and Hoke counties on March 1, when a line of thunderstorms formed against an advancing cold front.
Nick Petro, a meteorologist responsible for coordinating warnings with the National Weather Service in Raleigh, said a funnel cloud that developed in southern Wayne County that day generated numerous photographs.
“But not all funnel clouds reach the ground, and luckily that day didn’t,” Petro said.
Many others have.
Weather service data indicates that at least 1,270 tornadoes struck North Carolina from 1950 to 2016, causing at least 140 deaths. Many have occurred as part of tornado “epidemics”, in which many storms form simultaneously or within a short time of each other. One of the worst of these happened on April 14-16, 2011, when dozens of tornadoes formed in the mid-Atlantic states.
North Carolina was the hardest hit, with 30 storms hitting the state on April 16, including one that hit downtown Raleigh.
The storms had been well predicted, yet two dozen people were killed and over 300 injured across the state that day, the worst day-long tornado total in North Carolina history. North according to the weather service. All deaths occurred within tornado watch limits and were preceded by tornado warnings.
A tornado that day occurred within 1.75 miles of the weather service office in Raleigh on the third floor prompting staff to evacuate.
NC Emergency Management offers advice on its ReadyNC website on how to prepare for tornadoes, because once a storm has formed, those in its path typically have less than 30 minutes to react.
What to look for
- Know the Terms: A tornado watch means conditions are right for tornadoes to form. A tornado warning means that a tornado has indeed been sighted.
- Tornadoes occur near the trailing edge of a thunderstorm. It is not uncommon to see clear skies behind a tornado. Before a tornado, the sky can appear dark and often greenish.
- If a watch or warning has been displayed, falling hail is a danger sign.
- Before a tornado hits, the wind may subside and the air may come to a stop.
Where to go
If you see these danger signs above or spot a large, dark, low cloud, especially a spinning cloud, know where to go.
- The safest place is a basement. If you don’t have a basement, go to an interior hallway or a smaller interior room without a window, such as a bathroom, closet, stairwell, or space under the stairs. Go to the center of the room, stand under something sturdy which can be a shield against flying debris or a collapsed roof.
- Stay away from windows and skylights.
- Avoid gymnasiums, auditoriums, or other rooms with a large expanse of roof.
What to do
- Squat in the “egg” position. As a last resort, crawl under a sturdy desk or table.
- Cover your head and neck with your arms to protect yourself from flying debris.
- If you live in a mobile home or mobile classroom, go to a pre-established shelter. If no shelter is available, go outside and lie on the ground, in a ditch or depression if possible. Cover your head and neck with your arms and wait for the storm to pass.
- Never try to outrun a tornado in a vehicle, which can be easily thrown by a tornado. If you see a funnel cloud or hear a tornado warning, get out of the vehicle and find shelter, but not under an overpass or bridge. If no shelter is available, lie on the ground in a ditch or depression if possible and cover the back of your head and neck with your arms.
The National Weather Service and the Federal Emergency Management Agency have more information on how to protect yourself from a tornado.
This story was originally published April 12, 2018 3:28 pm.