Medical City Healthcare - April 05, 2018

We all know people who run outside in the middle of a raging thunderstorm because they heard a tornado siren. You might even be living with one of them. They just have to get a front-row seat to whatever's going on out there while you hide in the closet. Are they brave and adventurous? Maybe. One thing's for sure; they're more likely to end up in the ER or worse. Matt Carrick, MD, a trauma surgeon at Medical City Plano, wants to make sure that doesn't happen to your thrill-seekers by sharing these top tornado safety tips.

Tornado watch vs. tornado warning.

To be clear, a tornado watch isn't a Southern euphemism for a weather-related get-together. That would be a hurricane party and it's a whole different experience. In addition to the current six flags over Texas, we could fly a seventh as a member of Tornado Alley — the Southern Plains area of the central U.S. that consistently experiences a high frequency of tornadoes. Though tornadoes can happen in any month and at any time of the day or night, in North Texas most occur during the spring and early summer between 3 to 9 p.m.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA,) a tornado watch means tornadoes are possible in and near the watch area and you are advised to be prepared.

A tornado warning, on the other hand, means that a tornado has been sighted or spotted via weather radar. There is imminent danger to life and property, so activate your tornado plan and take shelter.

Tornado safety tips.

  • The No. 1 tornado safety rule is to immediately get to a safe, sturdy shelter: Most tornado-related injuries are caused by flying debris — including trees, tree limbs and hail.

If you live in a mobile home, you really only have one choice: "You need to leave that mobile home and seek shelter in a durable, solid building," said Dr. Carrick.

  • Have a designated building picked out ahead of time: This is especially important if you live in an area with frequent tornadoes.

"You can't outrun a tornado," Dr. Carrick said. "If you're outside with no secure shelter nearby, get to a ditch or other low point, lie down flat and cover your head."

  • Know what a tornado looks and sounds like: Depending on your geographic location, the sky might have a greenish tint and there may be hail.

"The roar of a tornado is similar to a freight train," said Dr. Carrick.

  • Have a plan: Hold a family meeting to create a plan for emergency situations. Be sure everyone knows where to go, what to do and how to get hold of other family members as well as emergency responders.
  • If you're at home: Get in, get down and cover up. Get to the most interior room in the lowest level of your home, away from windows, and use a blanket or mattress to cover yourself. If your home doesn't have a basement, then a bathroom, closet, laundry room or pantry will work. Visit for ways to build a safe room.
    • Have an emergency supply kit on hand which includes emergency medications, water, food supplies and batteries for a battery-operated radio or TV. Your supply kit should also include first-aid items, helmets and hard-soled shoes for every family member. You may want to consider purchasing one or more "Stop the Bleed" kits and learning how to pack a wound and apply a tourniquet if needed. Hands-only CPR and infant CPR are also good skills to have.
  • If you're in a public building: Again, think get in, get down and cover up. If you're out shopping, stay in the mall storage room or mall restroom while you wait. If you're at a place of worship, get to a center structural area.

"Try to get under the pews and away from the windows," Dr. Carrick said.

  • If you're on the road: The safest place to be is in a shelter, so try to get to one if at all possible. If you see a tornado or flying debris, pull over to the side of the road and park. Find a low-lying area away from trees. Contrary to what you might think, you want to be in an open area. Bridges and highway overpasses can be dangerous because they pick up the speed of wind. Keep your seatbelt fastened, duck your head below window level and cover yourself with a cushion or blanket if possible.  If you have kids in the car, strap them into their car seat.

"Don't seek shelter under an overpass," Dr. Carrick confirmed.

Post-Tornado Safety.

What you do after a natural disaster is often as important as what you do during one. Buildings can become unsafe after a tornado, hurricane or other weather incident, with protruding electrical wires and other dangerous hazards.

"If your house has been blown down and you're safe, you don't want to start searching through your house until one of the authorities has come and cleared it," Dr. Carrick said. "If you're trapped in your house, don't try to do too much to get out."

Instead, he suggests lightly tapping on some of the wood or whatever is trapping you. That way, first responders will hear the tapping and locate you. Moving around broken pieces of wood or furniture could cause it to collapse on you. As long as you're not stuck, stay put.

Always call 911 if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

For fast, expert care, one of our many Medical City Healthcare emergency locations has you covered. With average wait times posted online, if you do have an emergency, you can spend less time waiting and more time on the moments that matter most.

Find a fast Medical City Healthcare ER near you or call our free 24/7 Ask-A-Nurse hotline.

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Adapted from Tornado Preparedness: Your Guide to Staying Safe During a Tornado

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