When I first moved to Michigan back in the ‘70s, I was petrified during tornado season. Where I lived in Maryland, tornados were unheard of. So, whenever I saw even a hint of a tornado threat, I ran to the basement! Nowadays, after living in Michigan for so many years, I am no longer petrified but I do have a healthy fear of tornadoes and I stay well prepared.
I have seen a few tornados over the years. On August 24, 2007 a tornado tore through the city of Fenton at approximately 5:52 pm on a Friday evening. It touched down near U.S. 23, and hopped and skipped through downtown, taking down many stately old trees and damaging many buildings and homes. When I got home from work, tornado watches were being reported on TV and the sky was an unusual murky shade of green. Not feeling very safe in my mobile home, I asked my son and granddaughter to go into town for dinner, adding that I would feel safer in a building until the storm passed.
So, we headed to one of our favorite restaurants, Fenton House, located in the heart of Downtown Fenton, for some pizza and breadsticks. When the rain began to fall, my granddaughter and I stepped out to look through the back door. The rain was coming down so hard, it made her cry. Then the lights began to flicker on and off, finally going out completely and we heard a loud roaring in the sky. The waitress, trying to ease everyone’s fears brought out candles so we could continue eating our dinner. Another diner opened the front door to leave and just stood there staring, and shaking his head, saying that it looked like a war zone outside.
And that it did! Trees were torn down, roofs torn off, windows blown out and light fixtures broken. I was working for the local newspaper at the time and my reporter instinct kicked in. I grabbed my camera and notebook and we drove around to survey the damage and get first-hand reactions from residents who had been affected by the tornado.
When we returned home, my mobile home was untouched and we didn’t even lose electricity. (So much for seeking safe shelter.) However, the outcome could have turned out much different. If the path of that tornado had twisted just a little bit, my family and I may not have been so lucky.
In another incident, when a tornado tore through a subdivision on Baldwin Road, a few miles away from my home, I was standing on the front porch looking at the sky. I called my son outside and said, “Matt, look at those clouds.” He looked at me and said, “Mom get in the car.” It was a tornado and it appeared to be heading in our direction. He grabbed his daughter and we drove to seek shelter in the basement of a nearby friend. Once again, we were safe.
Sometimes it is safer to just stay put. My daughter and I left in a storm to go to a friend’s house and while we were driving there, the rain was raging while trees and power lines were coming down right in front of us. I turned around and we weathered the storm at home.
Everyone needs to be prepared during tornado season. The recent touch down of four tornados in Shiawassee County just last week caused much damage. Here is some information provided by Michigan Prepare and michigangov.com.
Some tornadoes strike rapidly, without time for a tornado warning, and sometimes without a thunderstorm in the vicinity. When you are watching for rapidly emerging tornadoes, it is important to know that you cannot depend on seeing a funnel: clouds or rain may block your view.
The following weather signs may mean that a tornado is approaching:
- A dark or green-colored sky
- A large, dark, low-lying cloud
- Large hail
- A loud roar that sounds like a freight train
If you notice any of these weather conditions, take cover immediately, and keep tuned to local radio and TV stations or to a NOAA weather radio.
Tornado Watches and Warnings
- A Tornado Watch means that tornadoes are possible. It is important to remain alert for changing weather conditions and approaching storms. Be ready to take shelter immediately.
- A Tornado Warning is an urgent announcement that a tornado has been sighted or indicated by weather radar. You should take shelter immediately.
How to Take Shelter
Flying debris is deadly during a tornado. Where you and your family are when a tornado happens changes the way you need to take shelter.
Go to the basement or lowest level of your home and avoid windows. Get under sturdy objects like tables or workbenches and cover up with blankets for more protection.
Mobile homes cannot hold up to tornado winds. It is best to find a nearby building you can go to for shelter.
Vehicles are not safe against tornado winds. Never stay in or under a vehicle during a tornado. If a tornado is occurring while you’re driving, stop and find a nearby building to take shelter in or seek low-lying ground. Never try to outrun a tornado in your vehicle.
If you cannot get to a sturdy building, find a low-lying area, like a ditch, and cover your head with an object or your arms. Avoid places with trees since they can cause more dangerous debris or fall on top of you.
Make sure you and your family know the tornado shelter plans at your work and school(s) and that these plans are regularly practiced.