My View to Our Vulnerability to Tornadoes
Nature’s Most Violent Storms
Environmental Studies/ PHS 100
Warner Pacific College
October 12, 2010
Nature’s Most Violent Storms
When I think of a natural hazard, the first one that immediately comes to mind besides
earthquakes, hurricanes, and floods are tornadoes. We as a society have come face to face with
the wrath of Mother Nature. We as a nation have endured a tremendous amount of hardship but
have also come out on the other side. We as a society are also not the only ones that have dealt
with the massive aftereffects of natural disasters. An important question to ask is how our
vulnerability to these disasters can be minimized?
We first need to understand what a tornado is, what to do before a tornado, what to do
during a tornado, and most importantly is recovering from this disaster. Tornadoes are known as
nature’s most violent storms and are generated from powerful thunderstorms. It’s amazing how
fast tornadoes can cause fatalities and devastate homes and neighborhoods in a matter of
seconds. I have witnessed one of these most powerful storms and thankfully came out on the
other side. Although there was much devastation in our communities and rural towns, our
emergency crews including the Red Cross were on hand immediately following the train-like
sound as it traveled through leaving a devastating path of destruction and then it was gone
I also witnessed the quick response from our neighbors as well as the whole community
coming together to take care of those in need. I can also remember driving to my uncle’s house
and only seeing the basement still intact; however, the rest of the house was completely gone
along with their dogs later found some five miles away from their house. One of these dogs
survived but the other did not.
There are some facts about tornadoes that one needs to know so that they have a better
understanding of and are better prepared to survive after the tornado moves through leaving
devastation and in some cases death in its aftermath. We know that a tornado is created from a
powerful thunderstorm. A tornado can appear in seconds looking like a funnel-shaped cloud that
extends from the thunderstorm down to the ground creating high winds that can reach some 300
miles per hour. The paths of destruction can be in excess of one mile wide to 50 miles long.
As we have experienced here in the Northwest, every state is at risk from this hazard not
just the Midwest. We can easily remember back to our own severe tornado here that hit
Vancouver, Washington, killing six and injuring more than 300, on April 5, 1972. My friend and
I were in a truck just blocks from where it touched down. When we arrived at their home, we
discovered the path of the tornado traveled right behind their home. Thankfully, very little
damage was caused; however, the home behind theirs was not so lucky.
According to some news reports, no one in Vancouver had an inkling of what was
coming, they had no warning. According to one report, “A few people saw the sparks and wind
cloud and suspected a tornado might be approaching, but most did not know what it was; most
observers said the storm did not have a funnel cloud.”
What can we ascertain from this? We know that a tornado may strike quickly, with little
or no warning. A tornado may appear nearly transparent until dust and debris are picked up or a
cloud forms in the funnel; again we know it can strike with very little warning. Tornadoes can
accompany tropical storms and hurricanes even as they move onto land. The peak tornado
season in the southern states for example, is March through May; in the northern states, it is late
spring through early summer. Tornadoes can occur at any time but most likely occurs between
3 p.m. and 9 p.m. We know that the tornado that came across the Columbia River sucking up the
water as it moved across to Vancouver and touched town approximately at 12:51 p.m.
So what does one do before the tornado? Most of all be alert to the changing conditions.
We can do this by watching news reports for the latest information, and look around for
approaching storms. We can also look for the following danger signs: dark sky, low-lying
clouds, last but not least, is the loud roar, similar to that of a freight train. If anyone sees an
approaching storm or any of the above danger signs, we need to take shelter immediately.
What can we do during a tornado? If one is in a structure, go to a pre-designated shelter
area such as the basement, storm cellar, safe room, or the lowest building level. If one is outside
with no shelter, the most important thing is not to get under an overpass or bridge. One would be
safer in a low, flat location. We should never try to outrun a tornado even if one is in a car. The
safest thing one can do is to leave the vehicle immediately for safe shelter. Most importantly too
is to watch out for flying debris. I have witnessed firsthand the flying debris that are caused
from a tornado and the debris can cause fatalities or injuries.
Finally, how does one deal with the aftermath following a tornado? One must realize that
it is a gradual process for everyone whether dealing with the effects of the cleanup to the
emotional effects that can be caused by a natural disaster. Most importantly safety is a primary
issue as is our wellbeing. Have a plan of action which includes knowing where and what
assistance is available to you. Last but not least, develop a disaster plan for you and your family
for home, work, school, and when outdoors. Practice this plan, gathering information about
hazards, making sure that you have the necessary supplies for you and your family, and meet
with your family going over your disaster plan until each one knows it.
We are at the mercy of Mother Nature, but we can plan and prepare minimizing the
effects of natural hazards. As we have witnessed by the past natural disasters, either from a
tornado, hurricane, flood, or earthquake, we must plan accordingly and work together to
minimize the casualties and damages that a disaster can cause. If we work together with our
neighbors, emergency response workers, and the numerous agencies, we can accomplish much
and can limit our vulnerability and speed up the recovery process from a natural disaster.
Withgott, J., & Brennan, S. (2008) Environment: The Science Behind the Stories (3rd ed.). New
York. Pearson Benjamin Cummings. ISBN: 13:978-0-8053-9573-0
http://www.fema.gov/hazard/tornado/index.shtm , Retrieved October 10, 2010
http://www.fema.gov/emergency/reports/2008/nat011108.shtm, Retrieved October 10, 2010
http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm , Retrieved October 10, 2010
http://www.nssl.noaa.gov/edu/safety/tornadoguide.html, Retrieved October 10, 2010