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New York's Severe Weather Awareness Week

Thursday May 2rd, 2013

This is the fourth in a six part series on severe weather safety which is running in conjunction with New York's Severe Weather Awareness Week.

Today we discuss the difference between a Tornado Watch and a Tornado Warning, and give you tips on what to do when a watch or warning is issued for your area.

What is a Tornado?

A tornado is a violently rotating column of air in contact with the ground. The wind speed inside a tornado ranges from under 100 miles an hour to over 200 miles an hour. they can travel as fast as 70 mph, and can destroy virtually everything in their path.

While most tornadoes that occur in central New York are not as strong as their counterparts in the midwest, strong and damaging tornadoes can and do occur here. On May 31, 1998 and June 2, 1998, central New York was hit by several tornadoes, some of which had wind speeds up to 200 mph! On July 26, 2012 there was a tornado that moved through the heart of Elmira, NY and track for almost 14 miles. Other events include April 2011, May 26, 2011, July 18, 2011, May 31, 2002, and others.

What Does a Tornado Watch Mean?

A Tornado Watch is issued when conditions are favorable, over a large area, for tornadoes and severe thunderstorms. The Tornado Watch is issued to alert you to the possibility that severe thunderstorms are expected to develop ,and that they may produce tornadoes. The National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center (SPC) issues a tornado watch for many counties and for several hours at a time.

What You Should Do When a Tornado Watch is Issued

Go about your normal activities, but watch the sky around you for developing storms. Periodically listen to NOAA Weather Radio, or television and radio stations for updates and possible warnings.

Know which county you live in, and which ones border your community. If you are on vacation, or driving through an unfamiliar area, remember the name of the county you are in, and where you are in relation to other towns or cities. Know how to get to a safe place quickly if a warning is issued for your area, or if thunderstorms approach.

What Does a Tornado Warning Mean?

A Tornado Warning is issued when doppler weather radar shows a developing tornado, or a when tornado has been sighted by SKYWARN Severe Weather Spotters, county emergency officials, police, or the public. The warning means a tornado is going to move through your county soon, so you need to take immediate action to protect your life and property. tornado warnings are issued by national weather service offices, typically for one county, or a portion of a county, for up to one hour.

What You Should Do When a Tornado Warning is Issued

The key is to remain calm, but take immediate action. If you are at home or in a small building, go to the basement or to an interior room on the lowest floor. Closets, bathrooms, and other interior rooms offer the best protection. Get under something sturdy or cover yourself with a mattress.

If you are in a school, hospital, or shopping center, go to a pre-designated shelter area. Stay away from large open areas and windows. Do not go outside to your car. If you are in a high-rise building, go to an interior small room or hallway on the lowest floor possible. Do not use the elevator, use the stairs instead.

For the best protection, get under something sturdy or drop to your knees facing an interior wall. Lean forward, with your hands shielding your head.

Get out of mobile homes or vehicles. They are easily tossed about by strong winds in the tornado. Take shelter in a substantial structure. If there is no shelter nearby, lie flat in a ditch or low spot, with your hands shielding your head. Never stay inside the mobile home or vehicle.

Presentation: Tornadoes - PDF format.

The weather safety topics for the remainder of the week will be as follows:
  • Friday, flooding.
  • Saturday, communications.

For additional severe thunderstorm weather safety and information on Severe Weather Awareness Week check out the National Weather Service Binghamton internet web site at:

NWS Binghamton, NY Preparedness

You can also contact:

David Nicosia
Warning Coordination Meteorologist for NOAA's National Weather Service
Binghamton, NY 13290
Phone: 607-770-9531 x 223

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Page last modified: April 26, 2012