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90 Frequently Asked Questions About Tsunamis and Their Answers

A: The National Ocean Service defines them as such: "Tsunamis are giant waves caused by earthquakes or volcanic eruptions under the sea. Out in the depths of the ocean, tsunami waves do not dramatically increase in height. But as the waves travel inland, they build up to higher and higher heights as the depth of the oceaan decreases. The speed of tsunami waves depends on ocean depth rather than the distance from the source of the wave. Tsunami waves may travel as fast as jet planes over deep waters, only slowing down when reaching shallow waters. While tsunamis are often referred to as tidal waves, this name is discouraged by oceanographers because tides have little to do with these giant waves."

A: While more common in the Pacific Ocean, such a wave can strike any coast at any time, putting all coastal regions at risk. They occur as a direct result of a violent eruption or earthquake under the surface of the ocean. According to the National Ocean Service, about 80% of such waves are caused by earthquakes. But they can be caused by volcanoes, landslides, certain types of weather, and even asteroids or comets colliding with the ocean.

A: When a large and sudden displacement occurs in the ocean (think a large earthquake below or near the ocean floor, or a volcanic eruption, or converging tectonic plates), the force of such a disruption creates waves that radiate outward in all directions from their source. This is what makes such waves so unpredictable and volatile. For example, an earthquake in one corner of the Pacific Ocean can cause a massive wave to strike a coastline thousands of miles away.

A: From a disaster preparedness standpoint, there is very little that one can do to "prepare" for such an event. The best advice is:

1). Outfit yourself in such a way that you have as much warning as possible before a wave strikes. For example, invest in an emergency radio that picks up the NOAA weather report, an automated, 24-hour network of F.M. weather radio stations that monitor weather hazards.

2). Even more importantly, have an evacuation route planned. Remember, if you live in a coastal area, you may not have much warning before a wave strikes. Even if you do get an alert on your radio, cell phone, or T.V., you may only have a few minutes to evacuate. So gather up your family, leave your possessions behind, and follow your evacuation route. Seek high ground and travel inland, if you can.

There's no "battening down the hatches" and waiting out such a wave. You must get away from the coast as soon as possible.

A: As touched on earlier, such waves can occur anywhere there is an ocean coast. However, they are most likely to happen in the Pacific Ocean and near Indonesia, as the Pacific Rim bordering the ocean has many active submarine earthquake zones.

A: It does not necessarily look like a traditional wave, with curling, cresting movement. Rather, most massive wave events will look like a wall of water moving forward or just a steadily, rapidly rising water level.

A: The speed and force depend quite a bit on the depth of the ocean. If one forms in very deep water, it can move extremely fast, over 500 mph. And because the wave moves within the water, mariners out at sea will not usually notice as one passes beneath them. The immense force of the water and the rising water level is not typically noticeable until it reaches shallow water and coastal areas.

A: Not last for very long. Most last for five minutes to two hours. However, just because water levels from a recede after a wave hits does not make it safe to return to a coastal area. Large events may involve more than one wave/water level rise, and some have even been recorded as lasting for several days. That's why it is important not to return to a tsunami site until after emergency response officials have said it is safe to do so.

A: The 1958 Lituya Bay Earthquake and Megatsunami was the largest by far. This was a massive wave that climbed almost 200 feet above sea level up the shore and more than 1,700 feet inland, caused by a severe earthquake and landslide in the region. (See the Sources section under "Earthquake Alaska" for an excellent article on this mass destruction event!)

A: Though rare, some have been recorded as reaching more than 100 feet in height, a mega wave that surges inland, far beyond where waves usually break on the shore. However, most such waves are usually relatively short in height (10 feet high or so), which unfortunately hides their danger and destructive force.

A: Thousands of miles. Such wave events can travel across an entire ocean's span before reaching landfall. Perhaps the most famous example of this was a devastating earthquake in a coastal region of western South America, yet which caused a massive wave event to strike Hawaii, thousands of miles away.

A: There are usually 2-3 such waves that occur per year.

A: The word means "harbor wave" in Japanese.

A: No, mainly because earthquakes are usually what cause such wave events, and earthquakes themselves cannot be predicted more than a few seconds or short minutes before they occur.

A: According to one scientific paper on such an event, "Most tsunamis are caused by large earthquakes on the seafloor when slabs of rock move past each other suddenly, causing the overlying water to move. The resulting waves move away from the source of the earthquake event."

A: One of their unique attributes is how different they are from wind-driven waves. While a wind-driven wave (like one caused by a hurricane) only travels along the topmost layer of the ocean, a tsunami moves through the entire water column, from the ocean floor to the ocean surface. This is why such an event will often appear like a massive water ripple rather than a wave.

A: Seek higher ground, and move away from the coast. Flee away from the coast and above the ocean level.

A: Most waves are usually around ten feet high, but they have been recorded as reaching thirty feet high or higher, and they can travel up to 1,000 feet inland, sometimes climbing up entire hillsides in doing so.

A: The biggest such wave event was a wave that crashed 1,720 feet inland in Libya Bay in Alaska in 1958.

A: Yes, it's possible. Hurricanes can cause ocean sediments to move about, which could trigger an undersea landslide, which could then cause a massive wave event to form.

A: Yes. Dozens of such wave events have crashed upon the shores of California.

A: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has a special DART program (Deep-ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis). This system locates waves as soon as they occur within the deep ocean using buoys and other deepwater equipment to monitor sea-level changes and forces moving through the water.

However, though some measurement and graphing systems have been proposed, there is no current, universally accepted method for measuring the severity of such events. And that's mostly because the severity will be entirely different based on where it strikes. For example, a wave may cause utter devastation in a coastal city just a few miles away from the earthquake source. But, conversely, that very same wave may not cause much damage at a coastal city several hundred miles away from the source.

As a general rule, most oceanographers measure such waves either by the severity of the damage they cause (if that damage is mostly uniform, strike-point to strike-point) or they measure the event by the height of the wave created by it.

A: This varies considerably, but flooding can extend inland by as much as 1,000 feet.

A: Such is a massive wave, a veritable wall of water that moves towards the coast and inland, sometimes travels 1,000 feet or more inland.

A: Most such wave events are caused by earthquakes and are therefore not easily predicted.

A: Yes. Hundreds of such wave events have hit the U.S. However, there have not been many deaths, at least not compared to natural disasters in the Pacific Ocean near Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Indian Ocean.

A: Approximately two such wave events occur each year.

A: Yes. This is not as common as earthquakes causing such events, but volcanoes can cause massive wave crashes.

A: Yes, but such events are very, very rare. Almost all massive wave events that occur in the United States occur on the west coast.

A: Unlike hurricanes that are hazardous within the ocean and approach land, a massive wave event only becomes dangerous when it comes near a coastal region. As the wave enters shallow water, it slows to 20 to 30 mph. Then, three things occur that make the wave disastrous:

The wavelength decreases.

The heigh increases.

The currents intensify.

Because such a wave involves a sudden rush of water from the ocean up onto the coast and further inland, it can cause immense damage to human life, property, and entire, local economies. For example, it can destroy boats in harbors and shallow water; it can ruin cars parked near the coast, and it can even flood, damage, and destroy buildings.

Such a wave may only be 10 feet high, but the force of the rushing water can pick up and move virtually anything in its path, including entire houses and smaller buildings. Furthermore, some waves have been recorded as reaching 100 feet high or more, which causes them to act as a massive wave and a surging rise in ocean water level, all at the same time.

A: No. Such a wave does not occur like a tidal wave, or windblown wave does, and it would be foolish and potentially lethal to try and surf a tsunami wave.

A: The water sucks back out into the open ocean, often dragging cars, trees, buildings, and people with it.

A: It's highly unlikely that this would occur, but large lakes have been known to experience smaller versions of oceanic tsunamis.

A: Yes, it's possible, has occurred before, and all undoubtedly happen again.

A: Yes. Hawaii has experienced a significant percentage of all such wave events that have occurred in the United States.

A: There may be a noticeable earthquake, a loud roaring sound, and the coastal water will likely seem to suck away from the coastline before coming back in force.

A: According to one research paper, "A subduction zone is a boundary between tectonic plates that are part of the Earth's shell. These plates descend or subduct under an adjacent plate. Sudden movement of the plates causes them to stick and generate an earthquake. The overriding plate gets squeezed as it sticks to the subducting plate. This pushes the leading edge down and the rear area bulges upward. Slowly building stress over centuries the movement continues. When an overriding plate breaks free and rises seaward the seafloor rises and lifts the water above it creating an earthquake along the subduction zone. A tsunami is generated. As the bulge end of the plate collapses it thins out and lowers coastal areas. The tsunami races off in two different directions, one, growing in size towards landfall nearby, the other to a distant shore."

A: That depends entirely on the location of the wave. As for the event that forms it, it can happen in an instant. But the crucial factor as to the speed of a forming wave is how close people are to the source point of the wave. For example, suppose a coastal city or populated area is just a few miles from the source point. In that case, the wave could arrive in a matter of minutes, giving locals little time to prepare or evacuate.

Conversely, a coastal area that is hundreds or thousands of miles away from the source point could still be severely affected by the wave, but locals may have several hours to evacuate.

A: This varies, event to event, but most such events have several waves in them.

A: Convergent plate boundaries are the type of place boundary most commonly associated with such wave events.

A: Usually, an earthquake is what causes such an event.

A: 1964 was the year of the last serious wave event in Oregon.

A: Yes. According to the USGS, "Tsunamis can be generated on impact as a rapidly moving landslide mass enters the water or as water displaces behind and ahead of a rapidly moving underwater landslide."

A: Yes. Particularly marine life that lives close to shore. Entire ecosystems can be destroyed and removed by such a wave event.

A: Yes. More than two dozen such wave events have been recorded as striking San Diego since recording began in 1806.

A: Weather scientists use seismographs to record such wave events.

A: That depends on how close the coast is to where the earthquake occurs. If the earthquake occurs very close to a coastal area, a massive wave may crash upon that coast within minutes. However, serious earthquakes out in the open ocean can cause massive waves that travel thousands of miles and take hours to reach the shore.

A: Unlike as is the case with many other natural disasters, it does not make sense to shelter in place if a massive wave is heading your way. Rather, seek higher ground, and move inland. Of course, moving inland is always ideal. But if you cannot move inland, seek higher ground where you are.

A: Such wave events do come in different shapes and sizes, though they should not be confused with tidal waves. Although both are sea waves, a tsunami and a tidal wave are two very different and unrelated phenomena. A tidal wave is a shallow water event caused by the gravitational interactions between the Sun, Moon, and Earth. In addition, tidal waves can be influenced by wind.

On the other hand, Tsunamis are ocean waves triggered by a massive event underneath the ocean's surface. One of the key differences between the two is that a tsunami involves a sudden rise in the ocean's water level up onto a coastal area. In contrast, tidal waves usually do not do this.

A: NOAA has listed the following signs as being strong indicators of an approaching, mass wave event, including a strong earthquake that causes difficulty standing, a rapid rise or fall of the water along the coast, a load ocean roar, and the rapid departure of coastal mammals and birds.

A: Do NOT stay near the coast or on the beach to watch the wave come in. Seek high ground, and try to move inland as far as possible.

A: All of the coastal regions of the United States are at risk for such waves. Large wave events have struck American coasts, and they will undoubtedly occur again. Here are a few from relatively recent history:

In 1946, a tsunami with a wave height cresting between 33 and 55 feet struck Hawaii, killing 159 people.

In 1964, a magnitude 9.2 earthquake in the Gulf of Alaska generated a tsunami that caused damage and loss of life in Alaska, Hawaii, California, Oregon, and Washington.

A 1929 magnitude 7.3 earthquake in the Grand Banks area of the Caribbean Sea caused a small tsunami that caused minor damage as far north as South Carolina.

A: Yes! Some scientists believe dogs can sense such wave events, and coastal birds have repeatedly been spotted fleeing the beach right before such a wave occurs.

A: No. Such a wave event does not just occur on the surface of the ocean. It also occurs throughout the entire depth of the ocean, particularly as the ocean gets shallower.

A: We cannot prevent such wave events from occurring, but we can better prepare for them and respond to them when they do occur.

A: Did you know that 40% of the world's population lives within 100 kilometers of an ocean coast? Though massive wave events might not be as common as other disasters like earthquakes, tornados, or hurricanes, tsunamis have the potential to affect countless lives and create incomprehensible damage. Tsunamis are a legitimate concern for billions of humans on all continents of our planet. They're a constant disaster threat that poses a serious risk for those who live in coastal regions. That's why it is important to know what they are and how to prepare for them. Humans who live in coastal regions must innovate better, safer, and more efficient evacuation plans or build and develop coastal cities on higher ground to adapt to them.

A: Scientists use seismographs to study such wave events and the earthquakes that create them.

A: Virtually anything. Cars, boats, humans, animals, trees, other plants, even entire buildings and homes can be destroyed.

A: If you are not near a high-risk coastal area, you can donate to organizations that help support victims. If you live near a coastal area, you can receive first responder training and volunteer in the relief efforts if such a wave event ever strikes your area.

A: Such a wave event is much like a tidal wave, only much more forceful, hence the distinction. But as the wave approaches the shore, the force of the wave pulls the water in front of it back into the wave, building force and making the wave even more powerful.

A: Yes. Such waves do not always look like traditional tidal waves. But they do have a crest.

A: If you are at home, DO turn off all water, gas, and electricity and flee to higher ground. Do NOT go down to the beach to watch the wave come in.

A: They are categorized and recorded by the magnitude of the largest wave in the set, whichever one that happens to be.

A: Drastically. The base of such a wave can completely change the topography of the seafloor. It erodes the seafloor sediments and can completely devastate the "benthic" layer or the sea bottom ecosystem.

A: Seek higher ground as quickly as possible while moving away from the water's edge.

A: While such wave events have the potential to be extremely devastating, the silver lining (if there is any) with this natural disaster is that they are relatively infrequent. Major tsunamis that have the potential to cause serious damage usually occur once every 10-12 years on average, with smaller, less destructive events having the possibility to occur more frequently.

As for the future, it is thought that climate-induced sea level rises will make tsunamis worse. It is unclear if tsunamis will become more frequent in the future. Still, many scientists believe that rising sea levels will only exacerbate the destruction wrought by waves, as levees and break walls are already overtaxed.

A: While these are not as common as other natural disasters like floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, and hurricanes, tsunamis do happen. There have been about two dozen recorded tsunamis that have occurred in the last decade.

A: If you are aware that a wave is inbound, the best thing is to evacuate immediately and seek higher ground. Do not stay near the coast. Instead, flee away from the coast and seek higher ground as soon as possible.

A: Recovering from a tsunami is sometimes a slow and arduous process, given how much damage can be caused by them. Some basic tips include:

Avoid disaster areas the may still be dangerous.

Avoid debris in the water.

Check yourself and others for injuries and seek first aid.

Assist in rescue efforts, but only in such a way that does not put yourself in danger.

Stay out of buildings with water in them, as the waves can cause floors and walls to crack and collapse.

A: Preventing or reducing wave damage is a science in and of itself. Washington University offers a full college course on the subject. Citing their information, there are four key ways to prevent and reduce damage:

"1. Avoid Inundation Areas: Site Buildings or infrastructure away from hazard area or locate on a high point.

  1. Slow Water: Forests, ditches, slopes, or berms can slow down waves and filter out debris. The success of this method depends on correctly estimating the force of the tsunami.
  1. Steering: Water can be steered to strategically placed angled walls, ditches and paved roads. Theoretically, porous dikes can reduce the impact of violent waves.
  1. Blocking: Walls, hardened terraces, berms and parking structures can be built to block waves. The house and household in a wide community context such as whether it is a majority or minority situation, the conflict situation and ownership issues."

A: Some scientists think so. A warming planet is likely to lead to a range of events, including more frequent earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, giant landslides, and wave events.

A: No. Although both are sea waves, they are distinctly different. According to the United States Geological Survey, "A tidal wave is a shallow water wave caused by the gravitational interactions between the Sun, Moon, and Earth ("tidal wave" was used in earlier times to describe what we now call a tsunami.) A tsunami is an ocean wave triggered by large earthquakes that occur near or under the ocean, volcanic eruptions, submarine landslides, or by onshore landslides in which large volumes of debris fall into the water."

A: It's unlikely that a single nuke could cause a massive wave, but a line of explosions denoted off the coast could indeed create a destructive tsunami.

A: Yes. Other weather events and world factors can cause tsunamis, like a landslide or a volcanic eruption.

A: Yes! Shockingly enough, yes. According to one weather expert, "Tsunamis, also known as tidal waves, are almost exclusively believed to be an event that occurs in the world's oceans and seas. Generally, a tsunami is caused by an Earthquake, volcanic eruption, or other underwater explosions such as landslides, glacier movement or even meteorite impacts. But tsunamis on the Great Lakes, known as 'meteotsunamis', can also happen. These are described as a rather unfamiliar phenomenon, but they have actually been happening often over the years."

A: The answer is quite disgusting. According to the India Water Portal, "The earthquake and the tsunami is a natural phenomenon. BUT the black water is manmade! The black colour is putrefying sewage that accumulates on the ocean floors off the coast line of the continents where humans inhabit. The black tsunami illuminates a painfully unnoticed reality that the great majority of the people on our planet ignore. Storm water, domestic faeces and industrial sewage have been discharged into our rivers, lakes and oceans for more than two thousand years. The Romans discharged contaminated water into rivers and oceans. The black mud spreads to cover the beds of oceans, lakes, rivers and manmade channels. These become aquatic death zones created by man."

A: An orphan tsunami is a tsunami wave event that occurs, but the scientists who study it cannot accurately find or determine the parent earthquake that caused it. It is a mystery event, essentially.

A: To be classified as such a natural disaster, a wave has to meet the following qualifications, according to NOAA, "A tsunami is a series of waves caused by earthquakes or undersea volcanic eruptions.... Tsunamis are giant waves caused by earthquakes or volcanic eruptions under the sea. Out in the depths of the ocean, tsunami waves do not dramatically increase in height."

A: The fear of tsunamis, or waves in general, is called "Cymophobia."

A: According to NOAA, "Most tsunamis are caused by earthquakes on converging tectonic plate boundaries. Since 1900, over 80% of likely tsunamis were generated by earthquakes. However, tsunamis can also be caused by landslides, volcanic activity, certain types of weather, and—possibly—near-earth objects (e.g., asteroids, comets) colliding with or exploding above the ocean."

A: "Tsunami" is a Japanese word. According to Washington University, "Tsunami is a Japanese word with the English translation, 'harbor wave.' Represented by two characters, the top character, 'tsu,' means harbor, while the bottom character, 'nami,' means 'wave.' In the past, tsunamis were sometimes referred to as 'tidal waves' by the general public, and as 'seismic sea waves' by the scientific community. The term 'tidal wave' is a misnomer; although a tsunami's impact upon a coastline is dependent upon the tidal level at the time a tsunami strikes, tsunamis are unrelated to the tides. Tides result from the imbalanced, extraterrestrial, gravitational influences of the moon, sun, and planets. The term 'seismic sea wave' is also misleading. 'Seismic' implies an earthquake-related generation mechanism, but a tsunami can also be caused by a nonseismic event, such as a landslide or meteorite impact."

A: In total, there have been 72 recorded wave events that have hit the United States since 1737, with a total of 548 deaths. Virtually all of these have occurred in the Pacific Ocean, with most regions affected being Alaska and Hawaii. The most recent wave to hit the United States was a landslide in Icy Bay, Alaska. No fatalities occurred.

A: According to data compiled by NOAA and the Global Historical Tsunami Database, "Tsunamis that cause damage or deaths near their source occur approximately twice per year. Tsunamis that cause damage or deaths on distant shores (more than 1,000 kilometers, 620 miles, away) occur about twice per decade." In summary, massive wave events are uncommon, but they are deadly.

A: The Pacific Ocean has the most recorded instances of tsunami waves, particularly near Indonesia. This is because the Pacific Rim borders the Pacific Ocean and has many active submarine earthquake zones. However, more recently, tsunamis have been recorded in the Mediterranean Sea region and are expected in the Caribbean Sea.

A: Tsunamis, in rough English translation, means "harbor wave."

A: Scientists use seismographs to measure the strength, intensity, speed, and size of tsunamis.

A: They are called as such because, unlike tidal waves, tsunamis can cause mass deaths when they reach land.

A: Tsunamis are classified by their strength and intensity. According to the experts, "A small movement from a convergent boundary will produce a tsunami of weak to moderate strength, while a major movement from the same boundary will produce a tsunamis of significant magnitude. Tsunami are usually named for the landmass they impact, or city or town they inflict damage upon. The recent Fukishima tsunamis that impacted Japan was named for the nuclear reactors that were overrun with salt water from the ocean. Footage of the tsunamis show it reaching far inland, destroying houses, fields, and part of the Japanese population that lived there. While at sea, it is hard to gauge the strength of a tsunamis, as there is more room for the water to swell in."

A: According to the data, most tsunamis cause a sea rise of no more than 10 feet. However, a tsunami wave can reach heights of 30 feet or more. Keep in mind, though, 40% of the world's population lives in coastal areas. Just in the United States alone, 127 million people live near sea level. This is why tsunamis are so dangerous. Though a tsunami wave may only cause a sea-level rise of 10 feet, that 10 feet of rise and the fact that a wave can travel up to 1,000 feet inland can be devastating for human habitation.

A: Very deadly! Not only are tsunamis deadly in the initial rush of water that comes surging up onto the land, but when the water recedes into the ocean, it can drag people out into the open water and drown them.






















80 Frequently Asked Questions About Tornadoes and Their Answers

According to the National Severe Storms Laboratory, a wind storm of this kind is precisely defined as, "A tornado is a narrow, violently rotating column of air that extends from a thunderstorm to the ground. Because wind is invisible, it is hard to see a tornado unless it forms a condensation funnel made up of water droplets, dust, and debris. Tornadoes can be among the most violent phenomena of all atmospheric storms we experience."

This is a difficult question to answer. Even the experts don't know for sure how storms like these form. When asked about it, NSSL scientists responded with the following quote, "The truth is that we don't fully understand. The most destructive tornadoes occur from supercells, which are rotating thunderstorms with a well-defined radar circulation called a mesocyclone. (Supercells can also produce damaging hail, severe non-tornadic winds, frequent lightning, and flash floods.) Tornado formation is believed to be dictated mainly by things which happen on the storm scale, in and around the mesocyclone. Recent theories and results from the VORTEX2 program suggest that once a mesocyclone is underway, tornado development is related to the temperature differences across the edge of downdraft air wrapping around the mesocyclone."

Tornadic events occur during all seasons. But there is a peak period where such storms are most common, considered "tornado season." That peak begins in March and lasts through June.

The alley refers to geography in the U.S. that is more prone to tornadic events than other parts of the United States. This region includes parts of South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, Oklahoma, and Texas.

A warning is a severe weather warning. Such a warning is issued by regional offices of weather forecasting agencies worldwide to alert the public when a tornadic event has been sighted or indicated by weather radar within the parent thunderstorm. A warning means a tornadic event has been spotted and that those in the region near the event should take cover.

As one can imagine, a tornado will have similar sounds to a thunderstorm, often a constant rumble or low, deafening roar. Tornadic events can also sound like a waterfall, whooshing air, or a nearby jet engine.

A watch is one step down from a warning. To put it simply, a watch is a cautionary statement announced by weather monitoring services to indicate that conditions for severe wind storms are favorable but not necessarily imminent.

A watch is issued by the national NOAA Storm prediction Center when it notices conditions prone to generating severe wind storms. The correct precautions to take when a watch is in place are preparing for severe weather and staying tuned to an NOAA Weather Radio until the watch is removed. A warning is issued by a local NOAA National Weather Service Forecast Office. A warning means that weather experts have spotted a legitimate tornadic event, and there is a serious threat to those in the path of the storm. A warning indicates that you must act now to find safe shelter.

Here are three tips on what to do in a tornadic storm:

1). Be prepared. Have fresh batteries on hand and a battery-operated TV and radio. Make sure you have a plan for where you're going to shelter if and when a storm strikes. Make sure you take into account your family members, people with special needs, and your pets. Have an emergency kit on hand that includes water, food, and medical supplies.

2). Keep an eye on weather conditions. Look for factors like a dark or green-colored sky, a large, dark, low-lying cloud, large hail, or a roar that sounds like a freight train. If you notice these conditions, take cover immediately.

3). Know where to shelter. This is the most important factor in severe storm preparedness. Quoting the CDC directly, "Go to the basement or an inside room without windows on the lowest floor (bathroom, closet, center hallway). If possible, avoid sheltering in a room with windows. For added protection get under something sturdy (a heavy table or workbench). Cover your body with a blanket, sleeping bag or mattress. Protect your head with anything available. Do not stay in a mobile home."

The most important thing to remember when a severe storm strikes is to take cover and find shelter. Falling and flying debris cause the most deaths and injuries during a tornado, so seeking shelter must be the primary objective when that twister comes for a visit!

A major wind and weather event can cause immense damage to structures, trees, humans, and animals; tornadic events are a natural disaster that can happen suddenly. For those who live in geographic regions prone to such storms, it's important to understand what these weather events are, how they come about, how to plan for them, and what to do when such a storm touches down near you. Such storms can appear as a traditional funnel shape that most people are used to or appear in a slender rope-like form. Some have a churning, smoky look to them, and others contain "multiple vortices," which are small, individual tornadoes rotating around a common center.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has helped us determine rapid responses for serious wind storms. Here are some tips:

  • Prepare an emergency plan and put together an emergency kit. Be sure to have a first aid kit on hand.
  • Stay aware of weather conditions, especially if you live in a storm-prone area.
  • Know the best places to shelter both indoors and outdoors.
  • Unlike tsunamis and hurricanes, which one would usually evacuate from, it is not a good idea to try and outrun a tornado. If one is coming your way, seek shelter immediately!

While these storms share similarities and can sometimes occur in tandem with each other, there are distinct differences between the two. Quoting NASA, "The most obvious difference between tornadoes and hurricanes is that they have drastically different scales. They form under different circumstances and have different impacts on the environment. Tornadoes are 'small-scale circulations', the largest observed horizontal dimensions in the most severe cases being on the order of 1 to 1.5 miles. They most often form in association with severe thunderstorms which develop in the high wind-shear environment of the Central Plains during spring and early summer, when the large-scale wind flow provides favorable conditions for the sometimes violent clash between the moist warm air from the Gulf of Mexico with the cold dry continental air coming from the northwest. Hurricanes, on the other hand, are large-scale circulations with horizontal dimensions from 60 to well over 1000 miles in diameter."

Seek shelter immediately. This is the most important thing to do during a tornadic event. Quoting the CDC, "Go to the basement or an inside room without windows on the lowest floor (bathroom, closet, center hallway). If possible, avoid sheltering in a room with windows. For added protection get under something sturdy (a heavy table or workbench). Cover your body with a blanket, sleeping bag, or mattress. Protect your head with anything available. Do not stay in a mobile home."

The region known as Tornado Alley includes parts of South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, Oklahoma, and Texas.

Tornadic events are measured based on the speed of their winds, using the Fujita Scale. And like many natural disasters, the strength of a storm is measured by the damage it causes. Tornadic storms can do immense damage, as the force of wind carried through a tornadic event can be so strong that it can lift objects off the ground, including people, animals, cars, machinery, buildings, and houses. From the damage caused by a tornado, experts can determine the wind speeds of that storm. The Enhanced Fujita Scale ranks tornadic events in a way not unlike the CAT system that ranks hurricanes. An F0 tornado will have a 3-second gust of 45 to 78 mph; an F1 will gust from 79 to 117 mph, F2 at 118 to 161, F3 at 162 to 209 mph, F4 at 210 to 261 mph, and an F5 storm can reach wind speeds of 262 to 317 mph.

A fire tornado is most frequently associated with a tornado that occurs in a region that is experiencing a wildfire. The result can be a literal tornadic storm made of fire. The technical term for a fire tornado is a fire whirl or a “pyrogenetic tornado.” According to one resource, wildfires can cause tornadoes. Quoting one database, "A wildfire – or multiple wildfires in the same area – can cause a firestorm. A firestorm occurs when heat from a wildfire creates its own wind system. This phenomenon can lead to very strange weather effects."

Take shelter! Quoting the CDC's quick-advice warning on tornadoes, "Go to the basement or an inside room without windows on the lowest floor (bathroom, closet, center hallway). If possible, avoid sheltering in a room with windows. For added protection get under something sturdy (a heavy table or workbench). Cover your body with a blanket, sleeping bag or mattress. Protect your head with anything available. Do not stay in a mobile home."

May and June are the peak tornado months in most states that comprise tornado alley.

These are unique storm events that require certain weather conditions for them to occur. According to National Geographic, "Tornadoes form when warm, humid air collides with cold, dry air. The denser cold air is pushed over the warm air, usually producing thunderstorms. The warm air rises through the colder air, causing an updraft. When it touches the ground, it becomes a tornado."

Wind speeds for such storms occur at an average of 30 miles per hour. However, tornadoes can easily approach wind speeds of 70 miles per hour or more. Furthermore, tornado winds gust, with gusts being measured up to 200 miles per hour or more.

May and June are the peak tornado months in most states that reside within the alley.

The average tornadic event is about 660 feet wide and moves across the ground at about 30 miles per hour. Most tornadoes travel about five or six miles before dying out. However, incredibly destructive storms can be much wider, move as fast as 300 miles per hour, and last much longer than just a few minutes. From records, "The most 'extreme' tornado in recorded history was the Tri-State Tornado, which spread through parts of Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana on March 18, 1925. It is considered an F5 on the Fujita Scale, even though tornadoes were not ranked on any scale at the time. It holds records for longest path length at 219 miles (352 km), longest duration at about 3½ hours, and fastest forward speed for a significant tornado at 73 mph (117 km/h) anywhere on Earth. In addition, it is the deadliest single tornado in United States history with 695 fatalities. It was also the third-costliest tornado in history at the time, but has been surpassed by several others non-normalized. When costs are normalized for wealth and inflation, it still ranks third today."

Such storms have a very distinct look on radar equipment. According to one weather resource, "Meteorologists look for low CC values within a tornado's debris ball surrounded by higher values. This often appears as a small blue circle within a larger red area. If the radar shows a strong area of rotation and a debris ball in the same area, it is a strong signature that there is a tornado occurring."

Only a few people have captured footage of the inside of a tornadic storm (due to the extreme and inherent danger of being anywhere near such a storm). But the inside of such a storm looks much like a funnel, with a cylindrical wall of debris, dirt, sand, and other items swirling around in a circle. If it's a sunny day, the sky can often be seen at the top of the cylinder. This is rarer, however, as such storms usually occur during a thunderstorm and often at night.

A waterspout. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, "Waterspouts fall into two categories: fair weather waterspouts and tornadic waterspouts. Tornadic waterspouts are tornadoes that form over water, or move from land to water. They have the same characteristics as a land tornado. They are associated with severe thunderstorms, and are often accompanied by high winds and seas, large hail, and frequent dangerous lightning."

While such storms can occur at any point of the year, there is a season for them, especially in Kansas, the heart of the alley. The two months where such storms are most likely to occur in Kansas are May and June.

Where to go during a storm event like this depends quite a bit on where you are when the storm hits. For example, if you are in your home when the storm hits, the basement is the best spot because it is underground. However, if you don't have a basement where you live, the bathroom is the best place to go because it is normally in the interior and has no windows. If that does not work, a closet or a hallway in the center of your home is a good spot to take cover.

Another tip to remember during a serious, tornadic storm event is to not go higher up in your home. Stay on the ground floor.

Clouds are often the first sign of an impending tornadic event. While different types of clouds can often be used as predictors for a wide range of weather events, only certain clouds tend to precede tornadoes. These include cumulonimbus clouds, wall clouds, and funnel clouds.

Green sky is often an indicator of an impending tornadic event. But this is not the only predictor, and such severe weather events can occur with no green in the sky whatsoever.

El Reno, a massive storm that swept through Oklahoma in 2013, took the world record for the biggest tornadic event ever recorded. It was an EF-5 storm, with a maximum width of 2.6 miles and a path length of 16.2 miles. It swept across the ground for 40 minutes, with wind speeds greater than 200 miles per hour. Nine people died in this storm, including three storm chasers.

Though these storms are similar, there are critical differences. Cyclones tend to form over the water in the South Pacific, whereas tornadic storms tend to form over land. Cyclones are much larger yet less frequent storms than tornadoes. Cyclones almost always start over the water and then sometimes move towards land. In contrast, tornadoes almost always start over land and stay on land (except for tornadic waterspouts, a unique phenomenon).

While a tornadic storm moves at about 30-70 miles per hour across the ground, the winds of the storm itself can often exceed 200 miles per hour.

A shelter is, simply, a super-strong, super safe room inside your home. And while the cost of one can run anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 when purchasing a pre-made product, building one yourself can be a significantly cheaper option. Furthermore, several websites offer free information and downloadable guides on how to build a shelter.

Here are a few signs to look for that may indicate a severe, tornadic storm is inbound:

  • A dark, often greenish, sky, sometimes bright green.
  • A wall of clouds or an approaching cloud of debris moving towards you.
  • Large hail, particularly occurring in the absence of rain.
  • The wind may die down, and the air may become very still, "The calm before the storm."
  • You may hear a roar similar to a freight train or jet engine.
  • An approaching cloud of debris, even if a funnel is not yet visible.

Other natural hazards often associated with such storms are high winds, flooding, lightning, wildfires, and collision forces of objects being thrown about by the storm.

This is a scary, frightening moment. Quoting the NOAA, "There is no safe option when caught in a tornado in a car, just slightly less-dangerous ones. If the tornado is visible, far away, and the traffic is light, you may be able to drive out of its path by moving at right angles to the tornado. Seek shelter in a sturdy building, or underground if possible. If you are caught by extreme winds or flying debris, park the car as quickly and safely as possible – out of the traffic lanes. Stay in the car with the seat belt on. Put your head down below the windows; cover your head with your hands and a blanket, coat, or other cushion if possible. If you can safely get noticeably lower than the level of the roadway, leave your car and lie in that area, covering your head with your hands. Avoid seeking shelter under bridges, which can create deadly traffic hazards while offering little protection against flying debris."

Most storms of this kind (defined by the funnel cloud's actual touchdown to the ground) last for only ten minutes, though the immense winds and the funnel clouds in the air may begin long before the storm forms and continue to go on long after the storm recedes. The danger does not begin and end with the formation and recession of the storm itself. The storm that creates the tornado is dangerous before the storm forms and long after the storm recedes.

If the winds are strong enough, a severe tornadic event can pick up a car.

Yes! Storms like these often make noise. People near a tornado storm have said that it sounds a lot like a freight train, a jet engine, or a loud, whooshing sound.

This depends entirely on the strength of the storm. As Tom Skilling, a weather expert, said, "When a tornado threatens, there is no absolutely safe place in a house, other than a specifically designed tornado-proof 'safe room.' However, there are degrees of safety below absolute security. A crawl space is a possibly safe place, depending on the type of construction of the house. The crawl space of a house built upon a cinder block or wooden foundation will offer less protection than a similarly constructed house on a concrete foundation. However, especially intense tornadoes, though they occur rarely, have the capability to totally obliterate houses constructed on crawl spaces. Also, one must consider the location in a crawl space: ideally away from heavy appliances or furniture in the house above the crawl space."

These storms are deadly and can cause massive destruction to infrastructure, buildings, roads, power lines, water utilities, etc. And they're dangerous to human life. About 80 people die from tornadoes in the U.S. each year, and these storms cause about 1,500 injuries each year.

The word "tornado" means "A mobile, destructive vortex of violently rotating winds having the appearance of a funnel-shaped cloud and advancing beneath a large storm system." The derivation of the word is, "Mid 16th century (denoting a violent thunderstorm of the tropical Atlantic Ocean): perhaps an alteration of Spanish 'tronada' 'thunderstorm' (from tronar 'to thunder') by association with Spanish tornar 'to turn'."

They are essentially the same thing. There are, however, different types of storms that many people think may or may not be tornadic events. For example, a funnel cloud is usually what precipitates a tornado, as a funnel cloud is a rotating column of air that is not yet in contact with the ground. Once it comes into contact with the ground, it becomes a tornado.

There are two different types of speeds to consider, the speed of movement of the storm across the ground and the speed of the wind within the storm. The ground speed of the storm can range anywhere from 30 miles per hour to 70 miles per hour. The storm's wind speed can range anywhere from 70 miles per hour to over 200 miles per hour.

May through June is the prime season for such storms.

May through June is the prime season for such storms.

One would think so, given that tornadic events are often associated with thunderstorms. But in fact, rain seldom occurs in or near an event. According to the Disaster Center, "Tornadoes are associated with a powerful updraft, so rain does not fall in or next to a tornado. Very large hail, however, does fall in the immediate area of the tornado. In humid environments, rain often tends to wrap around the tornado, being pulled from the main precipitation area around the outside of the rotating updraft. The rain could make it difficult to see the tornado."

Only four tornadic events have been reported in Alaska since 1950.

The energy of a tornadic event comes from the updraft of the twisting air. When that updraft recedes, the storm loses energy and dies down.

Very far, depending on conditions. Tornadic events are unpredictable because of the complex, ever-changing, and volatile nature of the thunderstorms that help create tornadoes. A storm can form very quickly and with almost no warning. That's why spotters look for the environmental conditions within the atmosphere that can cause one to occur. Then, the spotters issue watches when those conditions develop and warnings when a tornado storm does occur. As for how far such a storm can travel, these storms can travel well over one hundred miles if the conditions are right.

You cannot stop a tornadic storm. The best approach to a storm such as this is to take cover in a sturdy structure.

The NOAA Ocean Service defines a waterspout as such: "Tornadic waterspouts are tornadoes that form over water, or move from land to water. They have the same characteristics as a land tornado. They are associated with severe thunderstorms, and are often accompanied by high winds and seas, large hail, and frequent dangerous lightning."

No. This is an old myth. People used to think that opening the windows "equalized the pressure" in the house. But not only is this sketchy science at best, taking time to open windows when a tornadic weather event is bearing down on you is a waste of time. Also, you may be injured by flying glass trying to do it. And if the tornado hits your home, it will most likely blast the windows open anyway.

A wedge tornado is a tornadic event where the storm cell looks wider from one side to the next than the distance from the ground to the cloud base that the tornado is coming from.

An F5 tornadic event has the highest winds of any storm. The winds of an F5 tend to range from 200 miles per hour to 318 miles per hour or more. This type of storm can pull houses off of their foundations.

Here's a quick look at what you should do after a tornado:

  • Give first aid when and where it is appropriate. Don't try to move the seriously injured unless they are in immediate danger of further injury. Call for help as soon as possible.
  • If they are available and there is a signal, turn on the radio or television to get the latest emergency information.
  • Do not go into damaged buildings. Return home only when authorities say it is safe. Damage can still occur after a major storm event passes.
  • Clean up spilled medicines, bleaches, or gasoline, or other flammable liquids immediately. Run damage control on your home and try to prevent further damage from occurring.

While tornado storms can occur any time of the year in Alabama, the "season," as it were, is from May to June.

While such storms occur all across Planet Earth, the United States has by far the most storms of this kind. And while Indigenous cultures have been observing tornadoes for thousands of years, the first recording of a Euro-American spotting a tornado was in 1643, from the journal entry of Massachusetts Bay Colony governor John Winthrop.

The green color is caused by water droplets suspended in the sky by the storm cell. The droplets reflect sunlight, which results in radiation of green frequencies.

No. Even a slow-moving tornado still moves at about 30 miles per hour. If you encounter a storm while you're out and about on foot, try to run perpendicular to the storm. If the storm is headed straight for you, try to find a low-lying place to lie down flat on the ground, like a ditch or dry creek bed.

Yes, California averages about a dozen or so tornadic events per year. Most of them are relatively weak, rarely causing serious damage, harm, or property destruction.

A bathtub can be safe during a tornadic event, but only if the bathroom is windowless. Being near windows during such a storm event is very dangerous. Take shelter in a bathtub, but only if the bathtub is located near the center of the home, with no windows, and preferably on the ground floor.

EF stands for "Enhanced Fujita Scale." From the National Weather Service, "The Enhanced Fujita Scale or EF Scale, which became operational on February 1, 2007, is used to assign a tornado a 'rating' based on estimated wind speeds and related damage. When tornado-related damage is surveyed, it is compared to a list of Damage Indicators (DIs) and Degrees of Damage (DoD) which help estimate better the range of wind speeds the tornado likely produced. From that, a rating (from EF0 to EF5) is assigned."

Most experts agree that being sucked into a tornado would result in probable death. The biggest danger of this is not from falling out of the tornado but from being impaled by the debris moving through the storm. Survivors of such an event have compared being picked up by a tornado to being dragged on concrete.

Tornado season generally refers to May to June for Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. On the Gulf Coast, tornado season occurs earlier in the spring. The tornado season is in June or July in the northern Plains and upper Midwest (North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, and Minnesota). However, it's important to remember that tornados can occur at any time of the year and that they can occur during the day or night.

That depends on the force, size, and speed of the storm. But most tornadic events can be heard from one to two miles away.

A good, strong tornado shelter could cost as much as $10,000. It's a worthwhile investment, though, and here's why. Unlike other natural disasters like hurricanes and tsunamis, tornadoes can occur virtually anywhere and everywhere. They've been recorded on all continents and in almost all countries. The countries that are most likely to experience such storms are:

  • The United States (This country experiences the most tornadoes on Planet Earth by far).
  • Italy
  • France
  • Spain
  • India
  • Brazil
  • Argentina
  • Uruguay
  • Australia
  • Japan
  • China
  • Russia
  • Ukraine
  • Poland
  • Germany
  • Australia
  • New Zealand

A supercell thunderstorm is the type of cloud formation that will likely precede a tornadic event. Another type of cloud formation, called a funnel cloud, can often act as a precursor to a storm.

A landspout is simply a type of tornadic event that is not associated with a mesocyclone (the supercell thunderstorm most often associated with tornadoes). Landspouts are usually not as strong or forceful as other tornadic events, and they do not last as long.

The funnel that makes its way to the ground is called a condensation funnel. It becomes a tornadic event once it makes contact with the ground.

Such a storm event is made out of cool air fed by a jet stream, plus a strong wind band in the atmosphere. Water droplets from a supercell thunderstorm create moist conditions in the air, which forms the funnel cloud.

Coincidentally, there is no place on Planet Earth that is as likely to experience tornadoes as the Great Plains and Mississippi Valley regions of the United States. While other "tornado-prone" countries may only experience about 20 tornadoes every year, the United States records about 1,200 tornadoes each year. While violent tornadoes have been reported in all fifty states, they are most common in "Tornado Alley," the central region of the U.S. from Appalachia to the Rocky Mountains. The Southeast, South, Midwest, Northern Plains, and Central Plains regions of the U.S. are all well within Tornado Alley.

Technically, there is no such thing as an F6 tornado. While the EF scale does go all the way up to 12, tornadoes are not supposed to reach F6, and they have not yet done so. At least none that have been recorded.

Most modern-day cell phones offer downloadable apps that can offer real-time weather warnings and alerts.

Traumatic injuries, particularly head injuries, are the leading cause of death during tornadoes.

This is the most common type of tornadic event. Such an event refers to a tornado that gathers its strength from a thunderstorm supercell. This is also the most destructive type of tornado.

Avoid windows! Go to the lowest floor if you have time to do so, and find a small, centrally located room to shelter in. Crouch down, as low as possible, facing down, and cover your head with your hands.

The center of the ground floor, away from windows, is the safest place to be during a tornadic event if no tornado shelter is available.

It's possible. Scientists have determined that the air pressure inside a tornado is such that the oxygen is often sucked out of the eye of the tornado.

While sizes of tornadic events do vary quite a bit, the smallest widths are usually recorded at ten yards or so (thirty feet). They can be even smaller than that, but it is rare. Most tornadoes are much larger, about 500 to 700 feet in diameter.