Don’t get it twisted: tornadoes are serious business

Emma Daniel

News Editor

After last week’s sudden tornado warning, some students who aren’t from Alabama may be wondering how they can guarantee their safety during severe weather. 

Since Troy University has strong buildings that used to be nuclear fallout shelters, on-campus residents are lucky; however, students should have a safety plan in mind during the South’s tornado season.

Matt Breland, a weekend meteorologist at Alabama News Network, said students should have a safety plan in mind when faced with tornadic weather.

“The thing about tornadoes is it’s not like a hurricane or a flood where those situations are more predictable,” Breland said. “With tornadoes, you notice a storm, and then within 15 minutes, it’s producing a tornado.”

Tornadoes are known for their unpredictability, so Breland said students should have cellphones charged when bad weather is on the way.

He also stressed the importance of up-to-date information; many local news outlets have weather apps available for those who can’t catch a broadcast on TV, but students can also keep an eye on social media to be in the know of the situation.

“Anytime we can find out the latest information on when things are supposed to get bad, that’s one of the best ways to prepare for a situation that involves severe weather.”

Many people are aware of “Tornado Alley,” the Midwestern region of the United States which experiences the most tornadoes; however, Alabama sits in what can be called the “Dixie Alley,” which has a tornado season on its own.

“We have the nickname ‘Dixie Alley,’ because we usually see tornado season in the late stages of winter … toward the beginning of spring,” Breland said.

While our tornado season sits from about December to April, tornadoes aren’t exclusive to this time; they can occur throughout the year.

Breland said the back-and-forth weather pattern of the past year has caused some meteorologists to anticipate more severe weather.

“Usually when we see these random dips of cold air and a warm up again, that cycle can repeat itself over and over,” he said. “When it repeats, it makes us raise our eyebrows and think, ‘Are we going to see more tornadoes this season than we did last season?’”

Although it’s “hard to predict,” Breland said Alabama could face more severe weather this year.

“I’m not trying to say that tornadoes are going to be everywhere, but it’s looking like it could be a pattern that would favor more turbulent weather.”

While turning in to a weather broadcast or app is helpful, students should learn how to read a radar to spot severe weather in a tough situation. 

Breland said tornadic weather comes when areas of heavy rain “make a hook-like shape,” indicating rotation within the storm.

“When we see that rotation, that’s a very likely indicator that a tornado is either forming, trying to form or about to form.”

However, no matter what the radar says, Breland said to “respect the polygon;” if you are within areas under tornado warning, which means to take shelter.

When under a tornado warning, he also said to be aware of some safety tips students should follow.

“Definitely do not drive anywhere — stay put in their home,” Breland said. “The best place to go, if you do not live on campus, is to get away from all windows or walls that surround the outside. Get in the center part of your (building) in the lowest spot.

“A bathroom is a good spot. Get in the bathtub and put as many blankets, pillows, sheets between you as possible.”

He said students who live off-campus could also keep in touch with neighbors to have someone to wait out the storm with. 

Students on campus should move to the lowest floor of the building.

“China seldom has tornadoes,” said Wenjie Yue, a senior finance major from Anhui, China. “I wasn’t scared when we sat in the hallway, but I’d be a little worried if I was in one (a tornado).”

While international students may be unfamiliar with the dangers of tornado season, many Alabama residents are accustomed to holing up in preparation for severe weather­ — or worse, accustomed to the destruction a tornado can cause.

Caitlyn Sebastian, a senior biomedical science major from Birmingham, experienced the terror of a twister in 2012.

Her father woke her up, yelling for her to run down to the basement; when she looked up, a window was physically bending from the wind.

“I’d never heard a tornado before,” Sebastian said. “It sounds like a freight train coming right at you.”

While she had minimal damage to her own home, her neighborhood was destroyed. 

Shijia Zhang, a junior computer science major from Fushun, China, said he is getting ready for possible tornadoes.

“I am getting ready by stocking up on groceries and other items I may need,” Zhang said. “I hope classes will be canceled if it would be dangerous to walk or drive to school.”

Zhang said he experienced inclement weather before while living Troy.

“I have experienced similar weather two years ago when I lived on campus,” Zhang said. “I remember being in the bottom floor, away from windows, and praying for everyone who did not have shelter.

“It was the first time I have seen such fierce winds,” Zhang said.

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