Last night Geoff Coulson, Warning Preparedness Meterologist for Environment Canada, spoke to a full house of eager participants in Canada’s CANWARN program.
The meeting was held at the Halton Regional Centre appropriately just hours after a small tornado had touched down just north of Toronto near Tottenham.
(Actually as I learned last night, saying a tornado has touched down is a redundancy as by definition a tornado is a rotating funnel cloud that involves swirling winds at ground level.)
I learned more than just that. Coulson’s excellent training session focused on three main points:
First was how to identify a tornado. Second was how to report the sighting of a tornado. Third was how to avoid becoming a casualty during a tornado or thunderstorm.
Here’s what you need to know to protect yourself during a thunderstorm with or without a tornado attached to it.
First seek shelter at the first sound of thunder. All thunder storms involve lightening discharges. Run if necessary to a nearby building and get inside. If your only possible shelter is a car, sit in it with your hands in your lap (so you don’t accidentally touch anything metal). Do not park under a highway overpass as you’re likely going to be struck by flying debris. Motorcyclists take note.
If at all possible avoid shopping malls, arenas or other large open-structure buildings. Coulson showed a security video of a high school gym being utterly destroyed inside of 20 seconds by a tornado in the US. Fortunately all the students and teachers of this mid-American school knew better than to use the gym as shelter and all survived a category 5 (massive destruction) tornado.
If you’re in your house, close all the windows and doors (It’s a myth that you should open windows and doors to equalize air pressure. An open house allows high-speed winds to enter the house and exit usually after removing the roof.) and go to the basement.
Finally, and this is important, do not venture outside especially into open spaces (like soccer fields) until 30 minutes after the last sound of thunder.
Saskatchewan is first in tornados in Canada closely followed by southern Ontario. Hundreds of tornados form across Canada but many, if not most, go unreported as they take place in non-populated areas.
And for those amateur photographers out there don’t think first of grabbing a camera. Think first of finding shelter. Coulson showed videos of people naively filming dangerous tornados as they approached and then when the tornado encroached on their property they continued shooting from inside behind windows or glass doors.
A shot from the category 3 storm that ripped up downtown Goderich in 2011 showed a pickup truck that looked like a pin cushion with multiple tree limbs and other debris that had punctured the body.
Flying debris is deadly, especially so if it’s crashed through your glass door with you standing there an open target.
But so is lightening as a group of photographers almost found out as they had setup their cameras on tripods to shoot images of a storm on the horizon a few kilometres away.
Coulson’s video showed a lightening bolt, literally out of the blue, which struck a tree a few meters away from the photographers who kept shooting rather than having the sense to run away as fast as they could.They were lucky the bolt hit a tree rather than their metal tripods.
BTW ARES groups from around the region were well represented at the training session.