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Tornado watches and warnings: do you know what to do?

If you get a warning in your area, you need to take action soon.
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Do you know what to do in the event of a tornado watch or warning?

First, know the difference between a watch and a warning.

The National Weather service says a TORNADO WATCH means BE PREPARED because tornadoes are possible in and near the watch area. This is the time to review and discuss emergency plans, check supplies and your safe room. NWS says you should be ready to act quickly if a warning is issued or you suspect a tornado is approaching because acting early helps to save lives.

A TORNADO WARNING is the time to TAKE ACTION. A warning means a tornado has either been sighted or indicated by weather radar, and there is imminent danger to life and property, according to the NWS.

Here's what you need to know and do, according to the S.C. Emergency Management Division (SCEMD):

Before a Tornado

  • Be alert to changing weather conditions.
  • Listen to NOAA Weather Radio or to commercial radio or television newscasts for the latest information. 
  • Look for approaching storms.

Look for the following danger signs:

  • Dark, often greenish sky
  • Large hail
  • A large, dark, low-lying cloud (particularly if rotating)
  • Loud roar, similar to a freight train

If you see approaching storms or any of the danger signs, be prepared to take shelter immediately.

During a Tornado

If you are under a tornado warning, seek shelter immediately.

  • Get indoors to a pre-designated shelter area such as a basement, storm cellar or the lowest building level.
  • If there is no basement, go to the center of an interior room on the lowest level (closet, interior hallway) away from corners, windows, doors and outside walls.
  • Shutter windows and outside doors.
  • If in a vehicle, trailer or mobile home, get out immediately and go to the lowest floor of a sturdy, nearby building or storm shelter.
  • If unable to get indoors, lie flat in a nearby ditch or depression and cover your head with your hands. Be aware of potential flooding and flying debris.
  • Never try to outrun a tornado in your vehicle. Instead, leave the vehicle immediately for safe shelter.

After a Tornado

  • Use the telephone only for emergency calls.
  • Avoid downed power lines and report them to your utility company.
  • Stay out of damaged buildings.
  • Stay informed. 
  • Contact your family and loved ones to let them know you are OK.
  • Assess the damage. After the threat for tornadoes has ended, check to see if your property has been damaged. When walking through storm damage, wear long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, and sturdy shoes. Contact local authorities if you see power lines down. Stay out of damaged buildings. Be aware of insurance scammers if your property has been damaged.
  • Help your neighbor.

South Carolina ranks twenty-sixth in the United States in the number of tornado strikes, and eighteenth in the number of tornadoes per square mile, according to SCEMD. The most common type of tornado, the relatively weak and short-lived type, occurs between March and May. However, tornadoes can occur almost anywhere at anytime.

According to SCEMD, South Carolina has averaged 11 tornadoes each year since 1950, resulting in 47 fatalities and 1,057 injuries.

For more information on severe weather and preparedness, visit SCEMD's website.