African Reporter readers have recently shown interest in an online story of tornadoes, written last year.
Tornadoes are natural disasters that are not a regular occurrence in South Africa, although a few incidents have presented themselves last year.
Seeing that this is not an everyday situation and considering the unpredictable nature of these events, here is everything you need to know about tornadoes and what to do when one makes an appearance.
About 65 per cent of South African tornadoes are classified as light damage (F0 or F1).
It is said that tornadoes can occur anywhere where a thunderstorm is possible.
What is a tornado?
According to the South African Weather Service (http://www.weathersa.co.za/learning/weather-questions/74-what-is-a-tornado) a tornado, from the Latin word tornare (to turn), is a violently rotating column of air extending from a thunderstorm, between the earth’s surface and a cloud.
“Tornadoes are among the most violent and destructive of all weather phenomena, but despite the significant amount of research into the origin and prediction thereof, the phenomenon is still not fully understood or predictable,” states the weather service.
Field research on tornadoes is particularly difficult due to their short lifespan, the small area affected by them and the low probability of re-occurrence at a particular point.
How does a tornado manifest?
National Geographic explains that a tornado emerges from what is called a supercell thunderstorm.
This is basically a ‘normal’ thunderstorm, which consists of warm moisture near the surface and relatively cold, dry air above, with increased wind strength which changes direction.
It is apparently still unclear why some thunderstorms create tornadoes and other don’t.
What are the dangers?
Tornadoes can be life-threatening and severe damage can be done to property from violently whirling wind and debris hurled through the air.
Wind speeds in tornadoes can exceed 200km/h, according to Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (Tema).
The long-term dangers include the possibility of buildings collapsing, falling trees and power lines, as well as broken sewers and water pipes.
Fields or buildings may sustain severe damage, but even if the tornado is not in your immediate vicinity, flying debris can also cause damage or death.
What to do during a tornado?
Tema gave the following tips on what action to take when a tornado whirls in:
• If at home, go to a basement or cellar, away from windows.
If neither is available, find shelter under a piece of sturdy furniture such as a work bench or heavy table and hold on to it.
• If at work or school, go to the basement or inside hallway at the lowest level.
Avoid rooms such as auditoriums, gymnasiums, cafeterias or large hallways.
• If outdoors, get inside a building if possible.
If unable to get indoors, lie in a ditch or low-lying area.
Remember: If you are in a ditch or low-lying area, be alert for flash floods that may accompany tornadoes.
• If in a vehicle, never try to outrun a tornado.
Get out of the vehicle immediately and take shelter in a nearby building.
• Use your arms to protect your head and neck.
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