(WVNS) — It’s ‘Severe Weather Awareness Week’ in West Virginia, Virginia and the StormTracker 59 WeatherLab. The StormTracker 59 team is bringing you what you need to know to stay safe before, during and after severe weather strikes in your town.

Today’s topic is tornadoes, West Virginia held a statewide tornado drill on Tuesday, March 16, 2021 that ran across NOAA Weather Radios, and the Emergency Alert Service (TVs and Phones). This was just a test, but it begs the question; are you prepared for a tornado warning or watch to be issued for your town? Here’s how you can be:

Before we get too far, it’s important to understand what a tornado is:

The key part of that definition is “rapidly rotating”, that translates to winds of 65 to more than 200 miles per hour making contact with the ground and anything it touches. Tornadoes are one of the most destructive forces of nature on the planet.

They happen fast, and can strike with as little as just a few minutes warning; however, forecasters can recognize when conditions are favorable for tornadoes and issue a Tornado Watch. These will often cover several states. It’s important to remember the difference between what to do when a watch is issued versus a warning.

Notice when a Tornado Warning is issued it is recommended that you seek shelter immediately. This is what you should do before ANYTHING else, including activating your family’s emergency plan for severe weather. Think of it like an airplane, make sure your own oxygen mask is on BEFORE assisting others. 

Not all shelters are equal though. It is recommended you go to the nearest tornado shelter or basement if you have access to one. These will ultimately provide the greatest level of protection. For those who don’t have a basement, a room without windows in the center of your home on the lowest floor also helps to lower your risk. Mobile homes, hiding under an overpass, and remaining in your vehicle are not suitable shelters from a tornado. If you have nowhere else to go it is recommended you lay face down in a ditch or other low-lying area away from trees and cover your head, only use this as a last resort.

Tornadoes aren’t that common in the mountain state. In total since 1887 only 104 tornadoes were reported in the entire state of West Virginia, that’s less than one every year. Regardless of this statistic, you need to remember it only takes one tornado to cause damage and take lives. Don’t risk it. Be prepared. Have a plan and know where you can shelter when tornadoes are in the forecast.