Season Approaches for Severe Weather Awareness
By Army Spc. John Crosby
Special to American Forces Press Service
CAMP ATTERBURY Ind., May. 19, 2009 As tornado season approaches it is time to be more aware of the possible dangers these violent storms can pose.
Vehicles, buildings and trailers used for office space were badly damaged during a June 2008 tornado that touched down at Camp Atterbury Joint Maneuver Training Center in Indiana. Because of proactive pre-storm safety measures, there were no tornado-related injuries on the post, which hosted more than 3,500 servicemembers at the time. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Tim Sproles
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
More than 3,500 people were on this installation in Edinburgh, Ind., when a tornado struck the camp in June. National Weather Service officials said wind gusts reached upward of 135 miles an hour. The damage extended to military and civilian vehicles, power and gas lines, fences and more than 50 buildings.
The tornado caused about $50 million in damage, including the cost of repairs and construction.
The damage from tornadoes comes from the strong winds they contain. It is generally believed that the most violent tornadoes can produce wind speeds of up to 300 mph, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Wind speeds that high can cause automobiles to become airborne, rip ordinary homes to shreds and turn broken glass and other debris into lethal missiles.
Despite all of the damage and devastation here, the tornado caused no injuries. This success can be directly credited to the Camp Atterbury command and the 205th Infantry Brigade, officials said.
Army Col. Barry Richmond and Army Col. Christopher M. Holden -- the post and 205th Infantry Brigade commanders, respectively, when the tornado struck -- spent hours before the storm preparing for the worst by adjusting training and moving servicemembers to safe areas, according to a news article written after the tornado by Army Sgt. 1st Class Mark Bell, a public affairs soldier here.
“We mitigated the effects of the thunderstorm by finishing up our outside transportation training early,” Holden said. “We got [servicemembers] in hardstand buildings prior to the storms due to the installation’s severe storm warnings, which were truly the primary reason we were able to successfully prevent any injuries.”
Severe weather advisories come in two categories: watches and warnings. A tornado watch means that conditions are favorable for tornadoes to form. A tornado warning means that one has been spotted or computers have indicated rotation in the storm.
Beyond warnings issued via radio, television and disaster sirens, there are several things to look for. Be prepared to take shelter immediately. Be aware of dark, often greenish sky and large hail or a large, dark, low-lying cloud, especially if there is rotation accompanied by a loud roar, similar to a freight train.
In a structured building such as a brick-walled barracks, a hospital, a school or a shopping center, go to a pre-designated shelter area such as a safe room, basement, storm cellar or the lowest building level if a tornado approaches. If there is no basement, go to the center of an interior hallway or closet or a room on the lowest level away from corners, windows, doors, and outside walls. Put as many walls as possible between you and the outside.
If there is no hallway or closet, get under a sturdy table and use your arms to protect your head and neck. Do not open windows.
If you are in a vehicle, trailer or mobile home, get out immediately and go to the lowest floor of a sturdy, nearby building or a storm shelter. Mobile homes, even if tied down, offer little protection from tornadoes. If there are no nearby structures that will provide good cover from flying debris, lie flat in a nearby ditch or depression and cover your head with your hands.
Be aware of the potential for flooding. Do not get under an overpass or bridge. You are safer in a low, flat location. Never try to outrun a tornado in urban or congested areas in a car or truck. Instead, leave the vehicle immediately for safe shelter and watch out for flying debris.
In the event of a tornado, said Army Maj. Kenneth Knight, installation safety and occupational health director here, commanders and soldiers should think about accountability and moving to a safer location, but only after a safe amount of time, which is about 30 to 45 minutes after a storm.
“Accountability needs to be aggressive,” he said. “All … leaders must have the whereabouts of each individual soldier and report up their proper chains.”
Though last year’s storm reinforced safety measure, Knight said, “there are always things we can improve on.”
“Everybody is more aware now,” he said. “The more knowledge we have, the more appropriate action can be taken to prevent loss of life while training here so units can deploy with maximum fighting capacity downrange.”
(Army Spc. John Crosby serves in the 205th Infantry Brigade public affairs office.)