Tornadoes are among the most violent phenomena of all atmospheric storms. They produce winds exceeding hurricane force in a concentrated area. Wind speeds can top 200 mph, and the most severe tornadoes can surpass 300 mph. But even a low wind speed tornado can cause extensive damage. When is tornado season? The potential for damage makes it essential to know when to expect tornadoes and how to prepare for them.
What is Tornado Alley?
All 50 states experience tornadoes. But tornado alley is the region known for producing these supercell thunderstorms most frequently. There are no clearly-defined boundaries for tornado alley. It spans multiple states where tornadoes are common, including Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Kansas, South Dakota, Iowa, and Nebraska.
The term “tornado alley” originated in 1952, as part of a severe weather research project by Air Force Meteorologist Major Ernest J. Fawbush and Captain Robert C. Miller. The National Weather Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have never given an official definition to the term nor specified the area for tornado alley. But the term is common.
When is Tornado Season?
About 1,200 tornadoes occur annually in the United States. They happen throughout the year, but tornado season is the period when they are most common. Tornado threat shifts from the southeast in cool months, toward central plains in May and June, to the northern plains and midwest during early summer.
Tornado Season in Oklahoma
Oklahoma averages 57 tornadoes annually. The highest frequency occurs in Oklahoma County, the state’s capital and largest county. The most active period is May and June. But recently, severe weather has been quieter during the spring months and busier in the fall. In October 2021, Oklahoma experienced record numbers with 28 tornadoes, just ahead of the prior 1998 record of 27.
Tornado Season in Texas
The Lone Star State averages 132 tornadoes a year. There are more tornadoes recorded in Texas than in any other state. When is tornado season in Texas? May and June. Although most of Texas is high risk, more tornadoes occur in the Red River Valley of North Texas. The top five counties affected include Harris, Hale, Galveston, Jefferson, and Nueces.
How Tornadoes Can Damage Commercial Property?
Tornadoes can cause sudden destruction, sometimes wiping out buildings or entire industrial parks. Damage commonly results from wind and water.
Damage tornadoes cause includes:
- High Winds. Tornados are sometimes powerful enough to lift the roof right off of buildings. Pressure between inside and outside can cause windows to shatter in their frames. Loose or damaged building components like siding, soffit and fascia, shingles and roofing, gutters, and brickwork can easily lift during winds.
- Flooding and Leaks. Tornadoes develop from severe thunderstorms in warm, moist, unstable air along and ahead of cold fronts. Building damage often extends beyond wind and creates water issues.
- Power Outages. Strong winds and severe thunderstorms often leave a path of downed power lines. Prepare with a generator to keep the equipment running and lights on. Power outages also create safety and security risks. You should prepare for these outages when developing your emergency plan.
Preparing Your Property for Possible Tornadoes
A large part of preparation is knowing when tornado season is, staying informed, and having a response plan in place. Most tornadoes occur between 4-9 p.m., but they can pop up at any hour.
Know the Signs
Learn to recognize the signs of a tornado to act fast.
Tornado signs include:
- A Cloud of Debris. The material stuck in the tornado gets flung into the air and can land in the surrounding area.
- Roaring Noise. Ground rumbling or sounds like a freight train happen during tornadoes.
- Dark Skies. The skies turn dark and have a greenish hue accompanied by hail and ice before a tornado.
- Complete Calm. Large hail or heavy rain followed immediately by a strange calm right before a tornado touches down.
- Funnel-Shaped Clouds. Rotating clouds reach down from the sky. If they touch ground, they’re a tornado.
NOAA Storm Prediction Center issues two types of notifications for tornadoes:
- Tornado Watch. A watch means meteorologists haven’t spotted a tornado, but severe weather conditions are favorable. Watches typically cover a broad area.
- Tornado Warning. Spotters or the radar have seen a tornado. There is a threat to life and property. A warning can cover one or several counties in the path of danger. Act quickly to find safe shelter.
Have a Shelter Plan
Educate employees on emergency plans, including where to seek shelter. If you don’t have a safe room or a tornado shelter, identify the safest area of your building. The basement or a small, windowless interior room on the lowest level of your building are best. Avoid auditoriums, gymnasiums, or cafeterias. Never shelter in a room with an outside wall, glass windows, or a ceiling span of more than 40 feet.
Understand Your Insurance Coverage
Study your insurance policy. List all the contents in your business and additional structures. Use the list to understand what your policy should cover. If a complete inventory is overwhelming, take a video or pictures and store them in a safe place.
Ask your agent:
- What’s Your Deductible? In the event of a tornado, make sure you have enough money set aside to cover the amount.
- What’s Covered? Tornado damage is typically a result of wind or water. Understand your coverage limits, the maximum amount your policy will pay toward a covered loss.
- Will Coverage be Cash Value or Replacement Cost? Actual cash value pays the cost to repair or replace the damaged property minus depreciation. Replacement cost coverage reimburses for replacing a damaged item with one of similar type and quality.
Maintain Trees and Branches
Flying debris is often the source of damage during a tornado. To minimize the likelihood, examine trees and limbs for signs of trouble. Potential hazards include cracks in the trunk or major limbs, hollow trunks, branches hanging over the roof, or power lines or branches that cross and interfere with each other.
SMRSI Can Help
Tornadoes can pop up whenever the weather conditions are right. Stay weather aware and plan what to do if a tornado is near your business. ServiceMasters Restoration by RSI is on call 24/7 to help with any cleanup or reconstruction in Oklahoma and Texas. Contact us if you need help following a tornado or related damage.