It might seem strange but Oregon does have tornadoes! Not as common as on the plains but still not unheard of. In fact, in September 2017, parts of Polk County (but not Falls City!) were put on a funnel cloud watch!
Funnel clouds are rotating columns of condensation. They form beneath cloud walls and develop down towards the ground. If they become low enough to touch the ground or create a dust whirl or debris cloud, they are re-classified as tornadoes. Not all funnel clouds become tornadoes, which is why Polk County had a weather alert for funnel clouds and not a tornado watch – although any funnel cloud has the potential to become a tornado!
Tornadoes have two different weather alerts – a tornado watch and a tornado warning. When a tornado watch is announced, it means that there is a possibility of a tornado forming. You should be aware and ready to take action if needed. A tornado warning means that a tornado is currently occurring or will occur soon. When a tornado warning is announced, you should immediately get to a safe place! That includes pets!
Safe places are structurally sound buildings – preferably a basement, storm cellar, or room on the first floor towards the center of the building with no windows. For some houses, this might mean a closet! Smaller rooms are safer than larger rooms even during “weak” tornadoes. Always go for the lowest floor you can safely get to. Anyone who lives in a mobile home needs to find the closest, sturdy structure – mobile homes are not a safe place during a tornado! Neither are small outbuildings, such as sheds. If you cannot find a sturdy structure get out of your mobile home and head to your car. Head to the closest sturdy shelter – make sure to seat belt yourself and any passengers in! Avoid bridges and overpasses if you can. If the winds and/or debris become too much, you can either keep the engine running and get down below the window level and cover your head, preferably with a blanket and your hands, or find a ditch or ravine to lay down in and cover your head. For taller buildings, like in the city, you might not have time to get to the lowest floor. In that case, you should find a hall in the middle of the building.
Each family member, including pets and livestock, should have their own emergency supply kit ready to go at a moment’s notice!
You can do some minor home preparation to help make your home safer during tornadoes and even just wind storms. While working on your property, pick up loose branches and other debris that you find. Remove damaged and/or diseased branches from your trees. Make sure that your firewood can be properly secured in case of high winds. Even such small items as a piece of firewood or a broken branch can become a “missile” in strong winds like those of a tornado! Make a note of what you can bring inside if there is enough advance warning – such as patio furniture. If you have a bit of extra money, think about adding shutters to your home or reinforcing your garage door.
As with any large scale disaster, your family should have a person outside of the effected area, preferably out of state, who is picked before a disaster and can act as a single point of contact for all family members when separated. Communication lines can experience difficulties from the weather event itself or from becoming overloaded as people try to check in with each other. It is easier for someone outside of the effected area to keep track of family members as each family member only needs to make one phone call rather than multiple phone calls trying to get through to each person. Texting rather than calling is also helpful.
Once it is considered safe to come out or to return home, you will need to assess the damage to your property. If you can, leave children and pets with a trusted friend or relative. If you are able to, change into long pants, long sleeves, and sturdy shoes. Do not go into damaged buildings. Make sure to report any downed power lines, broken gas lines, etc.