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Wednesday, 31 July 2019 21:23

Prepare for Tornadoes

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Meteorologists concluded a third tornado struck Cape Cod Meteorologists concluded a third tornado struck Cape Cod

Who Thought A Tornado Would Touch Down On Cape Cod?

It's unlikely anyone from Massachusetts would have expected a tornado to touch down on the Cape—therefore, it was unsettling to learn from the National Weather Service that not one, not two, but three confirmed tornadoes struck Cape Cod just a few weeks ago. 

WCVB5 reported that "[t]he roof of an entire wing of the Cape Sands Inn in West Yarmouth was completely peeled off. Additional significant storm damage occurred just southwest of Dennis-Yarmouth Regional High School. The NWS said dozens of large trees were uprooted and a few were snapped off. One house had its shingles blown off and another house had a hole in the roof from a fallen tree."

The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) said eight communities -- Dennis, Chatham, Yarmouth, Harwich, Sandwich, Barnstable, Brewster, and Mashpee -- reported downed wires, trees, and damage from the storms.

After a state of emergency was declared in Harwich, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker announced that he would seek a federal disaster declaration as recovery efforts continue in the affected Cape Cod region.

What Are Tornadoes?

According to the Farmer's Almanac, a tornado is a violently rotating column of air between a cloud and Earth, touching both. When conditions are right, a thunderstorm can spin out one or more tornadoes. There must be moisture in the low to middle levels of the atmosphere, air that is rising from the ground and strong enough to keep rising, and a “lifting force” that causes the air to begin rising. (This happens when air near the ground is warmed.)

As air rises, it cools, and the moisture in it begins to condense, forming a cloud. If the lifting force is strong enough and the air has enough moisture, this cloud can tower more than 50,000 feet. The updraft can carry winds upward of 100 mph. Tornadoes form in this updraft. Falling rain or hail pulls air down to form downdrafts. Since the tornado is in rising air, the wind around it is flowing into the tornado. Damaging winds can hit hundreds of yards from the tornado's vortex.


Massachusetts Tornado History

Although tornadoes are more common in the United States than any other country, with over 1,300 tornados annually (four times the number of tornados in Europe), they are uncommon in Massachusetts and in New England. That said, there have been 34 killer tornadoes in New England since 1787, the earliest recorded history of tornadoes in Massachusetts. The most recent tornadoes occurred:

Learn more about the history of tornadoes in Massachusetts.


Could Tornadoes Occur Again In Massachusetts?

We're still talking about the Cape Cod tornadoes, wondering if it could happen again. While "tornado season" is typically March through June, a tornado can happen at any time. The occurrence of the Cape Cod tornadoes in July proves that no one knows for sure when or where another tornado may form.

Fortunately, sophisticated weather tracking software can predict the formation of a tornado and weather forecasters will issue a tornado watch or tornado warning as soon as a tornado formation is detected.


Tornado Watches and Warnings

A storm with a tornado observed by radar has distinguishing features that forecasters are trained to recognize. When a Doppler radar detects a large rotating updraft that occurs inside a supercell, it is called a mesocyclone. (Learn more about detecting and forecasting tornadoes.) Once detected, the National Weather Service issues tornado watches and warnings to alert the public of potential severe weather. It is important to understand the difference between a watch and a warning so you know what to do to stay safe.

The Difference Between a Tornado Watch and a Tornado Warning

  • A tornado watch means tornadoes are possible in the area. You should review your emergency plan, check supplies and be ready to act quickly if a tornado does approach.

  • A tornado warning means a tornado has been visually sighted or indicated by weather radar and you should act immediately. Be sure to have a battery-powered weather radio available to monitor potential tornado activity.


What to do before a tornado touches down:

As with every dangerous storm, staying informed should be first on your list. Additionally, follow these preparation steps:

  • Download the Massachusetts Alerts app.

  • Create and review your family emergency plan.
    • Identify safe locations to take shelter where your family spends time, such as your home, your workplace, public buildings, nursing homes, shopping centers, and schools.
    • Determine safe locations to seek shelter, such as basements or storm cellars. If an underground location is not available, choose an interior room or hallway on the lowest floor. Put as many walls between you and the outside as possible.
    • Be sure everyone in your household knows these shelter locations.

  • Assemble an emergency kit.

  • Make a record of your personal property by taking photos/videos of your belongings. Store these records in a safe place.


What to do After a Tornado

  • Continue to monitor media for emergency information.
  • Follow instructions from public safety officials.
  • If you are trapped, try calling or texting for help. Try tapping on a pipe or wall or using a whistle to help rescuers locate you.
  • Call 9-1-1 to report emergencies, including downed power lines and gas leaks.
  • Call 2-1-1 to obtain shelter locations and other disaster information.
  • Stay away from downed utility wires. Always assume a downed power line is live.
  • Stay out of damaged buildings and areas until authorities deem them safe.
  • Check your home for damage:
    • If you believe there is a gas leak, go outdoors immediately, and do not turn electrical switches or appliances on or off.
    • If your home or property is damaged, take photos or videos to document your damage, and contact your insurance company.
  • If your power is out, follow our power outage safety tips.
    • Report power outages to your utility company.
    • Use generators and grills outside because their fumes contain carbon monoxide. Make sure your carbon monoxide detectors are working as it is a silent, odorless, killer.
  • If phone lines are down, use social media or texting to let others know you are OK.
  • Be a good neighbor. Check on family, friends, and neighbors, especially the elderly, those who live alone, those with medical conditions and those who may need additional assistance.

Why Prepare?

Severe tornadoes are rare in Massachusetts yet we've experienced a number of tornadic events in recent years, with the 2011 Greater Springfield tornado being the most prominent. Therefore, it is important to take safety precautions to avoid injury and minimize property damage if your area is impacted by a tornado.

Being prepared and planning ahead is part of personal and home safety no matter what the weather. When you hear about a tornado watch or warning, keeps these tips in mind and tune to NOAAH radio for the latest news.

Sources:,, WCVB5, NOAA Weather Radio, Farmer's Almanac

Read 1791 times Last modified on Friday, 02 August 2019 01:12

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