Tornadoes are violently rotating columns of air that extend from a thunderstorm to the ground. Tornadoes can destroy buildings, flip cars, and create deadly flying debris.
A tornado can:
- Happen anytime and anywhere.
- Bring intense winds, over 200 miles per hour.
- Look like funnels.
The National Weather Service in Wilmington or the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, OK issue watches and warnings for our area.
- A statement or advisory means that weather may be developing at some point that you need to pay attention to.
- A watch means that conditions are favorable for the development of severe weather. It means to monitor and be ready to act if conditions worsen.
- A warning is an action item - severe weather conditions have been seen or reported, and you need to do something to protect life and property
An easy way to remember the difference is to think of cupcakes.
- You've decided you want cupcakes and you say "I think I want cupcakes sometime later today." That's a statement or advisory.
- You visit the store and buy all of the ingredients to make cupcakes. You have them all measured out and ready, the cupcake foils are in the tins, the oven is warming up, and you follow the recipe. That's a watch.
- You have successfully made and frosted the cupcakes and are ready to eat them! All of the ingredients came together to make the richest most delicious cupcake. That's a warning.
(Photo credit Brad Panovich, Meterologist)
The belief that a waterspout is nothing more than a tornado over water is only partially true. The fact is, depending on how they form, waterspouts come in two types: tornadic and fair weather.
- Tornadic waterspouts are simply tornadoes that form over water, or move from land to water. They have the same characteristics as a land tornado. They are associated with severe thunderstorms, and are often accompanied by high winds and seas, large hail, and frequent dangerous lightning.
- This type of event happened in Brunswick County when a landfalling EF-0 tornado grew into an EF-3 tornado a little after 11:30pm on February 15, 2021. The storm killed three people and injured 10 others. We can also see this type of waterspout phenomenon with landfalling tropical weather systems, particularly in the right-front quadrant of the storm at is comes on shore.
- In 2011, a waterspout came onshore in Carolina Beach and caused minor damage.
- Fair Weather waterspouts are usually a less dangerous phenomena, but common over the coastal waters along New Hanover County from late Spring through early Fall, and generally much more common than the tornadic variety. The term fair weather comes from the fact that this type of waterspout forms during fair and relatively calm weather, often during the early to mid morning and sometimes during the late afternoon. Fair weather waterspouts usually form along dark flat bases of a line of developing cumulus clouds where cooler air moves over warmer ocean water. This type of waterspout is generally associated with the formative stage of showers and non-severe thunderstorms whereas tornadic waterspouts develop in mature severe thunderstorms.
- Here is a video from WECT from July 24, 2022 when a fair weather waterspout was caught on video.
Tornadic waterspouts develop downward in a thunderstorm while a fair weather waterspout begins to develop on the surface of the water and works its way upward. By the time the funnel is visible, a fair weather waterspout is near maturity.
- Know your tornado risk. The typical peak tornado season in North Carolina runs from March through May, though tornadoes can occur at any time of year. Although North Carolina has fewer tornadoes than the Midwest, we still see an average of 31 tornadoes a year.
- Southeast NC also sees the increased chance of tornadic activity with landfalling tropical weather systems.
- Know the signs of a tornado, including a rotating, funnel-shaped cloud, an approaching cloud of debris, or a loud roar like a freight train.
- Sign up for emergency alerts to be notified about tornado watches and warnings. The Emergency Alert System (EAS) and NOAA Weather Radio also provide emergency alerts. If your community has sirens, then become familiar with the warning tone.
- Pay attention to weather reports. Meteorologists can predict when conditions might be right for a tornado.
- Identify and practice going to a safe shelter such as a safe room built using FEMA criteria or a storm shelter built to ICC 500 standards. The next best protection is a small, interior, windowless room or basement on the lowest level of a sturdy building.
- Plan for your pet. They are an important member of your family, so they need to be included in your family’s emergency plan.
- Prepare for long-term stay at home or sheltering in place by gathering emergency supplies, cleaning supplies, non-perishable foods, water, medical supplies and medication.
- Immediately go to a safe location that you have identified when you hear a tornado warning for your area.
- Pay attention to EAS, NOAA Weather Radio, or local alerting systems for current emergency information and instructions.
- Protect yourself by covering your head or neck with your arms and putting materials such as furniture and blankets around or on top of you.
- Do not try to outrun a tornado in a vehicle if you are in a car. If you are in a car or outdoors and cannot get to a building, cover your head and neck with your arms and cover your body with a coat or blanket, if possible. Do not seek shelter under overpasses or bridge abutments.
- Save your phone calls for emergencies and use text messaging or social media to communicate with family and friends.
- Pay attention to EAS, NOAA Weather Radio, and local authorities for updated information.
- Stay clear of fallen power lines or broken utility lines.
- Contact your healthcare provider if you are sick and need medical attention. Wait for further care instructions and continue to shelter in place.
- Wear appropriate gear during clean-up such as thick-soled shoes, long pants, and work gloves, use appropriate face coverings or masks if cleaning mold or other debris.
More information on Tornadoes at Ready.gov in: