News>Learning from experience: 931st member shares tornado safety tips
Staff Sgt. Stacey Spain, an Emergency Management Air Reserve Technician assigned to the 931st Air Refueling Group, McConnell Air Force Base, Kan., shares her firsthand knowledge of tornado safety, April 5, 2012. (U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. Zach Anderson)
by 1st Lt. Zach Anderson
931st Air Refueling Group Public Affairs
4/5/2012 - MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. -- Kansas' propensity for tornadoes has been well-documented, both on the silver-screen and by scientific research.
In fact, the state that inspired the iconic twister for the movie "The Wizard of Oz" has the second-highest average number tornadoes per year in the nation according to the National Climatic Data Center.
According to 1st Lt. Scott Vaughn, Weather Operations Officer at the 26th Operational Weather Squadron, Barksdale Air Force Base, La., both the location and the geography of the area are responsible for the high level of tornadic activity in the region.
"In the region known as 'Tornado Alley,' strong, cool, dry, down-slope winds off of the Rockies collide with warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico. This collision of air masses causes instability as the warm moist air rises to replace the cold dry air, which is a trigger for thunderstorm development," said Vaughn. "Tornado Alley also has a great deal of wind shear which helps these storms to intensify and rotate. It is this rotation that causes a tornado. And, with the wide-open, flat geography of the region, tornadoes are able to travel along the ground for a long way without anything to block their path."
Staff Sgt. Stacey Spain, an Emergency Management Air Reserve Technician assigned to the 931st Civil Engineer Squadron here, cites these reasons as why 931st members need to be prepared for the potential danger that goes along with living in "Tornado Alley," especially during the spring and summer months.
"We are in Kansas, and tornadoes definitely happen here. If you live here, you have to have a plan and be prepared for when it happens," she said.
Spain speaks from personal experience. She was one of thousands who lost their homes on May 3, 1999, when a series of tornado-producing storms wreaked havoc across the Midwestern United States.
"It hit in the afternoon, and destroyed my house. It destroyed my uncle's house as well. We were in the basement, and I had my sister wrapped on one side of me and my cousin on the other while debris was falling down on us. Afterward, we had to walk more than two miles to our nearest family member's house. We had some minor injuries, but nothing major."
Based on her own experience, Spain has some important advice to offer to Airmen when it comes to tornadoes.
"You need to have a plan, and you need to practice it. You need to know where you are going to go, where the safest room is in your house, and just as importantly, you need to know what not to do," she said.
Spain said the best place indoors is below the ground, in a basement, in the smallest space possible to avoid collapsing walls or falling debris.
"If you are in a mobile home, get out. Don't stay in a car either. A tornado will just pick that up and throw it around," she said. "If you are outside, don't get under an overpass. That can turn into a funnel and the tornado will suck you out of it. Get into a low-lying ditch, and cover up your head and your neck and stay on the ground."
Spain said it's also important to know what not to do in the case of a tornado.
"Some people believe that opening windows will help save a house from being destroyed. That's not true. Trust me; the tornado will take care of the windows all by itself. Don't worry about trying to open windows. Instead, worry about staying safe," she said.
Spain said members should invest in a battery-operated radio or television in order to stay informed on weather updates even if the electricity goes out. She also advised that members should have a disaster preparedness kit ready as well.
"You need to have a three-day supply of water and food and a first aid kit ready. That way, if you end up being stuck, you can survive until rescuers find you," she said.
Spain said the most important element to remember is to have a plan, and to practice it to perfection.
"You absolutely have to have a plan in place. If you have children, make sure they know the plan as well, and practice it with them. Living in this part of the country, it really needs to be ingrained in them. Make sure you have a plan for a contact person outside of the area that everyone in your family can contact to check in with in case you are separated, so that even if you can't contact each other you have someone who is a middle-man."
She continued, "Plan it, and then practice it. Don't sit back and think, 'it won't happen to me.' That's what I used to say ... and then it happened."