Even after a relatively mild winter, most Kentuckians welcome the transition into spring. Still, changeable weather is one of the harbingers of the season, and often it comes in the form of high winds and blustery conditions. Even though tornadoes can occur in any season, they are most common in spring, along with downbursts and windstorms.
A tornado is a violently rotating column of air that descends from a thunderstorm. These violent storms form thousands of feet above the earth's surface usually during warm, humid, unsettled weather and typically in conjunction with a severe thunderstorm. Along with rain, dust and debris are sucked into the center of the air column and form the distinct funnel shape that identifies a tornado. Wind speeds, ranging from 40 mph to more than 300 mph, can be extremely destructive. A tornado can level a building, lift a railroad car off its tracks and strip asphalt from pavement.
Derecho windstorms and downbursts also come from thunderstorms. Derechos are rapidly moving, large-scale and long-lived wind events associated with bands of thunderstorms or showers. Winds ranging from 57 mph to more than 100 mph can topple tractor-trailers and blow down trees. Downbursts are much smaller and are formed by high winds that funnel down to the surface from the upper levels of thunderstorms. Both can cause serious damage and can be life threatening, so even when just a thunderstorm watch or warning has been issued, you should always be prepared.
Make a tornado emergency plan for both work and home. Keep a weather radio in good working condition with extra batteries. Make sure you and your family know what precautions to take in your home, a car, open country or other situations that you may find yourself in during severe weather. You also have many options for mobile weather apps on your smartphone or mobile device. It's time to think about what you'll do in case the weather turns wild.
· In your home or any sturdy building, take shelter in the lowest level away from any windows, preferably under a sturdy object to protect yourself from falling debris.
· In your car, you should attempt to drive to shelter. If this is not possible, exit the vehicle and take cover by laying down in a ditch or low-lying area with your hands over your head. If a low-lying area is not nearby or you cannot exit your vehicle, strap on your seat belt, cover your head and keep your body below window level.
· In a mobile home, even if it is tied down, always evacuate and take cover in a low-lying area and cover your head.
Special considerations for livestock producers include moving livestock to high ground in case of heavy rain and potential flash flooding. If moving livestock is not possible, open gates so they can escape high water. You should take precautions against lightning strikes by preventing animals from herding under isolated trees and moving them away from other large conductors that may attract lightning.
For more information about spring weather preparations, contact the Laurel County Cooperative Extension Service, or visit laurel.ca.uky.edu.