Although rare, Gulf Coast tornados still require proper preparation

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Heather Heiney
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs
Although Keesler is not part of the infamous tornado alley that stretches across the belly of the United States, it's not immune from twisters.

In fact, there was a confirmed tornado that touched down just 2½ miles northwest of Keesler March 9.

James Tart, lead forecaster for the base weather station, and Virgil Mitchell, the 81st Training Wing's safety chief, said that while there haven't been any tornados officially observed at Keesler, there have been numerous reports of funnel clouds and waterspouts in the area.

Tornado season along the Mississippi Gulf Coast lasts from late winter to late spring, but if the conditions are right, they can appear any time of year. Twisters are the result of a violently rotating column of air that is pulled toward the ground when a thunderstorm begins to collapse.

Mr. Tart and Mr. Mitchell said that the subtropical Gulf Coast climate isn't conducive for super-cell storms, but tornados can accompany tropical storms and hurricanes as they move over land. They also said that these funnels are generally seen on the right side of the storm's path.

To prepare for tornado season, Mr. Tart and Mr. Mitchell suggest running tornado drills because it lessens the confusion during an actual storm. They also suggest assigning an interior room or hallway away from windows as the designated shelter; making a supply box that includes a battery operated radio, candles, flashlights, blankets, water, and batteries; and designating a meeting place in case people get separated.

More suggested precautions include avoiding windows; going to the lowest floor in a building, sheltering in a small room, hallway or stairwell; and covering with thick padding such as a mattress or blanket.

People outdoors during a tornado should seek shelter in the nearest sturdy building if possible. If not, get as far away from vehicles and trees as possible and lie face down flat on the ground, protecting the back of the head and neck with the arms.

On base, personnel are notified of an impending tornado through sirens and an announcement on the giant voice system and are advised to take cover immediately until the "all clear" is given.