Tornado and Severe Weather Guide
This guide is designed to help University departments and employees prepare for a tornado or severe weather event. Please contact Safety and Emergency Management with questions or to request assistance.
Severe weather includes high winds, thunderstorms, lightning storms, hail, floods, hurricanes, extreme heat or cold, and other weather systems that can create safety hazards or cause property damage.
A tornado is a violently rotating column of air extending from a thunderstorm to the ground. Strong tornadoes can produce wind speeds exceeding 200 mph, and the most extreme can approach 300 mph. Most commonly however, they produce winds between 80-120 mph. Tornadoes are highly unpredictable, appear separately or in clusters, and vary greatly in length, width, direction of travel, and speed. Tornados typically appear in the Northern Virginia region from April to October.
Notification of an approaching tornado or severe weather system will occur by one or more of the following:
- UMW Alert email, text message, or voice mail. To participate visit https://www.getrave.com/login.umw.
- County emergency alert systems:
- City of Fredericksburg Citizen Emergency Alert Network https://member.everbridge.net/453003085611679/login
- Spotsylvania County Citizen Alert Network https://www.spotsylvania.va.us/AlertCenter.aspx
- Stafford County Citizen Alert Network https://member.everbridge.net/index/892807736722299#/signup
- King George County Citizen Alert Network https://member.everbridge.net/453003085611288/login
- University of Mary Washington television screens
- University of Mary Washington homepage, https://www.umw.edu/ or the University of Mary Washington advisories page https://www.umw.edu/advisories/
- National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) broadcast via AM/FM/weather radio, TV bulletin, or NOAA web-based streaming radio
- Weather radio station KHB 36 broadcasting on 162.55 MHz
- NOAA weather radio station WNG-736 broadcasting on 162.450 MHz
- Radio (WTOP 103.5FM) or TV emergency announcement
Alert Terminology and Definitions
A NOAA weather alert or UMW Alert will contain information regarding the location and severity of the weather system. It is critical to understand the distinction between the types of weather alerts issued by the National Weather Service, NOAA, and UMW.
Flash flood: A rapid rise in water occurring with little or no advance warning, usually as the result of an intense rainfall over a relatively small area in a short amount of time.
Flash flood watch: Issued when conditions are favorable for flash flooding in or near the watch area. When a watch is issued, be aware of potential flood hazards and the topography of your surroundings. Low-lying areas such as basements, streams, and retention ponds should be avoided. Those in the affected area should be ready to take quick action if a flash flood warning is issued or flooding is observed.
Flash flood warning: Issued when flash flooding is in progress, imminent, or highly likely. Those in low areas and near small streams should leave for higher ground. Water is expected to rise rapidly. Also, be extremely cautious driving, as low areas may be washed out. Information in this warning will include some locations where flooding is expected. Flash flood warnings can be issued without a flash flood watch in effect.
Flash flood statement: Issued to provide follow-up information on any flooding that is occurring, including which areas will be affected.
Funnel cloud: A quickly rotating cloud extending down from a thunderstorm that is NOT in contact with the ground.
Hazardous weather outlook: A statement highlighting any potential significant weather systems in the area for the next seven days.
Lightning watch: An alert issued via UMW Alert when lightning is within 15 miles of campus.
Lightning warning: An alert issued via UMW Alert when lightning is within 10 miles of campus. All outdoor activities should be suspended when a warning is issued.
Severe thunderstorm watch: Issued when conditions are favorable for damaging thunderstorms. Stay tuned to UMW Alerts, radio, TV, or NOAA weather radio for further information and possible warnings. Consider your shelter options and be prepared to take cover quickly if a warning is issued, or if threatening weather approaches.
Severe thunderstorm warning: A damaging thunderstorm is expected. This means strong, damaging winds or large hail an inch or more in diameter (quarter-size). Tornadoes can sometimes form quickly in severe thunderstorms.
Tornado watch: A tornado watch means conditions are favorable for the formation of a tornado and that tornadoes are possible. When a tornado watch is issued, stay tuned to the internet, UMW Alerts, local radio, TV, or NOAA weather radio for further information and possible warnings. Consider your shelter options and be prepared to take cover if necessary.
Tornado warning: A tornado warning means that a tornado has been sighted or has been identified by National Weather Service radar. When a warning is issued, take cover indoors or in an appropriate shelter immediately.
Watch: A watch is issued when conditions are favorable for the development of severe weather within or close to the watch/listening area. The impacted area and length of a watch can vary depending on the weather situation and is usually issued for four to eight hours. During a watch, you should review severe weather safety guidance and be prepared to move to a shelter if threatening weather approaches.
Warning: A warning is issued when severe weather is confirmed by radar or reported by storm spotters. Information in a warning will include the location of the storm, the areas that will be affected, and the primary threat associated with the storm (tornado, high winds, flooding, etc.). If you are in the affected area, you should seek safe shelter immediately. Warnings can be issued without a watch already in effect.
If a tornado warning or severe weather system with the potential to cause damage has been issued, the following actions should be taken:
- Use stairs to reach the lowest level of the building, and do NOT use elevators.
- Shelter immediately in the nearest hardened structure.
- Take shelter in an interior space that has no or few windows.
- Take account of your co-workers or students and attempt to locate missing persons if safety permits.
If severe weather strikes the building in which you are sheltered and begins to produce damage, protect your body from flying debris with any available furniture or sturdy equipment.
Outdoor Events and Lighting
All outdoor activities at the University of Mary Washington should stop and participants should move inside or to a vehicle when lightning is within 10 miles of campus. The event coordinator is responsible for monitoring the weather and alerting participants of when they need to take shelter. Outdoor activities can resume 30 minutes after the last lightning strike within the 10-mile radius. See Section J for resources to monitor lightning.
An appropriate shelter from severe weather should:
- Be located in an interior space of a hardened structure (conference room, classroom, hallway, bathroom, or office). Seek shelter in a hardened structure if you are located in a modular, prefabricated, or temporary structure.
- Not possess any windows or skylights.
- Have space for everyone expected to occupy the shelter to sit comfortably.
- Be at the lowest point in the building; however, consider potential flood risks and modify shelter areas locations accordingly.
- Be equipped with a phone.
- Be centrally located to all persons expected to use the shelter area. Identify an appropriate shelter area(s) for your work area upon arriving
- Be identified by signage within the room or immediately adjacent to the entrance(s).
- Remain unlocked during work hours and be accessible to persons with special needs.
- Have furniture or features that can be used to protect occupants from falling debris.
- Preferably have more than one entrance and exit.
Automobiles: If you are in an automobile when severe weather approaches, get out of your vehicle and find shelter inside a hardened structure. For non-severe thunderstorms, hard-topped vehicles provide good protection from lightning.
Outdoors: If you are outdoors, try to find shelter immediately in the nearest hardened structure or building. If a tornado or severe weather forces you to abandon your vehicle or you are outdoors and are unable to find a hardened structure, take cover in a culvert, ditch, or depression and protect your head with your hands.
Prolonged event/entrapment: If severe weather prevents you from exiting your work area, traps you within a building or debris, or otherwise causes you to remain in place for an extended period, do the following:
- Remain calm.
- Notify emergency personnel of your location and condition by dialing 911.
- Ask for assistance or assist people who are injured or trapped by debris.
- Provide first aid and CPR if you are trained.
- Attempt to locate an alternate safe exit. Do NOT attempt to navigate hazards.
- Identify or be aware of live power lines, falling debris, hazardous materials, and unstable structures that may be hazardous.
- Exit the area if it is safe to do so – otherwise remain calm and in place until emergency personnel arrive.
At the office: Identify an appropriate shelter area and office/department specific procedures and resources. In addition to completing and reviewing a severe weather plan with employees, you may consider maintaining basic supplies in your work area that can be used in the event of an extended or severe emergency situation, such as:
- First aid kit and essential medications
- Battery-powered or hand crank radio, preferably a NOAA weather radio
- Flashlight and extra batteries or hand crank flashlight
- A small supply of nonperishables that can sustain you for up to eight hours
- A small supply of bottled water
At home: Consider creating a disaster preparedness plan, a template for which can be found at https://vaemergency.gov/ or https://Ready.gov. In addition to identifying a shelter area and maintaining emergency supplies, develop and discuss a communications plan with family members in the event that phone service fails or family members are separated by a severe weather event. A meeting location and alternate method for contacting family members should be agreed upon in advance.
Your community may have an evacuation plan. If so, become familiar with the plan and understand its direction and impact on your family. Lastly, review your plan with your family to ensure everyone knows the location of emergency supplies and evacuation plans and is able to execute the communications plan. For additional information and a family plan template, please visit: https://vaemergency.gov/ or Ready.gov.
Additional resources to help you plan for severe weather at work or at home can be found on the following websites:
- NOAA: http://www.nws.noaa.gov/os/thunderstorm/
- Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA): https://www.fema.gov/hazard- mitigation-planning
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/
- Ready Virginia: http://www.vaemergency.gov/readyvirginia
- National Geographic: http://environment.nationalgeographic.com/environment/natural- disasters/
- Lightning Monitoring for all campuses: https://www.umw.edu/advisories/
- Weather.com: http://www.weather.com/
- Accuweather.com: http://www.accuweather.com/
- Weatherunderground.com: http://www.wunderground.com/
- NOAA/National Weather Service: http://www.weather.gov/washington
- Streaming NOAA Radio: https://noaaweatherradio.org
Mobile phone weather resources:
UMW Alerts send lightning alerts for all of UMW’s campuses. You can manage alerts https://www.getrave.com/login.umw. Many applications and software are available from companies such as AccuWeather and The Weather Channel to view and receive emergency and general weather information (including radar) on your mobile phone.