1. What is a tornado?
It is a column of violently rotating winds extending down
from a thunderstorm cloud and touching the surface of the
2. What is the difference between a tornado and a funnel
A funnel cloud is also a column of violently rotating
winds extending down from a thunderstorm; however, it does not
touch the earth.
3. How many tornadoes usually occur in Michigan every
An average of 16 tornadoes occurs in Michigan each year.
Since 1950, 239 persons have been killed due to tornadoes.
During this same time, Michigan has experienced 830 tornadoes.
4. When do tornadoes generally occur?
Most tornadoes occur during the months of June, July and
August in the late afternoon and evening hours. However,
tornadoes can occur anytime of the day or night in almost any
month during the year.
5. How fast do tornadoes travel?
Tornadoes generally travel from the southwest and at an
average speed of 30 miles per hour. However, some tornadoes
have very erratic paths, with speeds approaching 70 mph.
6. How far do tornadoes travel once they touch the
The average Michigan tornado is on the ground for less
than ten minutes and travels a distance of about five miles.
However, they do not always follow the norm, and have been
known to stay on the ground for more than an hour and travel
more than 100 miles.
7. What is a tornado watch?
A tornado/severe thunderstorm watch is issued whenever
conditions exist for severe weather to develop. Watches are
usually for large areas about two-thirds the size of lower
Michigan and are usually two-to-six hours long. Watches give
you time to plan and prepare.
8. What is a tornado warning?
The local Weather Service (NWS) office issues a tornado
warning whenever a tornado has been sighted or NWS Doppler
Radar indicates a thunderstorm capable of producing a tornado.
A severe thunderstorm warning is issued whenever a severe
thunderstorm is observed or NWS Doppler Radar indicates a
thunderstorm capable of producing damaging winds or large
hail. Warnings are for smaller areas, such as counties, and
are usually 30 minutes to one hour in length. You must act
immediately when you first hear the warning. If severe weather
is reported near you, seek shelter immediately. If not, keep a
constant lookout for severe weather and stay near a shelter.
9. How do I find out about a warning if my electricity
is already out?
In some areas, civil emergency sirens will be your first
official warning. In addition, if your television or radio has
battery back-up capability, you may receive National Weather
Service warnings from local media.
Preparing for a tornado:
- Have emergency supplies on hand, including a
battery-operated radio, a flashlight and a supply of fresh
- Know the location of designated shelter areas in
public facilities, such as schools, shopping centers and
other public buildings.
- Make an inventory of household furnishings and other
possessions. Supplement it with photographs of each room.
Keep in a safe place.
- Plan ahead. Be sure everyone in your household knows
where to go and what to do in case of a tornado warning.
What to do when a tornado threatens:
- Get into a shelter, preferably a permanent structure,
in the basement or lowest floor.
- Stay away from windows, doors and outside walls.
Protect your head with a pillow, blankets, or even a
- In homes and small buildings, go to the basement and
get under something sturdy. If no basement is available,
go to an interior part of home of the lowest level. A good
rule of thumb is to put as many walls between you and the
tornado as possible.
- In schools, hospitals and public places, move to
designated shelter areas. Interior hallways on the lowest
floors are best.
- Mobile homes and vehicles offer virtually no shelter.
Leave them and go to the nearest shelter. If there is no
shelter nearby, the best alternative is to lie in the
nearest ditch and shield your head with your arms.
After a tornado:
- Inspect your property, including motor vehicles for
damage. Check for electrical problems and gas leaks and
report them to the utility company at once.
- Watch out for fallen power lines. Stay out of damaged
buildings until you are sure they are safe and will not
collapse. Secure your property from further damage or
- Use only approved or chlorinated supplies of drinking
water. Check food supplies.
- Listen for NOAA Weather Radio, or local radio,
television and cable stations for the latest weather
updates. To insure a continuous flow of weather
information, make sure the NOAA Weather Radio, or another
radio or television has a battery back up.
- For NOAA Weather Radio information, including a
station near you,
click here to visit the NOAA Weather Radio page. The
National Weather Service, American Red Cross and Federal
Emergency Management Agency produce these publications.
What to do when thunderstorms approach:
- Move to a sturdy building.
- If too far from shelter, find a low spot away from
trees, fences and poles, but not in a place subject to
flooding. If you are boating or swimming, get to land and
- If you feel your skin tingle or hair stand on end,
lightning may be about to strike. Squat low to the ground
on the balls of your feet. Place your hands on your knees
with your head between them. Minimize contact with the
- Telephone lines and metal pipes can conduct
electricity. Unplug appliances not necessary for receiving
weather information. Use telephones only in an emergency.
Lightning can provide a spectacular display of light on a
dark night. This awesome show of nature also causes death and
destruction. Lightning is the visible discharge of electrical
energy. It is often accompanied by thunder – which is a sonic
boom created by the same discharge. If you hear thunder,
lightning is a threat, even if the storm seems miles away and
the sky is blue. Lightning’s electrical energy seeks a path to
ground – your home, the trees in your yard or even you can be
that chosen path!
Lightning threatens much more than property. When there is
- Do not use the telephone except in an emergency.
- Stay away from electrical appliances, TVs, fireplaces,
metal objects, windows or doors.
- Seek shelter immediately in an enclosed building or
- Avoid isolated trees, high ground, and bodies of water
or large open areas.
What does a lightning protection system do?
A lightning protection system has two objectives:
- Provide a direct path for the lightning to follow to
- Prevent destruction, damage, injury or death as it
travels that path.
It is important to note that a lightning protection
system does not attract lightning. It also cannot prevent a
lightning strike; a lightning protection system does provide a
safe path to ground for the electric current.
What Does a Lightning Protection System Look Like?
- Minimum of two ground rods (electrodes) at least 10 feet
- Down conductors
- Connect gutters or other grounded metals as required
- Air terminals (lightning rods) located within two feet
of outside corners of chimney
- Antenna mast connected to roof conductor
- Air terminals (lightning rods) spaced 20 feet apart
along the ridges and within two feet of ridge ends
- Dormers protected
- Roof projections such as weather vanes or satellite
dishes should be connected to lightning protection system
- Surge protection devices installed at main electrical
panel or meter
- Surge protection devices installed at electronics in
Information from the Michigan Committee for
Severe Weather Awareness