It's not every day the Long Island weather forecast includes the word tornado.
One day last summer, a tornado warning was posted for our area. I was panicked because I really had no idea what to do. I remember hearing something about opening windows on one side of the house but I couldn't remember which one. I knew we were supposed to get in the basement, and as soon as I tweeted the warning and posted it to RiverheadLOCAL's Facebook pages, I spent the next 10 minutes trying to get my two large, goofy Golden-Lab mix puppies downstairs. They are afraid of the basement stairs and I had to carry them down. By the time I was done, the warning was over. This would have made good sitcom material, I'm sure. (There's a reason Pete does a great Desi Arnaz impression and calls out "Looo-ceee" to me on a regular basis.)
With today's National Weather Service forecast saying "a couple of tornadoes are possible" in southeastern New York, I decided to do a little reading on tornadoes and what to do to be prepared. As a lifelong New Yorker, my experience with tornadoes has been pretty much limited to the Wizard of Oz and a weird attraction called Twister at Universal Studios in Orlando. See the tornado word in today's forecast brought back memories of last year's ultimately funny panicked 10 minutes at the Blasletti compound.
It got me to thinking lots of other Riverhead locals don't know much about tornadoes, either. So I thought I'd pull together some info for all of us.
First, know the difference between a "watch" and a "warning."
According to the weather service website, if a tornado "watch" is issued, it means a tornado is "possible."
If a tornado "warning" is issued, it means a tornado has actually been spotted, or is strongly indicated on radar, and it is time to go to a safe shelter immediately.
The weather service says we should also be alert to what is happening outside. A sickly greenish or greenish-black color to the sky is a something people who've lived through a tornado often report.
If a tornado watch or warning is posted, the fall of hail should be considered a real danger sign. Hail by itself doesn't mean there's a tornado, but accompanied by a watch or a warning, hail can mean a tornado is imminent.
For other things to watch out for, visit the tornadoproject.com safety page.
If you're at home when a tornado is on it's way, the best place is a specially designed below-ground storm shelter, the kind that protected Auntie Em and the gang. (Can't you still hear her distressed calls for Dorothy before they closed the cellar doors?)
I don't know about you, but we don't have one of those in our yard.
In that case, the best place to be is in the basement, away from the west and south walls.
Hiding under a heavy work-table or under the stairs will protect the family from crumbling walls, chimneys, and large airborne debris falling into the cellar, according to the tornado safety website.
Prepare a spot in advance with old blankets, quilts and an unused mattress to protect against flying debris. Don't assume you can find these things at the last minute.
If there's no basement, your best bet is a small, windowless, interior room on the first floor — a closet or bathroom.
From the Tornado Project:
"The bathtub and commode are anchored directly into the ground, and sometimes are the only thing left in place after the tornado. Getting into the bathtub with a couch cushion over you gives you protection on all sides, as well as an extra anchor to the foundation. Plumbing pipes may or may not help hold the walls together, but all the extra framing that it takes to put a bathroom together may make a big difference."
And by the way, the advice about opening windows is a tornado myth, one of many.
If you live in a mobile home, you need to find another substantial structure you can get to quickly. Mobile homes, even if tied down, offer little protection against tornadoes, according to the federal emergency management agency. Again, you should have a plan for this in advance.
If you're in a large store, office building or hospital when a warning is posted, you should go to an interior room or hall on the lowest floor. Stay away from glass-enclosed places or areas with wide-span roofs such as auditoriums, gymnasiums or warehouses.
Another excellent online resource is provided by FEMA at http://www.ready.gov/tornadoes/
Dont' forget to bring your cell phones with you to your place of shelter.
And text follow riverheadlocal to 40404 to get breaking news via text message to your phone. (Your regular text message rates apply.)
I'll be listening to the WX on the scanner, tweeting updates and posting to our LOCAL Live Breaking News ticker, where you can join the discussion. We local geeks need to stick together.
Stay in touch and stay safe.
Denise Civiletti, reporter, editor, digital maven and former newspaper editor and publisher, lives and works in Riverhead. She vaguely remembers having a life away from electronic gadgets before being consumed by her role as a digital-hyperlocal-news-entrepreneur-pioneer — lol— publishing RiverheadLocal.com with her husband Peter Blasl.