Tornado season: are you ready?

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Every year, dark clouds descend on San Angelo. Lightning flashes, thunder roars and residents seek shelter indoors from damaging hail and blustery winds. Sometimes, however, thunderstorm season brings a more frightening menace: tornadoes.

A tornado is a large, rotating column of air, usually with winds from 40-110 miles per hour. The most destructive tornadoes have winds speeds recorded at more than 200 miles per hour. As with any large-scale weather phenomenon, some safety precautions are advised.

While the announcement of a tornado watch may unnerve those new to the area, it's important not to panic. Remember, a tornado watch means a storm capable of producing tornadoes is in the area. A tornado warning means a tornado has actually been sighted.

In the event of a tornado warning, go to the center part of your house, away from windows and other glass fixtures. If possible, get to the bottom floor of the building. If a tornado warning is issued while on base, go to your unit's tornado shelter area.

If caught outside during a tornado, get indoors as quickly as possible. If this is impossible, get down on the ground, in a ditch if possible.

Highway overpasses are a BAD shelter idea because windspeed increases significantly. If driving, park to the side of the road and get out of your car, getting low in a ditch if possible.

The most important thing is to be prepared. Know where your unit's tornado shelter area is. Check local weather listings in the event of a storm, and purchase a weather radio if possible.

Have important items (water, identification, prescription medication) ready to go in the event of a storm so you don't waste time looking for them when you head for shelter. Store other important documents in a fire-resistant, water-proof safe.

After a tornado strikes, shut off the electricity and avoid using matches, lighters or appliances until you are sure there are no gas leaks. If a gas leak is found, shut off the gas immediately.

Tornadoes aren't the only safety issue during a thunderstorm! Damaging winds, large hail, flash flooding and cloud-to-ground lightning are all good reasons to stay indoors during a storm, and all are common in the San Angelo area.

Stay inside, stay safe, and remember not to panic.