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Increased tornado activity is expected this winter in Central Florida.
The reason for the predicted tornado activity is El Niño, which is an abnormal warming of surface ocean waters in the eastern tropical Pacific. An El Niño weather pattern usually occurs every three to seven years and it can impact global weather patterns. For Central Florida, an El Niño typically means a weak hurricane season, but a strong tornado season in the winter.
The last two El Niño seasons in 1997-1998 and 2006-2007 produced deadly tornadoes throughout Central Florida. The most recent El Niño season resulted in three tornadoes in Lake County: the Christmas Day tornado in Leesburg and the Groundhog Day tornadoes in Lady Lake and Lake Mack, which killed 21 people. Historically during El Niño periods, the strong and violent tornado threat is greatest at night and in the morning.
- When storms approach, monitor TV, AM/FM radio and NOAA weather radio broadcasts. Keep a battery-powered radio for emergencies.
- A TORNADO WATCH is issued when a severe weather system may spawn tornadoes. It means watch the sky. A TORNADO WARNING lasts for one hour or less and it means take action right now. A tornado is on the ground or about to be on the ground.
- Have a family disaster plan. Ask about tornado plans in offices, stores or other areas you visit frequently. Learn the locations of interior shelters.
- Remember, practice the plan. Have a place to call and a place to meet.
- Know where to shelter in the house. Store protective materials – such as blankets or sleeping bags – in the shelter.
- In case family members are separated, plan a place to call to let others know you are safe. Plan a place to meet if you are cut off from your neighborhood.
- Get low and stay low. If you can, get inside – away from windows.
- Never try to outrun a tornado in a vehicle. If you see a tornado, get out of the car. Take shelter in a ditch, ravine or culvert. Be alert to potential flooding.
- Do not seek shelter beneath an overpass. High winds and flying debris are likely to cause injuries.
- Avoid any area with a wide, unsupported roof. That includes auditoriums, cafeterias, gymnasiums, theaters or central courts at malls. Go to interior rooms with no windows.
- Most tornado fatalities result from injuries to the head or neck from flying debris. Protect yourself with thick padding such as blankets or mattresses – or quickly get under a sturdy piece of furniture – a table, bench or church pew.
- If you are in an office, hospital or nursing home, go to the lowest floor. Stay away from windows. Avoid elevators. Shelter in a stairwell, hallway, storage closet or bathroom.
- At school, follow the drill. Take shelter in an inside room, hallway, storage closet or stairwell. Avoid windows or any area with large amounts of glass.
- At home, take shelter in a room without windows on the lowest floor – a bathroom, hallway, closet or stairwell.
- If you are outside and there is no sturdy building nearby, take shelter in a low-lying area. Keep an eye out for flooding.
For more safety information, view Lake County Emergency Management’s brochures.