Did you know Chattanooga has a history of tornado activity? Become a SafeMoc by learning what to do and know how to prepare yourself in an event of a tornado scenario becoming a reality. Tornadoes can impact campus operations even if they do not hit the campus. A storm system with a high likelihood of spawning tornadoes occurred in April of 2017. During that outbreak the campus elected to close based on National Weather Service (NWS) information. That day 35 confirmed tornadoes touched down along a line stretching from Florida to Ohio. Fortunately, none of these storms affected the Chattanooga area.

The most important thing to remember is listen to warnings and take action immediately.

Tornado Watches are issued by a county basis, which can typically stretch to multiple counties and sometimes different states. This means tornadoes are possible in and near the watch area, and these could last anywhere from 12-16 hours.

Tornado Warnings are indicated by a zone or path issued by the local forecast office in Morristown, TN. This warning means there is imminent danger to life and property. When the NWS designates a Tornado Warning, a Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) is sent to all capable phones in the county or counties where the warning is occurring.  The UTC-ALERT system will echo these warning only if the campus is actually in the warning area. WEA is a public safety system operated by multiple government agencies that enables officials to target emergency alerts to specific geographic areas. Check your phone to see if your phone is WEA capable and the alerts are turned on.

Hamilton County does not use a tornado siren system to alert the public for a tornado warning. Sirens here in the Tennessee Valley are dedicated for the Sequoyah Nuclear Plant emergency plan. Siren tests for the plant last for approximately three minutes and occur on the first Wednesday of each month at noon.

When the NWS issues a Tornado Warning for an area that includes the campus, UTC will send out an UTC-ALERT to pause campus operations and classes, and advise people to move to the their shelter areas. To learn how to obtain these alerts visit our alert page on how to access your account or register for a new account*.

Here are some general practices that can be applied to all living areas on campus when needing to take shelter immediately:

Residential Halls

  • Discuss your emergency plans with your Resident Assistant or Resident Director and be ready to act quickly if a warning is issued or you suspect a tornado is approaching.
  • If possible, move to the lowest floor of the building. The upper floors receive the full force of the winds.
  • Remember designated Fire Stairways are safe!
  • Take shelter in a restroom or rooms with no or minimal windows.
  • Duck as low to the floor as you can.
  • Cover yourself with heavy objects (ex: mattresses) to reduce the impact of falling debris.
  • Remain in shelter location until an “all clear” is given via UTC-ALERT or other trusted officials.

Similar guidelines can help if  you need to take shelter in an academic building:

Academic Buildings

  • Spaces in basement areas are better than locations on any other floor.
  • Get to interior spaces like hallways and seek out spaces that form a part of a protected interior core, if possible. A room that is completely interior protects against flying debris.
  • Avoid upper floors and especially the top floor of a multi-story building whenever possible. The upper floors receive the full force of the winds.
  • Avoid rooms with exterior walls, especially those facing south and west. Rooms facing north usually receive the least damage of all exterior rooms.
  • Avoid interior partitions that contain glass or rooms containing windows.
  • Avoid rooms with wide roofs that could collapse easily, such as the gym and auditoriums.

In a last effort, if you are outside and you cannot get inside, crouch for protection beside a strong structure, or lie flat in a ditch or low-lying area and cover your head and neck with your arms or a piece of clothing. There are many misnomers about surviving tornadoes and about the difference between a watch and a warning (as explained above).

Myth 1- We in Chattanooga are protected by surrounding mountains, they block tornadoes.
Tornadoes can and have happened on top of mountains. While higher elevations typically lack tornado producing, humid/less stable, air the Tennessee Valley does not have high enough elevations to restrict strong storms from accumulating.

Myth 2- You can out-run a tornado.
Do not attempt to out-run or out-drive a tornado, this is extremely dangerous and can lead to being lifted off the ground or thrown by strong enough winds.

Myth 3- Hide under a highway overpass, the storm cannot sweep you away.
Highway overpasses are not safe to take shelter in, wind gusts are accelerated in tight spaces which can lead to being struck by your own car or impaled by debris.

Myth 4- By leaving my windows and doors open the air pressure will be less and thus cause less damage.
Leaving windows and doors open do not decrease the chance of damage to occur but rather increases the likelihood of structural damage, not to mention the debris that can fly inside during the storm.

Due to our region’s climate, fall can be just as likely a time for tornado activity as the spring.

At least 88 tornadoes have affected Hamilton County and the neighboring counties since 1950, injuring more than 800 people over that span. The south-central plains of the United States is the region of the world with the most tornadoes recorded on an annual basis.  While this area is known as “Tornado Alley, the area from southern Louisiana to Ohio, known as Dixie Alley, runs a close second for tornado activity due to tornado producing storms occurring during hurricane season, which can span from June to November.

On May 22, 2011 one of the deadliest tornadoes in U.S. history struck Joplin, Missouri, killing 159 people and injuring more than 1,000. An NWS Assessment examined the emergency warnings and response to those warnings during the tornado. Since these storms, it has been determined that the Joplin residents did not heed the warnings of the EF-5 tornado with wind speeds over 200 mph (320 km/h) that caused so much devastation to the area.

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