A tornado is a thin column of air extending from a thunderstorm cloud to or near the ground. Rotating counterclockwise at around 450 kilometers per hour or even faster, it is strong enough to uproot trees, damage buildings, and displace vehicles.

Also known as twisters or buhawi in Filipino, tornadoes in the Philippines persist from one to ten minutes, and are capable of traveling a distance of one kilometer. “Kapag ang buhawi ay short-lived, maaaring mas maiksi ang distance na kayang baybayin niyan. Maaari rin namang magkaroon ng matagalang tornado pero almost stationary lamang iyon,” said PAGASA Weather Forecaster Chris Perez. (If a tornado is short-lived, it can only a travel a short distance. On the other hand, a long-lasting tornado can also stay stationary.)

A tornado is a secondary hazard of severe thunderstorms that can also produce hailstorms. Tornadoes can transpire in any part of the country from March to December; however, Luzon experiences less number of tornadoes during the northeast (amihan) season from October to February.

To prevent loss of lives and damage to properties, know what to do before, during, and after a tornado.

• Check your house for possible weaknesses.
• Keep fragile and light items away from the window.
• All types of buildings must have a safe room, preferably without windows.
• Create a family communication plan and practice it.
• Keep an emergency kit.
• Always monitor the weather, and be alert to changing conditions.
• Stay indoors when a thunderstorm transpires. Severe thunderstorms are heralded by hailstones and huge, dark low-lying clouds.

• Be alert at all times.
• Proceed to the basement or the ground level of the building.
• Stay away from windows and items that may fall or break.
• Crouch under a sturdy table if the wind is very violent.
• When inside a car, move out and seek a safe area. If you can’t get out, buckle your seatbelt and drive to the nearest sturdy shelter, and park using the hand-break.
• When outdoors, watch out for falling debris, and stay away from electric posts, underpasses, and bridges. Better to evacuate to a concrete structure.
• If buildings are not present, proceed to a low-lying area or lie flat on the ground.

• Check for injured or trapped people.
• Deal with injuries.
• Stay away from debris and damaged structures.
• Shut off utilities and inspect the house for damage.

Photo: Harold Obaña
Photo: Harold Obaña

A tornado is different from a waterspout, which transpires in bodies of water. Because the wind is colorless, it is difficult to see the first few seconds of a tornado until it becomes visible due to dust and other objects carried by the swiveling winds. In other countries, meteorologists easily predict formation of tornadoes because of their wide diameters that can expand to 200 meters. This weather phenomenon exists in almost every continent except Antarctica due its below-zero temperatures.

Meanwhile, PAGASA Forecaster Perez said that our state weather bureau is now discussing the issuance of tornado watches and advisories.