Don’t panic Tuesday morning when an emergency alert goes out across the state—it’s just a test.
At 9:45 a.m., The National Weather Service and Virginia Department of Emergency Management will issue a statewide tornado drill, according to a news release from NWS. Local radio stations, TV stations and cable outlets will broadcast the message through the Emergency Alert System.
The drill this year will be sent in the form of the monthly test administered by NWS to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration through weather radios and local broadcasters.
That means most NOAA radios will not automatically sound an alert tone but those participating in the drill can turn their NOAA Weather Radio on to listen to the voice broadcast — listeners will be able to hear the audible test alert.
Jeff Stern, state coordinator for VDEM, said tornado warnings are important to recognize because they can occur during any month of the year. There were 19 confirmed tornadoes in 2019 throughout the state.
Stern said there are active and quiet years for tornadoes. In Virginia, 2011, 2016 and 2018 were the worst years for tornadoes but 2004 stands out as the most active with more than 80 reported tornadoes. The year 2007 has been reported as the quietest for tornado activity with only two recorded.
Between 1995 and 2015, there were five recorded tornadoes in James City County that registered varying levels of intensity on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, which measures a tornado’s severity. A tornado touched down on the Virginia Peninsula in April 2019 and caused damage to various parts of York County and Newport News.
With the always-present threat of tornadoes, Stern said it’s important for locals to pay attention and understand them through statewide drills.
“When a tornado warning is issued, that isn’t the time to figure out how to keep your loved ones, coworkers, friends and neighbors safe,” Stern said in the news release. “Virginians should use the statewide tornado drill on March 17 as an opportunity to test their tornado emergency procedures and discuss preparedness efforts for these deadly and unexpected storms which can touch down in Virginia throughout the year.”
One important aspect of preparing for potential tornadoes is understanding the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning.
A tornado watch means residents in a particular area should be aware because there are weather conditions that could cause a tornado, according to VDEM. This means residents should move close to a shelter or sturdy building in case a warning is issued.
A tornado warning means residents should take action because a tornado has been spotted or indicated by weather radar. During a tornado watch, residents should take shelter immediately.
While tornado warnings can occur during any month of the year, they are most common between April and September. That’s why residents should participate in Tuesday’s drill and try to prepare an emergency plan should it be needed.
For more information, visit VDEM online.