It may come as a surprise for some Team Schriever members to learn that Colorado’s eastern plains sit in the infamous area known as “Tornado Alley.” Though the National Weather Service does not officially define the zone, national media outlets have coined the term to describe the area of the country where tornadoes strike most frequently.
It includes the states of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota; areas where cold, dry air from Canada and the Rocky Mountains meets warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico. Meteorologists agree that when these two air systems meet they often create severe thunderstorms and sometimes tornadoes.
This reality hit close to home just this past month when a twister touched down less than 10 miles away from the base May 19, as a severe thunderstorm rolled through the region.
Damaging storms are common during the summer months here, but that hasn’t fazed some at the base.
“We’ve noticed during the last two tornado warnings that some people didn’t seem to take the warning seriously,” said Lt. Col. Michael Wulfestieg, 50th Space Wing chief of safety. “When a warning is issued people need to react immediately and take cover.”
During the summer of 2001, a tornado touched down less than eight miles away, at the Ellicott School District 22 complex, destroying the administration building, the high school gymnasium and damaging the new elementary school.
A decade earlier, a twister struck the town of Limon less than 80 miles away, demolishing several commercial buildings, the town hall, police station, post office and newspaper building and left 150 people homeless.
According to the National Weather Service, more than 160 tornadoes were reported in El Paso County between 1995 and 2008.
Tech. Sgt. Sarah Law, 50 SW ground safety manager, says following proper safety procedures can save your life and prevent injury during a tornado.
“The Emergency Management Information Program here has issued tips on steps to take in case of a tornado warning,” she said. “At work, people need to follow the tornado warning procedures for their building, which they can get from their facility managers. At home, it’s best to go to an interior hallway on the lowest floor and avoid windows.”
If experiencing a tornado while traveling, drivers should exit their vehicles and seek shelter in a low area, such as a ditch, if a building is not reachable.
“You’re thinking your car is the safest place in your mind, but it is definitely not,” Sergeant Law said. “We saw from the news reports of this latest tornado, which hit Missouri recently, that some people survived in their cars, but many didn’t. “
Sergeant Law also cautions parents to have a tornado plan and practice it with family members.
“Make sure you talk about it with your children and know that parents should set a good example,” she said. “Everyone needs to know where to go and if the kids see daddy running out to look for a tornado, they’ll more than likely become complacent about safety as well.”
As of May 22, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says that more than 1,000 tornadoes have already struck the continental United States this year. The record for tornadoes in a year was 1,817 during 2004. This could be a record year for twisters, so the likelihood of one striking here is even greater than normal.
At Schriever, it’s important to be aware of your surroundings and to build solid communication habits as well.
“Know the location of your closest shelter and have a plan on how you will contact your coworkers and family if you get ‘locked down’ for an extended period,” Colonel Wulfestieg said. “And don’t forget, even a weak tornado can fill the air with debris and cause significant damage, so take it seriously and protect yourself, those around you and the mission.”