Nocturnal tornadoes: Dangerous twisters in the night

By Mike Simon, Meteorologist
Last Updated: Monday, May 23, 2016, 4:46 PM EDT

Even though a hurricane is the most powerful storm on Earth, a tornado can harbor much more intense wind capable of destroying anything it touches. And they can happen anywhere at any time — even at night.

Nocturnal tornados are especially dangerous since most of us are asleep, unaware that our lives could be in danger.

The deadliest tornado outbreak in Florida started Feb. 22, 1998, and it was at night. Seven tornados swept through Central Florida between 11 p.m. and 2:30 a.m., injuring 260 and killing 42.

Since that outbreak, at least two towns installed siren warning systems, which are common across Tornado Alley in the Midwest. Although they put out a 130 decibel tone, it might not be enough for you to hear when sleeping inside your home.

A weather radio, if programmed right, can wake you when there are severe storms or tornados where you live. That’s the old way, and with advances in technology, there is now a better warning solution while you sleep.

Most of us have smart phones like this one we keep with us all the time. Why not put it to work to warn you before a storm hits? All you need to do is download our News 13+ App, free of charge.

To set it up, open the app and touch the menu at the top left. The fourth selection down is Safety Net Alerts; this is what you are looking for. You'll be taken to a screen that displays current alerts. Touch locations to either add your location, or other custom locations of your choice.

Next, go to preferences. This is where you can select the types of events you want triggered. Be sure Tornado Warning and Thunderstorm Warning are selected.

And that’s it! You are now set to be warned when dangerous weather is approaching.

Now, what should you do if a tornado is headed for your area? Underground would be the best place during a tornado, but basements are quite rare where we live. The next best choice is the lowest floor of your house, in a small room with no windows. A hall closet or interior bathroom would work.

Get there fast and stay until the warning is over. If in a mobile home, it’s best to seek shelter elsewhere. Have a plan in place well ahead of time.

In a study conducted by Northern Illinois University recently, the fatality rate from nocturnal tornadoes has increased over the past 100 years. At the same time, daytime tornado fatality rates have gone down. Nocturnal tornadoes are two and a half times more likely to kill.