Each year, a few tornadoes are observed in New Zealand. More often than not, the damage resulting from these is minor because they existed for only a very short time. However, once in a while there is significant damage – and threat to public safety – when one or more tornadoes pass through a built-up area.
One of the most notable tornadoes in New Zealand occurred in the Hamilton suburb of Frankton on 25 August 1948. It carved a 100-200 metre swath through the suburb, causing 3 deaths and 12 injuries, damaging 150 houses and 50 businesses.
Tornadoes sometimes occur during thunderstorms in some parts of New Zealand. A tornado is a narrow, violently rotating column of air extending downwards to the ground from the base of a thunderstorm. Warning signs include a long, continuous roar or rumble or a fast approaching cloud of debris which can sometimes be funnel shaped.
Severe Weather Watches and Warnings are issued by the MetService and available through the broadcast media, by email alerts, and at MetService.
Before a tornado
- Develop an emergency communication plan in your family (for all hazards) in case family members are separated from one another during a tornado, such as during the day when adults are at work and children at school. Have a plan for getting back together.
- Discuss where and how to shelter in your home.
- Get familiar with your Household Emergency Plan.
- Have Emergency Survival Items and a Getaway Kit on hand).
- Make a list of telephone numbers for the emergency services (fire, police, council/ civil defence emergency management office, ambulance, etc.). Farmers should also include emergency numbers for vets, local livestock transport companies, alternative powers supply equipment, Local Rural Support Trust etc. You may not have time in an emergency to look up critical numbers.
- Check your household insurance policy for coverage.
- Know where your utility switches or valves are located and how to turn them off.
- For people with special needs, write down your specific needs, limitations and medication.
- Keep insurance policies, important family documents (birth certificates, ownership certificates, passport, etc.), and other valuables in a waterproof container. You may need quick, easy access to these documents.
- Prepare a list of important medical information, bank account number, etc.
- Keep trees and shrubbery trimmed. Make trees more wind resistant by removing diseased or damaged limbs, then strategically remove branches so that wind can blow through. Strong winds frequently break weak limbs and hurl them at great speed, causing damage or injury when they hit. Debris collection services may not be operating just before a storm, so it is best to do this well in advance of approaching storms.
- Remove any debris or loose items in your yard. Branches and firewood may become missiles in strong winds.
- Discuss tornadoes with your family. Everyone should know what to do in case all family members are not together. Discussing disaster preparedness ahead of time helps reduce fear and lets everyone know what to do in a tornado situation.
During a tornado
- Alert others if you can.
- Take shelter immediately. A basement offers the greatest safety. If underground shelter is not available, move to an interior room without windows on the lowest floor. Get under sturdy furniture and cover yourself with a mattress or blanket.
- If there is no time to get to a lower level, try to get under a door frame or get up against something that will support or deflect falling debris.
- Do not use lifts during or after tornadoes.
- If caught outside, get away from trees if you can. Lie down flat in a nearby gully, ditch or low spot and protect your head.
- If in a car, get out immediately and look for a safe place to shelter. Do not try to outrun a tornado or get under the vehicle for shelter.
After a tornado
- Check for injuries. Give first aid and get help for injured or trapped persons. Taking care of yourself first will allow you to help others safely until emergency responders arrive.
- Help people who require special assistance - infants, elderly people, those without transportation, families who may need additional help in an emergency situation, people with disabilities, and the people who care for them.
- Turn on the radio or television or call your local emergency services to get the latest emergency information.
- Wear sturdy shoes or boots, long sleeves, and gloves when handling or walking on or near debris.
- Be aware of hazards from exposed nails and broken glass.
- Use the telephone only for emergency calls.
- Do not touch downed power lines or objects in contact with downed power lines.
- Report broken utility lines to the appropriate authorities. Reporting potential hazards will get the utilities turned off as quickly as possible, preventing further damage and injury.
- Look for fire hazards and inspect utilities in a damaged house
- Be careful when entering any structure that has been damaged.
- Check for gas leaks - if you smell gas or hear a blowing or hissing noise, open a window and quickly leave the building. Turn off the gas at the outside main valve if you can and call the gas company from a neighbor’s home. If you turn off the gas for any reason, it must be turned back on by a professional.
- Look for electrical system damage - if you see sparks or broken or frayed wires, or if you smell hot insulation, turn off the electricity at the main fuse box or circuit breaker. If you have to step in water to get to the fuse box or circuit breaker, call an electrician for advice.
- If farming, check that livestock are secure and not injured. Their behaviour may be unpredictable so take care when approaching.
- Ring your insurer as soon as possible.