By: Security Officer Ken Murphy 

I am on post sitting in the guard shack going through one of Hampton Roads famous summer time thunder storms. I have lived here all my life and know the routine. First it is a HOT humid day and all you want is some relief from it. Then you notice clouds beginning to form, turning dark gray then black.

This is usually in the south and southwest sky. Then you see lightning way off in the distance. You begin to see the wind begin to pick up some and the temperature starts to drop. Then it starts to get darker and you even have to turn on some lights to see what you are doing.

When I was a kid out playing this was the time when Mom would come to the door and begin to call out for me to “come home and get in this house”. Boy did I hate to do that. What a way to end a great time playing in the woods, on a make shift ball field, or best of all, swinging on a rope tied to a tree limb out over the creek and dropping in the water. Yes I at one time lived in such a place. Ah man what a bummer just because of a little old storm.

Sitting in my guard shack watching it rain and hearing the thunder sometimes makes you reminisce about the good old days. Well for me at my age it does! I would hate to think what some of you reminisce about.

Fast forward some years, ok a lot of years, and it seems to me that thunder storms that pop up now have become more frequent, stronger, and is the cause of much more damage then they use too. Even the injuries to people have increased and are killing more people. At one time we never experienced a tornado. Those things always occurred out west, never around here. Is it climate change, global warming, putting to many “things” in space, or even the coming of TEOTWAWKI? (The end of the world as we know it) Well I am not about to get into any of those debates

I have had 35 years as a firefighter/paramedic, member of FEMA Task Force 2 Urban Search and Rescue, deployed to the bombing of the Federal Building in Okla., Amateur Radio Operator (HAM) deployed to the gulf coast in Katrina, a certified “weather observer” by the National Weather Service, spotted the tornado develop over the route 10 area in Suffolk and reported it to the NWS before it came up on their radar. I observed it touch down headed for the Driver section in Suffolk, tried to out run it but failed and ended up on the shoulder of the road at Bennett’s Pasture road and Kings Highway as the tornado went over the top of my truck.

As I was being jolted around, I thought for sure I was going to meet Dorothy and her red shoes. I have had many years of experience just living here during aversive weather conditions. With hurricane Isabel, I and my wife went without electric service for about two weeks. When hurricane Floyd came through the water pump station located in Franklin was flooded shorting out all the electric panels that made the pumps work resulting in no water supply to us for more then two weeks. That means no water to drink, wash, and no water to flush toilets.

The summer storms we have around here now are more severe, tornados are very frequent and more damaging with these storms now. Who cares what is the cause when you are sitting in the dark because wires are down, you are standing in your living room with water up to your knees, you are in your front yard looking at the spot where your house use to be, or you drove your car through a little stream of water going across the road and now you are floating (if you are lucky) down a stream your car now a watercraft.

Unfortunately these thing happen and every year millions of dollars in material things are destroyed or lost, but worst of all many families are destroyed because love ones perish in the storms.


  • Can you recognize the signs of a storm coming together?
  • Do you know what to do if caught outside in a bad thunder storm?
  • Do you know what to do if outside and a tornado approach?
  • Do you know the best area inside your house if a tornado approaches your home?
  • Do you know what a severe thunder storm watch and warning is and the difference between them?
  • Do you know the difference between a tornado watch and warning?
  • Do you know what a flash flood warning is?
  • Do you have an emergency kit with food, water, blanket, flashlight & batteries, battery operated radio and first aid kit in you car should you become cut off from your home?
  • Do you have emergency supplies at home should you become cut off from the outside world, no electrical power, no water, no heat?
  • Do you have an emergency plan and practice it?
  • Do you have a central meeting place should your family become separated?
  • Have you identified a place to go and stay outside should you have to evacuate the areas?
  • Do you have a “Go Bag”, “Bug out Bag” (whatever you want to name it) with clothing, medicine, personal hygiene items, important papers, and other items you would need to substance you for a minimum of 72 hours?
  • Does each member of the family have their “Go Bag” and know where it is at all times?
  • Have you thought of different events and evaluate if you should leave or shelter in place?
  • Do you keep your vehicle’s fuel tank at leas ½ full?

Wow, a lot to do plus as you make your list, most likely you think of other items you need to include in your bag. Remember these things as you put your “bag” together:

  • Will there be shelter?
  • Will you have a source of electrical power?
  • Will there be a water source, what if it is contaminated?
  • Will it be a safe environment?
  • Will there be medical assistance available?

Now if you were able to get through all the previous references of real life and bits of useful information from my experience, let’s look at,


FACT: Tornadoes are nature’s most violent storms. They come from powerful thunderstorms. They appear as a funnel- or cone-shaped cloud with winds that can reach up to 300 miles per hour. They cause damage when they touch down on the ground. They can damage an area one mile wide and 50 miles long. Before tornadoes hit, the wind may die down, and the air may become very still. They may also strike quickly, with little or no warning.

FACT: Tornadoes are most common between March and August, but they can occur at any time. They can happen anywhere but are most common in Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Texas – an area commonly called “Tornado Alley.” They are also more likely to occur between 3pm and 9pm but can occur at any time.

FACT:  Super cell tornadoes are most likely to occur between 3:00 and 9:00 in the evening.

Current tornado warnings have a 13-minute average lead time and a 70% false alarm rate.

Tornadoes have been known to destroy houses, but leave light objects like plates, glasses, lamps, and even paper undisturbed on tables. They have also been known to pluck the feathers from chickens.

In 1896, a violent tornado drove a piece of wood through the iron Eads Bridge in St. Louis, Missouri. Tornadoes are known to carry heavy objects, such as cars, up to a distance of a mile, lighter objects, like books and clothing, up to a distance of 20 miles, and really light objects, like paper, up to a distance of 200 miles.

FACT: Tornadoes can last from several seconds to more than an hour. The longest-lived tornado in history is really unknown, since so many long-lived tornadoes that were reported before the mid-1900s are now believed to have been a series of tornadoes. Most tornadoes last less than 10 minutes. The longest-lived tornado was likely the Tri-State Tornado, also the country’s deadliest (described below), which may have lasted as long as three and a half hours

FACT: The deadliest tornado in American history was invisible. In 1925, the Tri-State Tornado ravaged a mile-wide path for 220 miles across Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana at 60 to 70 mph—twice the forward speed of the average tornado. It lacked the classic funnel cloud, but the damage was catastrophic: nearly 2,000 people were injured, property losses totaled more than $16 million, and over 700 people died. This event also holds the known record for most tornado fatalities in a single city or town: at least 234 in Murphysboro, Illinois.


Freaks of the Storm: From Flying Cows to Stealing Thunder: The World’s Strangest True Weather Stories, Randy Cerveny, Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2006

Tornadoes are classified by their damage according to the Enhanced Fujita (EF) scale, which incorporates engineering principles into the damage rating. (The EF scale replaced the former F scale in February 2007.)

Weak Tornadoes EF0: 65-85 mph – light damage EF1: 86-110 mph – moderate damage   − 69% of all tornadoes                       − Less than 5% of tornado deaths

− Lifetime 1-10+ minutes

Strong Tornadoes EF2: 111-135 mph – considerable damage EF3: 136-165 mph – severe damage    − 29% of all tornadoes

− Nearly 30% of all tornado deaths

− May last 20 minutes or longer

Violent Tornadoes 66-200 mph – devastating damage

EF5: 201+ mph – incredible damage

    − Only 2% of all tornadoes

− 70% of all tornado deaths

− Lifetime can exceed 1 hour


Tornado Watch:

Issued by the National Weather Service when conditions are favorable for the development of tornadoes in and close to the watch area. Watches are generally issued for the duration of 4-8 hours, well in advance of the actual occurrence of severe weather. During the watch, people should be pre-pared to move to a place of safety if threatening weather approaches.

Tornado Warning:

Issued by the National Weather Service when a tornado is indicated by radar or sighted by spotters. People in the affect-ed area should seek safe shelter immediately.

Tornado Emergency:

A Tornado Emergency is issued by the National Weather Service. It is not a new warning, but is used to highlight a con-firmed tornado which is expected to be strong and violent. A Tornado Emergency means that significant, widespread damage with a high likely-hood of numerous fatalities is expected to continue.

For more information on Severe Thunder Storms, Tropical Storms, Tornadoes and Hurricanes go to:

  • Virginia Department of Emergency
  • com
  • American Red

You can also contact your City Department of Emergency Management for information on what your city is doing to prepare for these types of storms, their response to them, mitigation, and recovery.

Other sources of information are:

For all my fellow officers, keep in mind that the more you know about these types of storms and what actions to take the better your changes to prevent injuries or death for yourself and oh yes if on post, your client and the people you are there to protect.

Be safe,

Ken Murphy

Security Officer

37th Street Water Treatment Plant


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