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Tornadoes are most likely to occur in mid-afternoon, generally between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. although they can occur at any time. Movement is generally from southwest to northeast. The cloud associated with a tornado is a dark, thunderstorm cloud from which a whirling funnel-shaped pendent extends to or near the ground. Rain usually precedes the tornado, frequently with hail, and as a heavy downpour.

Tornado Watch

A tornado watch is the first alert message issued by the weather bureau. A tornado watch is issued when the conditions are favorable for the formation of a tornado. The local National Weather Service will issue a watch bulletin to the local authorities, as well as the local media. A "watch" specifies the potentially affected area(s) and timeframe during which tornado formation is highly probable. Watches are not warnings. Until a warning is issued, you should not interrupt your normal routine except to stay tuned to the radio or television, and look for threatening weather.

Tornado Warning

A tornado warning is issued when a tornado is actually sighted visually in the immediate area or by radar. A warning gives the location of the tornado at the time of detection, the area through which it is expected to move, and the time period during which it will pass the area. When a tornado warning is issued, persons in the path of the storm should take immediate safety precautions. If you actually sight a tornado funnel, move to shelter immediately and report it by dialing 448-4444.

An outdoor tornado siren/warning system is activated by Memphis and Shelby County EMA. It will be tested weekly at noon on Wednesday. The siren will be activated anytime there is information that a tornado might involve the Memphis area.

The siren/warning system will also be activated any time there is any emergency situation involving the Memphis area. Residents have been advised to monitor their radios or local television stations for information concerning the emergency situation.

Employees should note that the tornado siren/warning system is an OUTDOOR system only. It is not intended to be audible inside of buildings. Since the tornado siren/warning system may not be audible inside of buildings, the Campus Police Department will make every attempt to notify Faculty, Staff, and Students of the warning. An e2Campus alert will be sent if hazardous weather is imminent.


(The following information is provided for both on- and off-campus situations.)

  • If Faculty, Staff and Students are notified of a tornado warning, they should move to the safest place in your building and/or complex. THEY SHOULD NOT PULL A FIRE ALARM - no one should leave the safety of the building. Students, faculty and staff should not leave the building until they are notified that the danger has passed. It is helpful if flashlights are kept handy as a power outage may occur during this type of storm.
  • Safe places to seek shelter include basements of modern, steel-reinforced office and classroom buildings, storm shelters, tunnels, sub-basements, basements, and interior corridors. Dangerous places to seek shelter include auditoriums, gymnasiums, aircraft hangers, modular buildings, structures with wide, free-span roofs, upper stories of office buildings, glass enclosed areas and vehicles.
  • The basement or ground floor interior corridor usually offers the greatest safety in campus buildings. Seek shelter in the middle of the building. Take cover under heavy furniture or in an interior hallway against a strong, inside wall on the lower floor.
  • Motor vehicles do not offer adequate protection from a tornado. Violent winds can roll a vehicle over, crushing it and its occupants. Encourage everyone to remain in the building and not attempt to drive.
  • No matter where you are, keep a battery-powered radio with you, if available, and listen to weather information so that you will know when the warning is lifted. Call the weather bureau and emergency response agencies only to report a tornado or request emergency assistance. Radio and television stations will broadcast the latest tornado advisory information.
  • If caught in the open, move away from the tornado's path at a right angle. If there is no time to escape, lie flat in the nearest depression such as a ravine or ditch.
  • Follow the instructions of emergency response personnel or remain in the hallway until the Campus Police, Safety Officer, Fire Department, Emergency Management, or other emergency response personnel give the all clear.

Tornado emergency preparation information for administration and management

The university may potentially face a tornado capable of producing mass casualties, significant property damage, or significantly interrupting normal campus operations. In a typical year, more than 800 tornadoes are reported nationwide causing 80 deaths and 1,500 injuries. Extremely violent tornadoes are capable of winds in excess of 250 mph and producing widespread damage paths in excess of a mile wide and 50 miles long. From 1961 through 1990, Tennessee averaged 3 tornado deaths per year and 2.91 tornadoes reported per 10,000 square miles or 12 tornadoes per year.

A consistent factor in post-tornado analyses is that community preparation and planning results in minimized casualties, reduced property damage, and faster economic recovery. The university, city of Memphis and Shelby County have an emergency reaction plan in place and routinely review it and conduct simulated exercises to test its effectiveness.

The National Weather Service increasingly relies on strategically located Doppler radars across the country to provide information on developing storms. These radars can detect air movement toward or away from the radar providing early detection of increasing rotation aloft within a thunderstorm and can allow life-saving warnings to be issued before a tornado forms.

The National Weather Service uses information from weather radar, spotters and other sources to issue severe thunderstorm and tornado warnings for areas where severe weather is imminent. Severe thunderstorm and tornado warnings are broadcast over local National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio stations serving the warned areas. These warnings are also relayed to local emergency management and public safety officials who can activate local warning systems to alert communities. Stay informed about storm and tornado developments by listening to NOAA Weather Radio for the latest tornado watches and warnings.

It is recommended that each department obtain a weather radio with the capability to operate off of either battery or AC current. The university has a voluntary campus-wide emergency warning system. However, NOAA weather radio is the best means to receive warnings from the National Weather Service. Remember that tornadoes occasionally develop so rapidly that advance warning is limited or not possible.

Advice and assistance for preparation and planning is available from Safety Affairs. Contact the Safety Affairs office at 8-7374 for further information.

May 26, 2022