Tornado

Tornado Warning Guidelines
Transportation Department

This applies to tornado warnings issued within Calvert County, Maryland only. Bus drivers and/or bus assistants travelling out of the county must be aware of adverse weather conditions and take reasonable and appropriate steps to protect themselves and all passengers from tornadoes and other adverse weather conditions. A tornado warning means that a tornado has been sighted. A tornado watch means that current or anticipated conditions may produce a tornado. While administrators and bus personnel may use their professional judgment in times of severe thunderstorms or tornado watches, a tornado warning issued to an area within Calvert County requires a system-wide approach and actions.

What happens when a tornado warning is issued?

In the event of a tornado warning issued in the morning, schools shall receive and shelter students, staff and bus personnel. In the event of a tornado warning issued during the day, no student shall be dismissed from school during the time that a tornado warning is in effect. Both school staff and Transportation staff will notify bus drivers and bus assistants to leave the school vehicles and seek shelter inside the school building. Transportation services will stop in the area of the tornado warning at the commencement of the tornado warning. When it is announced that transportation services may resume, it will be on a delayed basis, without changes to pick-up or discharge sequence.

What should bus drivers do early in the school year to prepare?

  • Prior to severe weather, preferably in the first two weeks of school, bus drivers and bus assistants should identify locations along the bus routes that could provide more shelter than a school bus. These locations could include a different school building, a fire house, a church, a business, a substantial structure, or a low-lying area. These locations should be written on the detailed route description that is kept on the bus at all times. NOTE: It is no longer advised to seek shelter below bridges or overpasses.
  • Two way radios or other communication equipment should be in operation at all times, particularly during threatening weather conditions.

What should bus drivers and bus assistants do when a tornado warning is issued during student pickup times?

  • If a bus driver or bus assistant sees a tornado, the bus driver is to stop student pick-up and seek appropriate shelter for all vehicle occupants. This could include a different school building, a fire house, a church, or a business. It is possible that the bus driver and bus assistant may have to evacuate the bus and seek shelter far away from the bus in a low-lying area. In that case the bus driver and bus assistant must also be aware of the possibility of flash flooding, and may have to relocate.
  • If there is a tornado warning but an adult on the bus does not see a tornado, the bus driver will continue to pick up all students for the trip and then proceed to the school destination. Upon arrival at the destination school the bus driver and bus assistant are to stop all operations until the expiration of the tornado warning. The bus driver, bus assistant, and passengers are to seek shelter at the school.

    • If the bus driver receives notice of a warning at a school site or at a time prior to pick up of student passengers, the bus driver is to discontinue operations immediately and seek shelter. This could happen in between first, second, and third tier bus runs, midday runs or Career & Technology Academy (CTA) runs.

  • When the tornado warning expires, the bus driver will resume operations, although late, without change to the pick-up sequence of schools. A bus driver wishing to re-route must contact Transportation to request permission to do so.

What should bus drivers and bus assistants do when a tornado warning is issued during student dismissal times?

  • If a bus driver or bus assistant sees a tornado, the bus driver is to stop student discharge and seek appropriate shelter for all vehicle occupants. Trying to outrun a tornado would not be a wise decision. If an adequate shelter area cannot be reached without further endangering the students, a ditch or depression in the immediate vicinity will have to be used. Evacuate the students into the shelter area, being sure that the bus has been positioned far enough—and in a direction—away from the students so that the wind will not overturn the bus onto them. Direct students to lie face down on the ground, draw their knees up under them, and cover the back of their head with their hands.
  • If there is a tornado warning but an adult on the bus does not see a tornado, the bus driver will continue to discharge all students for the trip and proceed to the next school destination, if any. Upon arrival at the next school destination, the bus driver and bus assistant are to stop all operations until the expiration of the tornado warning. The bus driver, bus assistant and passengers are to seek shelter at the school.

    • If the bus driver receives notice of a warning at the school site or at a time prior to departure from a school, the bus driver and bus assistant are to discontinue operations immediately and seek shelter at the school site.

  • When the tornado warning expires, the bus driver will resume operations, although late, without change to the pick-up sequence of schools. A bus driver wishing to re-route must contact Transportation to request permission to do so.

How will bus drivers, bus assistants, departments, and schools be notified?

  • When a tornado warning is issued, Transportation will make a two-way announcement will to all buses explaining the:

    1. Projected area of the tornado warning and which schools are affected, and
    2. Projected end time of the tornado warning.

  • Transportation will call the Superintendent’s Office, Student Services, and Maintenance to alert them of a tornado warning.
  • Principals will be called by Central Office Administration when there is a tornado warning affecting the attendance area of the school. Principals will take the appropriate measures as outlined in the school’s Crisis Plan.
  • Principals/designees will send a SchoolMessenger message regarding the tornado warning, including the end time of the warning. The message will include the:

    1. Projected area of the tornado warning and which schools are affected, and
    2. Projected end time of the tornado warning.

    In addition, the message will include information about the resumption of bus services.
  • Principals/designees will alert staff to ensure that any persons outside the building, including bus drivers, bus assistants, maintenance workers, parents, etc. are notified of the tornado warning and are sheltered.
  • When the warning expires, the superintendent/designee will contact schools to direct them to return to normal arrival/dismissal processes without any change to the normal sequence in the three-tiered system of schools. Another announcement will be made over the two-way radios to bus drivers.

What precautions should a school bus driver take when tornado conditions exist but a tornado warning has not been issued?

  • Abide by this guideline: “Expect the best, but prepare for the worst.”
  • Be aware that the spring and fall months are most favorable to tornado activity.
  • Severe weather conditions of any kind should be discussed with the Transportation Department at 443-550-8786 before a bus driver starts a run or before students board the bus at a school.
  • Drivers should prepare all “yellow bus cards” and seating chart so they are easy to take when evacuating the bus. This is especially important when evacuating students into any school or building which is not the school the students attend; no one inside will know the students or have any parent contact information if the driver does not bring it inside with them.

General Information about Tornadoes

What is a tornado? A tornado is defined as a violently rotating column of air descending from a thunderstorm cloud to the ground. It nearly always starts as a funnel-shaped rotating extension from a thunderstorm cloud, building downward to the ground and grows dark as it picks up debris. The most violent tornadoes are capable of remarkable destruction with wind speeds of 250 mph or more. Damaging paths can be in excess of one mile wide and 50 miles long.

Under what conditions do most tornadoes occur? Tornadoes form several thousand feet above the earth’s surface, usually during warm, humid, unsettled weather, and usually in combination with a severe thunderstorm. They require the presence of layers of air with contrasting characteristics of temperature, moisture, density, and wind flow.

During what time of day are tornadoes most likely to develop? Tornadoes are most likely to occur at mid-afternoon, generally between 3 and 7 p.m., but they have occurred at all times of the day.

What direction does a tornado move? Usually from southwest to northeast.

What is the length of a tornado’s path? Tornadoes generally average about 4 miles but may reach 300 miles.

How wide is a tornado’s path? It averages about 300 to 400 yards, but tornadoes have cut strips a mile and more in width.

How fast do they travel? Average speed of a tornado is from 25 to 40 miles per hour, but speeds ranging from stationary to 68 miles per hour have been reported.

Is it true that if it rains there is no chance of a tornado? No!! Precipitation associated with the tornado usually occurs first as rain just preceding the storm, frequently with hail, and as a heavy downpour immediately to the left of the tornado’s path.

Can you hear a tornado? DEFINITELY YES! A tornado has been described as a roaring, rushing noise, closely resembling that made by a train speeding through a tunnel or over a trestle, or the roar of many airplanes.

What is meant by a “tornado watch”? A “watch” indicates an area in which atmospheric weather conditions exist from which a tornado could develop. Tornado “watch” bulletins always state that severe thunderstorm activity is also expected. A severe thunderstorm is one containing either damaging winds (surface gusts greater than 75 miles per hour) or hailstones at least 3/4 inch in diameter at the surface of the ground or both.

What is meant by a “tornado warning” or “severe thunderstorm warning”? A “warning” is issued when a tornado or severe thunderstorm has been sighted in the area by severe weather spotters or radar.

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