Today is the anniversary of the tornado that hit Atlanta, Georgia, on March 14, 2008. It made a big impression on me because it is one of the few tornadoes I have seen directly impacting my area (I don’t storm chase, I let the tornadoes come to me).
My husband (also a meteorologist), son and I were staying in a hotel in Midtown Atlanta on a Friday night looking forward to the basketball tournament the next day when the Weather Channel showed us some ominous footage of a tornado heading toward the city from the northwest. As we watched the radar, we could see that it was headed a little south of us towards downtown. Since our hotel room faced south, we looked out to see if there was anything to observe. While it was too dark to see the funnel directly, we watched as a series of ground flashes from breaking power lines moved from right to left through our line of view towards downtown, the classic sign that spotters look for at night when you can’t see the tornado directly. We got a lot of wind and rain at our location, but fortunately we were safe.
I don’t recommend standing by a big glass window when a tornado is in your area, because debris from the tornado can be carried a long distance and could do some damage, but in this case we knew where the tornado was and where it was moving, which gave us a little more confidence in our safety, although it scared our young son to be so close. Your best course of action is to get to a place of shelter low in the building and wait until the storm is over. Atlanta was extremely fortunate that there were few deaths from the storm, because a direct hit a few minutes later when people were leaving the tournament could have been much worse.
If you want to read more about the storm, check out this summary from the National Weather Service: http://www.srh.noaa.gov/ffc/?n=atltor31408.