The National Weather Service has issued a tornado watch for Long Island through 5 a.m.
The Jersey Shore, meanwhile, is under a tornado warning, which means a tornado has been spotted.
It's not unusual for the National Weather Service to issue tornado watches during hurricanes, because hurricanes may cause tornadoes to form in the rainbands, most frequently in the outer right quadrant of the storm.
At its current track, much of Long Island would be to the right of Hurricane Irene's eye.
Tornadoes are storms of immense destructive power. They can fell trees, level homes and send debris hurtling through the air with deadly force. However, there are some strategies for riding out the storm, from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration:
Prepare before the storm strikes
- Have a family tornado plan in place, says Roger Edwards of NOAA’s Norman, Okla., Storm Prediction Center. Find the best place in your house to take shelter, and hold a family tornado drill at least annually. Edwards also recommends designating a place to meet after a tornado.
- Store protective coverings like mattresses or sleeping bags in or near your designated shelter to protect against flying debris.
- When a tornado watch is issued, check to make sure your supplies are readily available, Edwards advises. Turn on your TV or radio to get updates as they occur.
- Tornadoes can strike with little or no warning. Learn the location of bathrooms and other possible shelter spaces in stores you frequent, so you can get to safety if you’re caught away from home.
- Edwards advises administrators of schools, shopping centers or any other place where large numbers of people congregate to have a tornado safety plan in place. He also advises posting signs to direct people to shelter areas.
If a tornado warning is issued in your area, follow these safety tips:
- If you have a basement, get down there and get under something sturdy, like a heavy table, or cover yourself with a mattress or sleeping bag. Edwards warns that you should know where heavy objects (pianos, refrigerators, etc.) are located on the floor above, and make sure you’re not under them.
- Avoid windows.
- If you don’t have a basement, get to the lowest floor of the building and find a small, central room like a bathroom or closet. Crouch on the floor facing down and cover your head with your hands. Cover yourself with padding, like a mattress or blanket, to shield against debris if the ceiling falls.
- If you’re in an office building or other professional building, get to a windowless area in the center of the building on the lowest floor possible. Crouch down and cover your head. Edwards recommends interior stairwells as good places to take shelter.
- Stay off the elevators.
- If you’re in a mobile home – get out! According to Edwards, you’re probably safer outside. If your mobile home community has a shelter, get there. If there’s a permanent building very close by, make a run for it. Otherwise, lie flat on the ground away from the mobile home and protect your head. Edwards recommends trying to make it to low, open ground away from trees or cars.
- Kids at school should follow established tornado drills. They’ll usually gather in the hall and crouch down, staying away from windows.
- If you’re in a vehicle and the tornado is far away, Edwards says you may be able to avoid it by driving at right angles to the storm. If not, park the car out of traffic lanes, get out, and look for a sturdy, permanent building in which to shelter. If you’re in open country, get to low ground away from the car and lay flat, protecting your head.
If a tornado touches down in your area, keep your family together and wait for the authorities to arrive. Edwards cautions to stay away from downed power lines and puddles with wires in them, since the lines may still carry a current. He also advises against approaching damaged buildings, which could collapse, and using matches or lighters, in case there are any leaking gas pipes or fuel tanks in the area.
Remain calm and follow instructions from emergency personnel. Keep your wits about you, have a plan in place, and you can survive the storm.