Meteorologist Andy Wallace went home and learned lessons from the Joplin tornado

JOPLIN, Mo. - The deadliest tornado in recent history struck Joplin, Missouri on May 22nd.

This storm was at the top of the scale—an EF-5 with winds in excess of 200 miles per hour.

The tornado was nearly a mile wide at times and was on the ground for 13 miles. It went across the southern half of Joplin, very near my parent's house. That house was bruised, yet remains in one piece.

As you can imagine, I've spent the better part of the last two weeks focusing on what happened.

I've gone up there, watched the stories on TV and have talked to family and friends. I've read the stories in the paper and on Facebook. And I'd like to pass along to you a few of the lessons that my family, friends and I have learned.

Don't ever think that it can't happen where you live

My dad's side of the family is from Joplin. I've either lived there or visited there my entire life. I'm a graduate of Joplin High School, class of 1989. And I know Joplin has had tornadoes before. But even as a meteorologist, I never in my wildest dreams imagined anything like this happening.

There has only been one other EF-5 tornado in the state of Missouri, and that was back in the 1950s. Iowa, Kansas and Oklahoma have each had six EF-5's in that same amount of time.

I think that statistic could give a false sense of security. In fact, the big tornado in Joplin before the recent storm was on May 5, 1971. The 1971 storm tore up the business area, further north than the recent tornado. My granddad told me of watching it out a storefront window. That tornado was legendary in that town until May 22nd.

Take Tornado Warnings seriously

Even if it's radar indicated (no actual tornado yet), we've now seen that a tornado can go from an EF-0 to EF-4 in two miles. I think "radar indicated" sometimes lends people to believe that it won't happen. But it can happen - fast.

Keep your shelter clean

My stepmom told me about the bathroom in her home that she rode out the storm in. It's the perfect shelter - nice old bathtub - hard as a rock. Except, she was remodeling.

She had a bunch of stuff in that tub. The house got beaten up a bit, but she's fine.

I was up there a few days after the storm, and that tub was empty, ready for the potential for more storms. And she wasn't the only one who had that happen. I saw stories on CNN of people who had stuff in their shelter that got in the way during the tornado. Your shelter needs to be your shelter - and nothing else.

If you're in a store or public place during a tornado - do exactly what management tells you to do

As we've learned about what happened in Joplin as the tornado hit, we've heard the stories of true heroes. Managers of both the Pizza Hut and the Home Depot were killed in the storm - but not before getting customers to safety.

Amazing, selfless people who followed company procedures and saved many lives. They know their store better than you do. They will put themselves in harm's way to make sure you are safe - don't put their lives in jeopardy. Quickly follow their instructions.

Consider all of the outages

Power, water, gas, cable, phone, cellphone, internet. Seventeen cellphone towers were taken out at Joplin. Right after the tornado hit, I was able to get a call through to find out what happened. I heard my stepmom say a few words, and then we lost the call. It was so bad that text messages weren't getting through.

For the first 24 hours, we were able to have one-minute conversations before the connection was lost.

And it wasn't just the phone. A boil order was issued. It took over a week to get the power back on. A curfew was put in effect. A lot of people still don't have TV or Internet, thus getting information is done by newspaper and radio. You need to keep these things in mind when constructing your severe weather plan.

My goal with this article is not to scare you.

It's to pass along what I've seen and heard dealing with "the big one." My hope is that you never have to utilize this type of severe weather information in an actual tornado.

But I do hope that you use it to construct a plan just in case. Preparedness is the key to surviving the storm itself, and for those days after the storm.

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