City of Greenville, NC

Tornado Preparedness

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), tornadoes are nature’s most violent storms.  Originating from powerful thunderstorms, tornadoes can cause fatalities and devastate a neighborhood in seconds.  A tornado appears as a rotating, funnel-shaped cloud that extends from a thunderstorm to the ground with swirling winds that can reach 300 miles per hour.  Damage paths can be in excess of one mile wide and 50 miles long.  In North Carolina, tornadoes can occur with little or no warning throughout the year.  The peak season, however, is March through May. 

Some tornadoes are clearly visible, while rain or nearby low-hanging clouds obscure others.  Occasionally, tornadoes develop so rapidly that little, if any, advance warning is possible.

Before a tornado hits, the wind may die down and the air may become very still.  A cloud of debris can mark the location of a tornado even if a funnel is not visible.  Tornadoes generally occur near the trailing edge of a thunderstorm.  It is not uncommon to see clear, sunlit skies behind a tornado.

The following are facts about tornadoes:

  • They may strike quickly, with little or no warning.
  • They may appear nearly transparent until dust and debris are picked up or a cloud forms in the funnel.
  • The average tornado moves Southwest to Northeast, but tornadoes have been known to move in any direction.
  • The average forward speed of a tornado is 30 MPH, but may vary from stationary to 70 MPH. 
  • The strongest tornadoes have rotating winds of more than 200 mph.
  • Tornadoes can accompany tropical storms and hurricanes as they move onto land.
  • Tornadoes are most likely to occur between 3 p.m. and 9 p.m., but can occur at any time.

Tornado Terms

Familiarize yourself with these terms to help identify a tornado hazard:

Tornado Watch
National Weather Service (NWS) meteorologists have determined that tornadoes are possible in your area.  Remain alert for approaching storms.  Know if your location is in the watch area by listening to NOAA Weather Radio, visiting or by tuning into your favorite radio or television weather information broadcast stations.

Tornado Warning
NWS meteorologists have determined that a tornado is occurring, or likely to occur within minutes, in the specified area. Warnings indicate imminent danger to life and property.  Take immediate shelter.

What to do Before a Tornado

Be alert to changing weather conditions.

  • Develop an emergency plan for you and your family for home, work, school and when outdoors.
  • Practice frequent drills.
  • Know the county in which you live, and keep a highway map nearby to follow storm movement from weather bulletins.
  • Have a battery-powered NOAA Weather Radio with a warning alarm tone and battery back-up to receive warnings.
  • Listen to your favorite commercial radio or television newscasts for the latest information.
  • In 2005 Pitt County introduced the ALERTsystem. The ALERTsystem allows Pitt County Emergency Management to alert citizens when emergency needs arise. The system uses established telephone numbers linked to local addresses to call affected areas. However, many people are switching from traditional telephones to cell phones or internet (IP) phones. Currently, these telephone numbers are not linked to a local address. With the AlertMe system, citizens can submit their alternate phone numbers so they can receive these important messages.  To register your phone number in the Pitt County AlertMe system, use the following internet link:
  • If planning a trip outdoors, listen to the latest forecasts and take necessary action if threatening weather is possible.
  • Look for approaching storms.
  • Look for the following danger signs:
    • Dark, often greenish sky
    • Large hail
    • A large, dark, low-lying cloud (particularly if rotating)
    • Loud roar, similar to a freight train.

If you see approaching storms or any of the danger signs, be prepared to take shelter immediately.

What to Do During a Tornado

If your area is under a TORNADO WARNING, take shelter immediately!

If you are in:


A structure (e.g. residence, small building, school, nursing home, hospital, factory, shopping center, high-rise building)

Go to a pre-designated shelter area such as a safe room, basement, storm cellar, or the lowest building level. If there is no basement, go to the center of an interior room on the lowest level (closet, interior hallway) away from corners, windows, doors, and outside walls. Put as many walls as possible between you and the outside. Get under a sturdy table and use your arms to protect your head and neck. Do not open windows.

A trailer, or mobile home

Get out immediately and go to the lowest floor of a sturdy, nearby building or a storm shelter. Mobile homes, even if tied down, offer little protection from tornadoes.

A vehicle

Get out of automobiles.  Do not try to outrun a tornado in your car; instead, leave it immediately.

The outside with no shelter

Lie flat in a nearby ditch or depression and cover your head with your hands. Be aware of the potential for flooding.

Do not get under an overpass or bridge. You are safer in a low, flat location.

Never try to outrun a tornado in urban or congested areas in a car or truck. Instead, leave the vehicle immediately for safe shelter.

Watch out for flying debris. Flying debris from tornadoes causes most fatalities and injuries


Family Disaster Plan

Families should be prepared for all hazards that affect their area.  NOAA’s National Weather Service, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the American Red Cross, and Greenville Fire/Rescue urge families to develop a family disaster plan.

Where will your family be when disaster strikes?  They could be anywhere – at work, at school, or in the car.  How will you find each other?  Will you know if your children are safe?  Disasters may force you to evacuate your neighborhood or confine you to your home.  What would you do if basic services – water, gas, electricity or telephone – were cut off?

Follow these basic steps to develop a family disaster plan...

  1. Gather information about hazards.
    Contact the local National Weather Service office, Pitt County Emergency Management, the American Red Cross chapter, or Greenville Fire/Rescue. Find out what type of disasters could occur and how you should respond. Learn your community's warning signals and evacuation plans.
  • Greenville and Pitt County have a high risk for tornadoes, and moderate risks of hurricanes, nor’easters, and flooding.
  • Pitt County Emergency Management and the American Red Cross are responsible for opening and managing shelters.
  1. Meet with your family to create a plan. 
    Discuss the information you have gathered. Make a Family Emergency Plan. Your family may not be together when disaster strikes, so it is important to know how you will contact one another, how you will get back together and what you will do in case of an emergency.  Discuss what you would do if advised to evacuate.
  • Plan places where your family will meet, both within and outside of your immediate neighborhood.   Pick two places to meet: a spot outside your home for an emergency, such as fire, and a place away from your neighborhood in case you can't return home.
  • Choose an out-of-state friend as your "family check-in contact" for everyone to call if the family gets separated.  It may be easier to make a long-distance phone call than to call across town, so an out-of-town contact may be in a better position to communicate among separated family members.
  • You may also want to inquire about emergency plans at places where your family spends time: work, daycare and school.  If no plans exist, consider volunteering to help create one.
  • Determine in advance where you will take shelter in case of a tornado warning.
  1. Implement your plan
    (1) Post emergency telephone numbers by phones; (2) Install safety features in your house, such as smoke detectors and fire extinguishers; (3) Inspect your home for potential hazards (such as items that can move, fall, break, or catch fire) and correct them; (4) Have your family learn basic safety measures, such as CPR and first aid; how to use a fire extinguisher; and how and when to turn off water, gas, and electricity in your home; (5) Teach children how and when to call 911 and Pitt County 9-1-1 Communications for emergencies; (6) Keep enough supplies in your home to meet your needs for at least three days. Assemble a disaster supplies kit with items you may need in case of an evacuation. Store these supplies in sturdy, easy-to-carry containers, such as backpacks or duffle bags. Keep important family documents in a waterproof container. Keep a smaller disaster supplies kit in the trunk of your car.


  • Water, one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation
  • Food, at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food
  • Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert and extra batteries for both
  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • First aid kit
  • Whistle to signal for help
  • Dust mask, to help filter contaminated air and plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place
  • Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation
  • Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
  • Can opener for food (if kit contains canned food)
  • Local maps
  • Cell phone with chargers, inverter or solar charger
  • An extra set of car keys and a credit card or cash
  • Special items for infant, elderly, or disabled family members.
  1. Practice and maintain your plan.
    Ask questions to make sure your family remembers meeting places, phone numbers, and safety rules. Conduct drills. Test your smoke detectors monthly and change the batteries at least once a year. Test and recharge your fire extinguisher(s) according to manufacturer's instructions. Replace stored water and food every six months.


FEMA. Tornadoes. From:

National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. tornadoes…Nature's most violent storms. From:

North Carolina Department of Crime Control and Public Safety. Local hazards by county. From:,000010,001623,000177,000891,000912

Pitt County Emergency Management. The “Alert Me” system. From:

U. S. Department of Homeland Security. Tornadoes.  From:

Posted 5/25/11 

News Release

City of Greenville, NC



December 13, 2010


Cold Weather Heater Safety Tips


Fire Marshal Gary Coggins, 329-4390


As Greenville braces for unseasonably chilly weather, the Greenville Fire/Rescue Department offers the following safety tips for you to protect yourself, your family, and your home from fire.  You can greatly reduce your chances of becoming a fire casualty this winter by identifying potential hazards and following these safety tips.


Portable Heaters

  • Portable or alternative heating devices used incorrectly can create fire hazards.
  • Keep children and pets away from the heater; maintain 3 feet of clearance to combustible materials.
  • Only use heaters that are in good working condition. 
  • Be sure the heater has an emergency shutoff in case the heater is tipped over. 
  • Read and understand the manufacturer’s instructions. 
  • Only purchase and use heaters that have been tested by an approved testing laboratory.
  • Use heaters in targeted rooms and only to supplement your home’s heating system (will also save you money as they are more expensive to run than regular heating systems).


Kerosene Heaters

  • Many people use kerosene heaters to supplement their household heating system.  When improperly used, kerosene heaters can be extremely dangerous.  
  • Inspect exhaust parts for black, carbon buildup. 
  • Fuels such as kerosene can produce deadly fumes, so it is important that the room is adequately vented.  Most manufacturers require a window or door to the exterior to be open 1-3 inches to provide fresh air. 
  • Use fuels recommended by the manufacturer (only use kerosene in a kerosene heater).   
  • Fill and re-fill the heater outdoors after it has cooled. 
  • Keep the heater away from children, pets and combustible materials (maintain 3 feet of clearance). 


Electric Heaters

  • Never place under a desk or on top of combustible items.  Electric heaters need space too!
  • Plug directly into an electric outlet.  Extension cords can easily overheat. 
  • Do not use in wet or damp conditions.


Furnace Heating Safety

  • Be sure all furnace controls and emergency shutoffs are in proper working condition.
  • Leave furnace repairs to qualified specialists. Do not attempt repairs yourself unless you are qualified. 
  • Keep trash and other combustibles away from the heating system (maintain 3 feet of clearance).


Wood Stove and Fireplace Safety

  • Be sure the fireplace or stove is installed properly. Wood stoves should have proper floor support as well as adequate clearance (36”) from combustible materials.
  • Have the chimney inspected annually and cleaned if necessary.
  • Do not use flammable liquids, like gasoline, to start or accelerate any fire.
  • Keep a glass or metal screen in front of the fireplace opening, to prevent embers or sparks from jumping out, and to help prevent the possibility of burns to people and pets.
  • Don’t use excessive amounts of paper to build roaring fires in fireplaces. It is possible to ignite creosote in the chimney by overbuilding the fire.
  • Never burn charcoal indoors. Burning charcoal can give off lethal amounts of carbon monoxide.
  • Keep combustible materials away from your fireplace mantel. A spark from the fireplace could easily ignite theses materials.
  • Before you go to sleep, be sure your fireplace fire is out.
  • Never close your damper with hot ashes in the fireplace. A closed damper will help the fire to heat up again and will force toxic carbon monoxide into the house.
  • If synthetic logs are used, follow the directions on the package. Never break a synthetic log apart to quicken the fire or use more than one log at a time. They often burn unevenly, releasing higher levels of carbon monoxide.
  • Never discard hot ashes inside or near the home. Place them in a metal container outside and well away from the house.


Candle Care

  • Keep burning candles within sight.
  • Keep lighted candles away from items that can burn easily.
  • Always use stable, non-combustible candle holders. 
  • Place candles where they cannot be easily knocked over.
  • Make sure lit candles are not accessible by children or pets.
  • Do not leave candles unattended.
  • Extinguish all candles before you go to bed.


And Remember...Smoke alarms save lives!

  • Some smoke alarms may be dependent on your home’s electrical service and could be inoperative during a power outage. 
  • Check to see if your smoke alarm uses a back-up battery and install a new battery at least once a year. 
  • Smoke alarms should be installed on every level of your home.
  • All smoke alarms should be tested monthly.


Please contact the Greenville Fire/Rescue Department at 329-4390 for additional information. 

Last Modified: 5/25/2011
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