Environmental Health & Safety

Tornado / Severe Weather

Flood Lightning Winter Weather

A tornado is a violently rotating column of air extending from a thunderstorm to the ground. The average tornado moves from 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 almost stationary to 70 mph.

In the southern states, peak tornado occurrence is March through May. Most tornadoes that affect the UNCW area are F0 or F1. Tornadoes in our area are most likely to develop from tropical storms and hurricanes that affect New Hanover County.

The local National Weather Service office is the only entity legally allowed to issue a tornado watch or warning.

Be Ready Poster


  • Tornado: A violently rotating column of air extending from a thunderstorm to the ground.
  • Tornado Watch: Tornadoes and severe thunderstorms are possible in the Watch area.
  • Tornado Warning: A tornado has actually been sighted, or indicated on radar somewhere in the warning area and more tornadoes are possible.
  • Fujita Scale: A scale for evaluating tornado severity based on damages. The following is a table reflecting the Fujita Scale


    Wind Estimate (MPH)

    Typical Damage



    Light Damage: Some damage to chimneys; branches broken off trees; shallow-rooted trees pushed over; street signs damaged.



    Moderate Damage: Peeled surfaces off roofs; mobile homes pushed off foundations or overturned; moving cars blown off roads.



    Considerable Damage: Roofs torn off frame houses; mobile homes demolished; boxcars overturned; large trees snapped or uprooted; light-object missiles generated; cars lifted off ground.



    Severe Damage: Roofs and some walls torn off well-constructed houses; trains overturned; most trees in forest uprooted; heavy cars lifted off the ground and thrown.



    Devastating Damage: Well-constructed houses leveled; structures with weak foundations blown away some distance; cars thrown and large missiles generated.



    Incredible Damage: Strong frame houses leveled off foundations and swept away; automobile-sized missiles fly through the air in excess of 100 meters (109 yds); trees debarked; incredibly severe damage will occur.

Recommended Actions

During a tornado watch:

If safe to do so, report any revolving funnel-shaped clouds to authorities, including University Police and the National Weather Service, Wilmington.

  • UNCW Police: 911
  • UNCW EH&S: 2-3057
  • National Weather Service, Wilmington: 1-800-697-3901

Stay tuned to local media

During a tornado warning:

A tornado is sighted or indicated on radar approaching the campus

  • If time permits, go to the interior hallway on the lowest floor.
  • If time does not permit, go to the safest area of your classroom or office (an inside wall) furthest away from the doors and windows.
  • Avoid windows, or areas with wide, free-span roofs. A special note for Trask: Move out of the arena area into a side corridor with no windows, or into a restroom.
  • Take shelter underneath a desk or any heavy furniture available.
  • Assume a curled position to protect your head
  • All qualified personnel should render first aid.
  • If you are in a modular unit:

    Evacuate the modular unit immediately and take shelter in the closest safe building. When safely within a building that is not a modular unit, take shelter in an interior room of the building on the lower floor, if time permits.

After a tornado

  • Continue to pay attention to National Weather Service warnings and watches as severe weather may continue.
  • Use caution when traveling on campus and avoid debris.
  • Report any severe damages to University Police.


When a tornado warning is issued for New Hanover County, or signs of a tornado are seen/heard by UNCW emergency personnel, the outdoor siren system will be activated and the UNCW community will be notified of the warning through UNCW Alert.

While the risk of tornadic activity is low at UNCW, they may often arise with little to no warning. It is incumbent on every member of the UNCW community to take personal responsibility for their safetyand be prepared by knowing what to do in these and other emergencies.