Tornado warnings test disaster preparedness


Andy Brown

Clover Hill students settling into the tornado safety position.

Spencer Woodbury and Ben Schneider

During an abnormal fourth block on Mar. 31, 2022, the hill experienced a tornado threat. Although there were no confirmed touchdowns, Chesterfield County Public Schools took caution and ordered all students and staff to seek safety on bottom-floor hallways away from windows.

Tornado warnings from the National Weather Service office in Wakefield, Virginia prompted students and staff to follow tornado protocol. 

According to Associate Principal Eric Pioch, the school followed guidelines meant to ensure the safety of everyone in the building.

“There is a strategy to how we can make space for everybody and keep away from windows,” Pioch said. “The strategy is that we move [everyone] to the outer pod areas where there are no windows so that they are not taking up the main hallway. After that, it becomes about patience and it becomes about being calm.”

First, students in the 100 and 200 hallways on the bottom floors moved into the hallways. Then, everyone on the second floor was able to descend the stairs, positioning themselves in designated areas, and teachers moved to their assigned locations in the 100 and 200 hallways. 

“When you have 1,800 kids you want to make sure you’re as covered as possible and as safe as possible,” Pioch said.

A tornado warning necessitates quick action because it indicates that a tornado may be on the ground. In this case, the warnings were the result of radar-indicated rotation in supercell thunderstorms moving through the county. The threat of a tornado made it essential to immediately move to the safest areas of the building. 

“It’s dangerous, it’s unpredictable … [with] a tornado you never know [what will happen],” Pioch said.

For students, the day was a reminder of the last tornado warnings to occur during school hours. In Sept. of 2019, several tornadoes touched down in the central Virginia area, including one that moved across Hull Street. Senior Ethan Seager remembers being trapped for hours after school as a freshman due to transportation delays and continuing inclement weather. He was relieved to not have to endure the same experience this time.

“It was a lot shorter,” Seager said. “It was an hour instead of three hours. I mean, it was not bad. No one was scared or anything. As soon as they said [we could] go I ran upstairs and tried to [get out of] here as quickly as possible.”

Earlier in the day, Clover Hill had a tornado drill to prepare for the upcoming tornado season this spring. Pioch is grateful that everyone was prepared before the school needed to use the plan in an active severe weather situation. 

“[There is] never a good time for an actual [tornado], but if there was ever a day it was the day we practice one in the morning,” Pioch said.

Pioch is proud of the school’s execution of the plan when faced with a real tornado situation.

“It was because we practiced it and we had a plan,” Pioch said. “Everyone [did] their part. We have specific roles, so [it was important to] follow your roles, focus on your job, and do it well.”

Seager commends the school’s response to the potential danger of the day’s storms because it focused on the well-being of everyone in the building.

“I think they handled it well, looking out for everyone’s safety, which I think is the top priority,” Seager said.