Tornado Safety

Continued vigilance and quick response to tornado watches and warnings are critical, since tornadoes can strike virtually anywhere at any time. Most tornadoes are abrupt at onset, short-lived and often obscured by rain or darkness. That's why it's so important to plan ahead. Every individual, family, and business should have a tornado emergency plan for their homes or places of work, and should learn how to protect themselves in cars, open country, and other situations that may arise.

The most important step you can take to prepare for a tornado is to have a shelter plan in place. Where will you go when a tornado warning has been issued for your county or city? Is it a basement or a storm cellar? Is there an interior room on the ground floor that you can use as a storm shelter? Have a plan, and make sure everyone in your family or workplace knows it.

Having a NOAA Weather Radio can save your life. Weather Radios are sold at many retailers and websites, including electronics, department, sporting goods, and boating accessory stores. Or you can listen online.

FEMA suggests the following actions before, during, and after a tornado:

Know the difference between a watch and a warning

Tornado Watch

Conditions are right for tornadoes, and tornadoes are possible. Remain alert: watch the sky and tune in to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio, or a local television station in case a warning is issued.

Tornado Warning

A tornado has been spotted by human eye or radar, and is moving toward you in the warning area. Take shelter immediately.

What to do before a tornado

Be alert to weather conditions. Listen to NOAA Weather Radio or tune in to a local television station for the latest information.

Look for the following danger signs:

  • Dark, greenish sky
  • Large hail
  • A large, dark, low-lying cloud (particularly if rotating)
  • A loud roar, similar to a freight train
What to do during a tornado

When a tornado warning has been issued for your county or city, seek shelter immediately!

If you are in: Take this action:
A structure (residence, building, school, hospital, etc) Head to your pre-designated shelter area. This could be a basement, storm cellar, or the lowest building level. If you are home and you don't have a basement, go to the most interior room of the ground floor. Often a bathroom or laundry room makes a suitable shelter area because the water pipes reenforce the walls, providing a more sturdy structure. Stay away from corners, windows, doors, and exterior walls. Put as many walls as possible between you and the outside. Get down on your knees and use your hands to protect your head and neck. Do not open windows.
A vehicle If you can drive away from the tornado, do so. If you don't have time or not sure if you have time, or you're not sure which way the tornado is moving, get out of the vehicle. Head to the lowest floor of a nearby building or storm shelter. If there's no building or shelter nearby, follow the instructions for what to do if you're outside with no shelter.
A mobile home or trailer Get out immediately and go to the lowest floor of a nearby building or storm shelter. Mobile homes provide little to no protection against tornadoes.
The outside with no nearby shelter Lie flat in a nearby ditch or depression and cover your head and neck with your hands. Be aware of the potential for flooding in the ditch you are occupying.

Do not get under and overpass or bridge. You are safer in a low, flat location. More on overpasses and bridges here.

If you are in an urban or congested area, do not try and outrun the tornado in your vehicle. Instead, leave the vehicle immediately and seek shelter.

Be aware of flying debris. Tornadoes can pick up large objects and turn them into missiles. Flying debris cause the most tornado deaths.

What to do after a tornado

After a tornado passes, it is important to take some precautions. Be careful as your leave your tornado shelter, since there might be unseen damage waiting for you on the other side of doors. If your home has been damaged, walk carefully around the outside and check for things like loose power lines, gas leaks, and general structural damage. Leave the premises if you smell gas or if floodwaters exist around the building. Call your insurance agent and take pictures of the damage to your home or vehicle. If the destruction is extensive, don't panic. The American Red Cross and other volunteer agencies will arrive with food and water, and temporary housing will be designated by FEMA.