Tornado Safety Tips

Photo courtesy of Rob Brawner taken Aug. 8, 2011  


A tornado is defined as a violently rotating column of air which is in contact with the ground.  Many people think a tornado is always visible, which in fact is false.  There are times, in storms which have high amounts of precipitation, that even when a tornado has picked up dirt and debris, it can be completely wrapped in rain, making it indistinguishable from surrounding clouds.

Tornadoes can happen at any time of the year, and at any time during the day or night.  Though more common in the afternoon and evening hours, tornadoes can happen and have been reported at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning!  Contrary to what some may believe, tornadoes can and do cross rivers, mountains, and big cities.  For these reasons, it is very important to have a plan of action in case of a tornado.

When a tornado threatens, immediate action may save your life.


Tornado Terminology

 Tornado Watch:  

  • issued by the National Weather Service when weather conditions which may produce tornadoes are expected to develop.

  • Continue normal activities, but listen to NOAA weather radio or local radio/TV. Stay alert for abrupt changes in weather conditions such as darkening skies, hail, or increasing wind.

Tornado Warning:

  • issued by the NWS when Doppler radar indicates tornado formation or a tornado has been sighted by a trained weather spotter.

  • The warning will tell the tornado location, and if possible, movement, estimated speed and cities in the tornado path.

  • Persons close to the tornado location should take cover in a basement or lowest floor interior room immediately. A few seconds may save your life.

Safety Measures if you see a tornado or hear a roar.

  • Seek inside shelter immediately...a basement or underground shelter is best. Protect your head and eyes from deadly flying debris. Take a portable radio or TV with you to your shelter.

  • If no basement is available go to the interior part of the lowest floor, such as a bathroom or closet.   Stay away from windows. Get under something sturdy like a bench or table.

  • Mobile Homes...are particularly vulnerable to overturning and destruction during strong winds and tornadoes. Tie downs will generally not protect a mobile home a tornado. If possible leave the mobile home and go to a community shelter. If none is available a ditch or culvert may offer better protection. Prepare a plan of action before the storm hits.

  • In Schools...Whenever possible, follow advance plans to a basement, an interior hallway, or the lowest floor.
    -Avoid the ends of hallways that open to the outside.
    -Avoid classrooms with windows or outside walls.
    -Stay out of auditoriums, gymnasiums or other structures with wide, free-span roofs.
    -Rest rooms in the middle of building can offer some shelter from flying debris.

  • Do not board or stay on school buses in a tornado warning. School buildings offer more protection and safety.

  • Automobiles and other vehicles...Abandon the car or truck and seek refuge in a basement, storm shelter or sturdy building. As a last resort, seek shelter in a culvert or ditch. Protect your body from flying debris.

  • Office Buildings, Hotels, and Shopping Malls...Go to a basement, designated shelter, or to the center of the building on the lowest level, as upper stories can be unsafe.

    -Stay away from large open rooms and windows.
    -Never seek shelter in cars in the parking lot.
    -Buildings with large free-span roofs are very vulnerable to tornadic winds. Occupants should leave these areas and move to smaller interior rooms, basements or designated storm shelters.

  • Open Country...Seek shelter if shelter is available nearby and time permits. If there is no time, lie flat in the nearest depression, such as a ditch or culvert, and protect your head with your arms.

BOTTOM LINE...Plan ahead, watch local weather conditions, know where the nearest shelter is. is the U.S. government's official web portal to all federal, state and local government web resources and services.