Tornado Safety Tips

Nikko Quiggins
Tornado Shelter

What do you do if you end up in a tornado's path? With winds up to 300 miles per hour, this rotating, high-powered, funnel-shaped mass can flatten entire towns and cause massive amount of casualties in seconds. Following tornado safety tips, like the ones listed below, can give you quick and simple guidelines for increasing your odds of surviving a tornado.

Tips for Recognizing a Potential Tornado

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the following are tips for recognizing that a tornado is approaching so that you can quickly take cover:

  • Day or night:
    • Strong, persistent rotation in the cloud base
    • Whirling dust or debris on the ground under a cloud base (Remember, tornadoes sometimes do not have a funnel)
    • Hail or heavy rain followed by either dead calm or a fast, intense wind shift - many tornadoes are wrapped in heavy precipitation and cannot be seen
    • Loud, continuous roar or rumble (i.e., nearby freight train or whooshing sound) that does not fade in a few seconds like thunder
  • Night only:
    • Small, bright, blue-green to white flashes at ground level near a thunderstorm - these indicate that power lines are being snapped by very strong wind, potentially a tornado
    • Persistent lowering from the cloud base, illuminated or silhouetted by lightning

Sheltering Tips

The key to staying safe in a tornado is to remember: get in, get down, and cover up. When a tornado warning is issued, immediate action is required. Although there is no completely safe place during a tornado, some locations are much safer than others.

Sheltering in a Structure

You find yourself at home when you realize a tornado is rapidly approaching. What next? Go to your in-home shelter, underground storm shelter, or basement, if available. Otherwise, choose the safest location you can find.

Choosing a Spot

  • Go to the lowest floor and the innermost portion of the building
  • Seek shelter in an interior hallway, under a stairwell, bathroom, or closet
  • Shut doors behind you
  • Get under a heavy desk or workbench
  • Crouch down, protect your head and make yourself as small a target as possible
  • Cover your body with a mattress, sleeping bag, blanket, pillow or coat

What to Avoid

When sheltering, things to avoid include:

  • Taking shelter where there are heavy objects directly above you such as a refrigerator, which could potentially fall through the floor
  • Windows, as breaking glass from flying debris can cause severe injury or even death
  • Doors and exterior walls

Special Considerations

In addition to the above listed recommendations, some situations require additional precautions.

  • Special Needs: If you cannot get out of bed, you should cover up with blankets and pillows to help protect yourself from flying debris.
  • Mobile Homes: Get out and seek sturdy shelter immediately when a tornado warning or a tornado watch is issued. Do not delay.
  • Commercial Buildings: Do not use elevators and remember to shut doors behind you.

Sheltering in a Vehicle

Cars, buses, tractor trailers, and RVs are easily flipped over, crushed, or swept up by tornados. You should never try to outrun a tornado in your vehicle. In some situations, you may able to get out of the tornado's way by driving out of its path. However, this can be extremely dangerous unless all conditions are in your favor. Ultimately, your goal should be to locate the nearest sturdy shelter.

Evaluating Your Circumstances

In order to evaluate whether or not you should seek immediate shelter or attempt to drive out of a tornado's path, you must be able to quickly analyze the following in order to weigh your risks. Consider the following:

  • Your exact location
  • The tornado's location (visible and distant)
  • Its speed and movement (What direction is it moving toward?)
  • Road options available to you (Is traffic open?)
  • Nearby structures
  • Time of day (Is it day or night?)
  • Traffic conditions
  • Other variable weather conditions

If the circumstances are in your favor, you may have a chance to outrun the tornado by making turns out of the tornados path (typically, turns to the right or south). Remember: tornados can change paths quickly and other variables such as traffic congestion and lack of road options can make this a dangerous choice.

Determining Your Shelter Options When in Your Car

The American Red Cross states that if you are caught outdoors in your car with an approaching tornado, you have three options to consider.

  • First, immediately get into a vehicle, buckle your seat belt, and try to drive to the closest basement, tornado shelter, or sturdy shelter. However, if flying debris occurs while you are driving, pull over and park.

If you pull over and park, you have the following options as a last resort:

  • Stay in the car with the seat belt on and put your head down below the windows, covering with your hands with a blanket, if possible.
  • If you can safely get noticeably lower than the level of the roadway, exit your car and lie flat and face down in that area such as a ditch or culvert, covering your head with your arms and hands. This will put you below the strongest winds and flying debris near ground level.

Your decision should be driven by your specific circumstances.

Note: Highway overpasses should be avoided because the overpasses elevate you above ground level, expose you to accelerated winds and swirling debris, and offer little for you to grab to try to lock into position.

Sheltering in the Open

Being outdoors and in the open is the worst place to be during a tornado. If you are out in the open when a tornado is approaching without sheltering options, you have limited options and little time to act.

  • Try to avoid an open area with lots of trees that may become debris.
  • Lay flat in a ditch, ravine, or culvert; try to get lower than the ground surface.
  • Cover your head with your arms and hands.
  • Use anything you have to cover your head, such as a bike helmet or backpack.

Safety in the Aftermath of a Tornado

After a tornado, your first thoughts will be that of the health and safety of your loved ones and pets. It is very important to ensure that you and your family stay safe by being aware of your surroundings after a tornado. It is important to:

  • Be aware of your surroundings when exiting buildings, looking out for unstable walls, ceilings, sharp and trip hazards, as well as gas and electric hazards.
  • If it is safe to do so, check for injured or trapped persons; call out and listen for replies.
  • Keep your family together.
  • Remain calm and alert.
  • Be alert to fire hazards.
  • Use the telephone only in an emergency, to include your cell phone.
  • Stay out of damaged houses or buildings; they are a collapse and electrical shock risk.
  • Do not use matches or lighters, as these can result in explosions related to leaking natural gas pipes or fuel tanks.
  • Stay away from power lines that may still be carrying electricity.
  • Protect yourself from broken glass, nails, and other sharp objects.
  • Listen for information and instructions from emergency personnel.

Get a Plan

Today is a great day to discuss with your family where the best tornado shelters are located, whether or not your family can invest in home tornado safety sheltering options, where to meet after a tornado, and review tornado safety tips.

Tornado Safety Tips