What to do during a tornado

What to do during a tornado

(RNN) - Some tornadoes strike rapidly, without time for a tornado warning, and sometimes without a thunderstorm in the vicinity. When you are watching for rapidly emerging tornadoes, it is important to know that you cannot depend on seeing a funnel: clouds or rain may block your view.

The following weather signs may mean that a tornado is approaching:

  • A dark or green-colored sky.
  • A large, dark, low-lying cloud.
  • Large hail.
  • A loud roar that sounds like a freight train.
  • If you notice any of these weather conditions, take cover immediately, and keep tuned to local radio and TV stations or to a NOAA weather radio.

Sighting a funnel cloud

If you see a funnel cloud nearby, take shelter immediately. However, if you spot a tornado that is far away, help alert others to the hazard by reporting it to the newsroom of a local radio or TV station before taking shelter as described. Use common sense and exercise caution: if you believe that you might be in danger, seek shelter immediately.

Taking shelter

Your family could be anywhere when a tornado strikes - at home, at work, at school or in the car. Discuss with your family where the best tornado shelters are and how family members can protect themselves from flying and falling debris.

The key to surviving a tornado and reducing the risk of injury lies in planning, preparing, and practicing what you and your family will do if a tornado strikes. Flying debris causes most deaths and injuries during a tornado. Although there is no completely safe place during a tornado, some locations are much safer than others.

At home

Pick a place in the home where family members can gather if a tornado is headed your way. One basic rule is avoid windows. An exploding window can injure or kill.

The safest place in the home is an indoor storm shelter or the interior part of a basement. If neither are available, go to an inside room, without windows, on the lowest floor. This could be a center hallway, bathroom or closet.

Equip yourself and your family with helmets - such as bicycle, football or other sports helmets. One of the major concerns with tornadoes is flying debris, and head protection is one of the most important parts of staying safe. You should also put on shoes for after the event. Some of the most common injuries after widespread storm damage come from stepping on debris such as nails and broken glass.

For added protection, you can also get under something sturdy such as a heavy table or workbench. If possible, cover your body with a blanket, sleeping bag or mattress, and continue to protect your head with anything available - even your hands. Avoid taking shelter where there are heavy objects, such as pianos, washing machines or refrigerators, on the area of floor that is directly above you. They could fall though the floor if the tornado strikes your house.

In a mobile home

Do not stay in a mobile home during a tornado. Mobile homes can turn over during strong winds. Even mobile homes with a tie-down system cannot withstand the force of tornado winds.

Plan ahead. If you live in a mobile home, go to a nearby building, preferably one with a basement. If there is no shelter nearby, lie flat in the nearest ditch, ravine, or culvert and shield your head with your hands.

If you live in a tornado-prone area, encourage your mobile home community to build a tornado shelter.

On the road

The least desirable place to be during a tornado is in a motor vehicle. Cars, buses and trucks are easily tossed by tornado winds.

Do not try to outrun a tornado in your vehicle. If you see a tornado, stop your vehicle and get out. Do not get under your vehicle. Follow the directions for seeking shelter outdoors.


If you are caught outside during a tornado and there is no adequate shelter immediately available, you should do the following:

  • Avoid areas with many trees.
  • Avoid vehicles.
  • Lie down flat in a gully, ditch, or low spot on the ground.
  • Protect your head with an object or with your arms.

Long-span buildings

A long-span building, such as a shopping mall, theater, or gymnasium, is especially dangerous because the roof structure is usually supported solely by the outside walls. Most such buildings hit by tornadoes cannot withstand the enormous pressure. They simply collapse.

If you are in a long-span building during a tornado, stay away from windows. Get to the lowest level of the building - the basement if possible - and away from the windows.

If there is no time to get to a tornado shelter or to a lower level, try to get under a door frame or get up against something that will support or deflect falling debris. For instance, in a department store, get up against heavy shelving or counters. In a theater, get under the seats. Remember to protect your head.

Office buildings, schools, hospitals, churches and other public buildings

Extra care is required in offices, schools, hospitals, or any building where a large group of people is concentrated in a small area. The exterior walls of such buildings often have large windows.

If you are in any of these buildings:

  • Move away from windows and glass doorways.
  • Go to the innermost part of the building on the lowest possible floor.
  • Do not use elevators because the power may fail, leaving you trapped.
  • Protect your head and make yourself as small a target as possible by crouching down.

Shelter for people with special needs

Advance planning is especially important if you require assistance to reach shelter from an approaching storm.

  • If you are in a wheelchair, get away from windows and go to an interior room of the house. If possible, seek shelter under a sturdy table or desk. Wear a helmet or cover your head with anything available, even your hands.
  • If you are unable to move from a bed or a chair and assistance is not available, protect yourself from falling objects by covering up with blankets, pillows or anything within reach.
  • If you are outside and a tornado is approaching, get into a ditch or gully. If possible, lie flat and cover your head with your arms

Sources: Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

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