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Preparing for a Tornado

large tornado over the road (3D rendring)

Waiting to prepare for disasters doesn't work. After all, it's usually while your 'waiting' when a disaster strikes and by then it's too late to prepare. Learning what gear to store and skills to develop for specific disasters and emergencies could help save your life. Prepare yourself for one of nature's most violent storms: tornadoes.

The following information on preparing for and responding to tornadoes is taken from the FEMA web site at www.fema.gov/hazard/tornado/index.shtm.

 Before a Tornado: How to Plan

  • Conduct tornado drills each tornado season.
  • Designate an area in the home as a shelter, and practice having everyone in the family go there in response to a tornado threat.
  • Discuss with family members the difference between a "tornado watch" and a "tornado warning."
  • Contact your local emergency management office or American Red Cross chapter for more information on tornadoes.

Have disaster supplies on hand:

  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • Portable, battery-operated radio and extra batteries
  • First aid kit and manual
  • Emergency food and water
  • Non-electric can opener
  • Essential medicines
  •  Cash and credit cards
  • Sturdy shoes

Develop an emergency communication plan

In case family members are separated from one another during a tornado (a real possibility during the day when adults are at work and children are at school), have a plan for getting back together. Ask an out-of-state relative or friend to serve as the "family contact." After a disaster, it's often easier to call long distance. Make sure everyone in the family knows the name, address, and phone number of the contact person.

Tornado Watches and Warnings

A tornado watch is issued by the National Weather Service when tornadoes are possible in your area. Remain alert for approaching storms. This is time to remind family members where the safest places within your home are located, and listen to the radio or television for further developments.

A tornado warning is issued when a tornado has been sighted or indicated by weather radar.

Mobile Homes

Mobile homes are particularly vulnerable. A mobile home can overturn very easily even if precautions have been taken to tie down the unit. When a tornado warning is issued, take shelter in a building with a strong foundation. If shelter is not available, lie in a ditch or low-lying area a safe distance from the unit.

Tornado Danger Signs

Learn these tornado danger signs:

  • An approaching cloud of debris can mark the location of a tornado even if a funnel is not visible.
  • Before a tornado hits, the wind may die down and the air may become very still.
  • Tornadoes generally occur near the trailing edge of a thunderstorm. It is not uncommon to see clear, sunlit skies behind a tornado.

During a Tornado

If at home:

  • If you have a tornado safe room or engineered shelter, go there immediately.
  • Go at once to a windowless, interior room; storm cellar; basement; or lowest level of the building.
  • If there is no basement, go to an inner hallway or a smaller inner room without windows, such as a bathroom or closet.
  • Get away from the windows.
  • Get under a piece of sturdy furniture such as a workbench or heavy table or desk and hold on to it.
  • Use arms to protect head and neck.
  • If in a mobile home, get out and find shelter elsewhere.

If at work or school:

  • Go to the area designated in your tornado plan.
  • Avoid places with wide-span roofs such as auditoriums, cafeterias, large hallways, or shopping malls.
  • Get under a piece of sturdy furniture such as a workbench or heavy table or desk and hold on to it.
  • Use arms to protect head and neck.

If outdoors:

  • If possible, get inside a building.
  • If shelter is not available or there is no time to get indoors, lie in a ditch or low-lying area or crouch near a strong building. Be aware of the potential for flooding.
  • Use arms to protect head and neck.

If in a car:

  • Never try to out-drive a tornado in a car or truck.
  • Get out of the car immediately and take shelter in a nearby building.
  • If there is no time to get indoors, get out of the car and lie in a ditch or low-lying area away from the vehicle. Be aware of the potential for flooding.

When a tornado is coming, you have only a short amount of time to make life-or-death decisions. Advance planning and quick response are the keys to surviving a tornado.

After a Tornado

  • Help injured or trapped persons.
  • Give first aid when appropriate.
  • Don't try to move the seriously injured unless they are in immediate danger of further injury.
  • Call for help.
  • If you smell gas, do not turn on any appliances or switches. This includes using phones, flashlights or a cell phone.
  • Turn on the radio or television to get the latest emergency information.
  • Stay out of damaged buildings. Return home only when authorities say it is safe.
  • Use the telephone only for emergency calls.
  • Clean up spilled medicines, bleaches, or gasoline or other flammable liquids immediately. Leave the buildings if you smell gas or chemical fumes.
  • Take pictures of the damage--both to the house and its contents--for insurance purposes.
  • Remember to help your neighbors who may require special assistance--infants, the elderly, and people with disabilities.

When a tornado is coming, you have only a short amount of time to make life-or-death decisions. Advance planning and quick response are the keys to surviving a tornado.

14 thoughts on “Preparing for a Tornado”

  • Latinoamerica

    candles, hurricane lamps, ltrihegs, flashlights, extra batteries and bulbs, bottled water, canned foods with manual can opener, a multi-tool, pocket knife, radio and a fully stocked first aid kit. I move a lot so some times I'll add other things too it like rain ponchos, but the essential items are water, food, first aid kit, and light. In first aid kits the medicines and ointments have expiration dates.. so does food and such.. so it is wise to rotate things out once in a while and double check the kit since sometimes people like to ninja batteries or band aids from it instead of informing me we're low on the household stock. Kids.

  • James Marusek
    James Marusek May 5, 2014 at 7:13 am

    After the tornado struck us, there was a massive amount of cleanup. My chainsaw became a very important ingredient in the recovery process.

  • Betty McKinley
    Betty McKinley May 5, 2014 at 8:26 am

    I am moving into an area that have tournedos and half sacred I will have to live through a tournedo. My daughter has lived there for quiet awhile doesn't seem to worry about it.

  • Linda McKee

    from California: I'll take an earthquake anytime!

  • timothy

    have a good pair of work gloves available, a medical kit and camping gear to live outside for a while. you will be better off not staying in a public shelter. I prefer my jungle hammock and supplies in 5 gallon buckets. this setup on your property, allows you to protect your few possessions from the looters.

  • KellyInOklahoma
    KellyInOklahoma May 5, 2014 at 9:29 am

    Betty...Once you live in an area prone to tornadoes and have your plan in place you won't worry so much. Knowing where I will go when the sirens sound and having that area already stock with supplies I'll need provides me a sense of comfort. Most tornadoes aren't the deadly F5 type and although they can spawn with little warning during stormy weather, our weather broadcasters have the best radars in the country and work tirelessly to warn us. My advice during bad weather is to always be listening to the TV or radio. That way you'll know what is headed your way.

  • Crispa

    Don't forget to provide for your pets !!! If your house is actually hit by a tornado, you may have to stay in your shelter for a few hours (waiting for help if debris prevent your exit). I store extra leashes in my designated Tornado shelter, as well as water and food bowls, potty pads and extra pet beds (for the little ones who crave comfort).

  • Badger359

    From California, feel naked and vulnerable renting a house and no real shelter.

  • glen also in OK
    glen also in OK May 5, 2014 at 3:10 pm

    Linda. Like Kelly says, the weather folks, storm chasers and county civil defense keep us informed of threats. However it's up to you whether you go to your storm shelter or stand on your porch videotaping. I hate to mention it, but we have been having earthquakes lately.

  • Kayt Rivermoon
    Kayt Rivermoon May 5, 2014 at 3:37 pm

    Regarding pets, it's a good idea to have them microchipped, so at the very least someone will know they're not strays. I've put together a "Kitty Cat Evac pack" for our herd, with leashes, water and a few medical supplies.

    On tornadoes--two things that can clue you into "tornado weather is 1. pouchy-looking clouds called mammatus, indicative of a lot of instability in the air, and 2. A greenish sky. Thunderstorms which may produce tornadoes also tend to produce hail, sometimes really BIG hail ! Good luck everyone, and may the tornado always miss you !

  • David Bradley

    Not in the article - awareness to weather is key. Bad tornado swarms are usually predicted a day or two out, and the closer to arrival they are, the more precise the predictions. Planning your day around these events, carrying a weather radio (even the little motorola walk abouts have them) will keep you aware.

    • beprepared

      That's a great tip! Thanks for mentioning communication as a need during a storm. What are some other needs for a tornado? What other supplies would you especially like to have on hand?

  • Carol R

    A couple add-on suggestions--I created an "Oh sh*t storm kit" after a wind storm knocked out out power for a day and a half.
    It's in a belt-pack I can put on and therefore have on my person when and if we do our "tornado drill"...ie go downstairs. I also have an "evac pack" downstairs for the cats including leashes, some meds, and pillowcases to put them in in case we have to hand them out to someone. this lives downstairs as well.

    • beprepared

      That's great! I think the storm kit is a really good idea. What specifically did you include in the kit?

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