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.

Before a Tornado Strikes

Conduct emergency 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”.

Have disaster supplies on hand

  • Flashlights and extra (fresh) batteries.
  • Portable, battery-powered radio and extra (fresh) batteries.
  • First Aid Kit containing bandages, antiseptic, aspirin; plus, any medications that must be taken regularly.
  • Baby supplies, such as food, canned milk or formula, disposable diapers, etc.
  • Special supplies for elderly or disabled family members.
  • Food that doesn’t need to be refrigerated or cooked, such as canned meats, vegetables, fruits, juices, etc. Store enough for several days.
  • Fresh water stored in non-breakable containers. Plan one quart per person, per day, for drinking.
  • Sturdy shoes, in the event you must walk for assistance.
  • Cash and credit cards.
  • Don’t forget about your pets. Keep a supply of food (along with any medications that they require) on hand for emergencies.

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 that everyone in the family knows the name, address, and phone number of the contact person.

Watches and Warnings

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

tornado warning is issued when a tornado has been sighted or indicated by weather radar. If a tornado warning is issued for your area and the sky becomes threatening, move to your pre-designated place of safety. Turn on a battery-powered radio and wait for further instructions.

Tornado Danger Signs

Watch for the following signs:
  • Dark, often greenish/grey sky
  • Wall cloud
  • Large hail
  • Loud roar — similar to freight train.
  • Some tornadoes appear as a visible funnel extending only partially to the ground. Look for signs of debris below the visible funnel.
  • Some tornadoes are clearly visible, while others are obscured by rain or nearby low-hanging clouds.
  • Before a tornado hits, the wind may die down, and the air may become very still.
  • An approaching cloud of debris can mark the location of a tornado, even if a funnel is not visible.
  • Tornadoes generally occur near the trailing edge of a thunderstorm. It is not uncommon to see clear, sunlit skies behind a tornado.

Mobile Homes and Tornados

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 away from the unit.

During a Tornado

If you are at Home

  • Go at once to the basement, storm cellar, or the lowest level of the building.
  • If there is no basement, go to an inner hallway or small inner room without windows, such as a bathroom or closet.
  • Move away from windows.
  • Go to the center of the room. Stay away from corners, because they tend to attract debris.
  • Get under a piece of sturdy furniture, such as a workbench or heavy table, and hold on to it.
  • Use your arms to protect head and neck.
  • If in a mobile home, leave quickly for safer shelter.

If you are at work or school

  • Go at once to the basement or hallway at lowest level of the building.
  • Avoid places with wide-span roofs — for example, auditoriums, cafeterias, large hallways, or shopping malls.
  • Take cover under a heavy desk or piece of furniture, and hold on to it.
  • Use your arms to protect head and neck.

If you are outdoors

  • If possible, get inside a secure 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 your arms to protect head and neck.

If you are in a car

  • Never try to outdrive a tornado in a car or truck. Tornadoes can change direction quickly, and can lift up a car or truck and toss it through the air.
  • Get out of the car immediately and take shelter in a nearby building.
  • If there is not 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.

After a Tornado

Give first aid when appropriate. Don’t try to move the seriously injured unless they are in immediate danger of further injury. Call 911 for help.

  • Turn on 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, gasoline or other flammable liquids immediately. Leave the building if you smell gas or chemical fumes.
  • Take pictures of the damage — both to the house and its contents — for insurance or tax deduction purposes.

Remember to help your neighbors who may require special assistance — for example, infants, the elderly, and people with disabilities.


If you smell gas or hear a blowing or hissing noise, open a window and quickly leave the building. Turn off the gas at the outside main valve, if you can, and call the gas company from a neighbor’s house. If you turn off the gas for any reason, it must be turned back on by a professional.

If you see sparks, broken or frayed wires, or if you smell hot insulation, turn off the electricity at the main fuse box or circuit breaker. If you would have to step in water to get to the fuse box or circuit breaker, first call an electrician for advice.

If you suspect sewage lines are damaged, avoid using the toilets and call a plumber. If water pipes are damaged, contact the water company and avoid using water from the tap. You can obtain safe water by melting ice cubes.

Mitigation includes any activities that prevent an emergency, reduce the change of an emergency happening, or lessen the damaging effects of unavoidable emergencies. Investing in preventative mitigation steps now — such as checking local building codes and ordinances about wind-resistant designs and strengthening unreinforced masonry — will help reduce the impact of future tornadoes.