In the United States, tornadoes can happen during any month of the year, though they are much more prevalent between the months of March and June. Tornado safety is mostly a matter of planning ahead and then finding the best possible shelter, whether you’re at home, at school or work, or somewhere else.
Everyone should understand the system of alerts issued by the Storm Prediction Center (part of the National Weather Service). This is especially true if you live in an area prone to tornado activity (such as Tornado Alley).
Tornado Watch – This alert tells you that conditions are right for tornado activity. Get ready and be prepared to take cover.
Tornado Warning – This alert means a tornado has been sighted, either by eyewitnesses or on weather radar. Take cover immediately!
Emergency Kit – Having a 72-hour emergency kit is one of the best ways you and your family can be prepared for a variety of emergencies and disasters. You can assemble your own, or buy a pre-packaged kit. The Red Cross has some good suggestions on what you should include.
First-Aid Kit – Every house and vehicle should have a basic first-aid kit. Again, these can be assembled or purchased ready-made. Some first-aid items expire after a year or two, so be sure to rotate the contents as they expire. Here’s a list of possible contents, also provided by the Red Cross.
Emergency Communication Plan – Because the communications we take for granted can be disrupted during and after a natural disaster, it’s important that your family put together a plan to communicate in case of an emergency. FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, provides some good information about putting a plan together.
Before a Tornado
- Locate your 72-hour emergency kit, first-aid kit, and fire extinguishers, and replace or replenish supplies, if needed.
- Familiarize yourself with your family’s emergency communication plan. Make sure everyone in your family knows when a tornado watch is called.
- Monitor local radio or television broadcasts for news about tornado activity, or listen to an NOAA weather radio.
- Whether you’re at home, at work, or somewhere else, identify the safest possible place to take shelter if a tornado actually does touch down .
During a Tornado
- If you’re in a home, business, store, or school: Go to the basement or the lowest level. Find a small interior room away from windows, mirrors, and exterior walls. Get low, under a sturdy table if possible, and protect your neck with your arms.
- If you’re in a mobile home or manufactured home: Get out. These structures are not safe during a tornado. Find a sturdier building or a storm shelter.
- If you’re in a vehicle: Buckle your seatbelt and cover your head with anything available (a coat, a blanket, etc.). Do not take shelter under a bridge or overpass.
- If you’re outside with no shelter: Get on the ground, as low as you can. Any nearby building (aside from a mobile or manufactured home) is better than being outside. Lie flat in a drainage or irrigation ditch, if no sturdy shelter is available.
After a Tornado
- Put your emergency communications plan into effect to make sure family members are safe.
- Continue to monitor the radio and/or television (if possible) for updated emergency information.
- If you’re able, provide help in an expanding circle. First help any in your own household (or workplace or vicinity), then help your neighbors, and then volunteer to help others.
- Provide help to trapped or injured people and animals, rendering first aid if necessary and appropriate.
- Avoid downed wires and any objects that touch them—assume any you encounter are deadly. If possible, alert your utility company (or call 911) to report downed wires.
- Take photos of any property damage, to document for insurance purposes.
Here are some helpful links to educate yourself about tornado safety—how to prepare for them and how to survive them:
Tornadoes 101, by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
Tornadoes, at Ready.gov
More Tornado Tips from the Red Cross
Free Tornado App for both iOS and Android