Tornadoes appear as rotating, funnel-shaped clouds extending to the ground from thunderstorms. Winds associated with tornadoes can range from about 40 mph to over 250 mph. Damage paths can exceed a mile wide and 50 miles long.
Tornadoes can occur anywhere at any time – often near the trailing edge of a thunderstorm, often with clear skies behind them.
Before a Tornado
- Be alert to changing weather conditions.
- Be alert for the signs of a spin-up:
- Large, dark, low-lying clouds
- Dark, (often) greenish sky
- Loud roar, similar to a train
- Large hail
- Take shelter if you see any of these signs or hear warnings.
- Check local media outlets and/or NOAA weather radio for alerts, news, or instructions.
During a Tornado
Tornado warnings mean seek shelter immediately! Most injuries are associated with high winds and flying debris.
In all situations:
- Do not get under an overpass or bridge. You are safer in a low, flat location.
- Never try to outrun a tornado in urban or congested areas in a vehicle. Instead, leave the vehicle immediately for safe shelter.
Inside a structure/building:
- Go to a pre-designated shelter area like a storm cellar, safe room, or basement – if you have one.
- Go to an interior room with no windows on the lowest floor possible – like a bathroom or closet.
- Wear sturdy shoes, long pants, and sleeves.
- Do not open windows.
A manufactured home:
- Go immediately to a pre-identified shelter location – like a nearby building or community center.
Outside with no shelter:
- If driving, stop as safely as possible at the nearest shelter building or pull over an park.
- Take cover in a stationary vehicle with your seatbelts on and cover your head.
- Find the lowest area possible, lie down, and cover your head.
After a Tornado
General Safety Precautions
- Check for information and instructions through battery-powered devices such as NOAA weather radios.
- Use battery-powered lights to reduce the risk of fire. If you use candles in power outages, keep holders and flames away from flammable objects. Don’t leave burning candles unattended.
- To avoid carbon monoxide poisoning, run any generators, gas or charcoal fueled devices outside. Even a basement or garage can create a dangerous situation.
- If your home or business is damaged, use caution when returning. Wear long pants and sleeves with sturdy shoes or boots.
- If away from the area, return only when instructed to do so by officials or when a call for volunteers has been requested.
- Cooperate fully with public safety officially for everyone’s safety.
- Let professionals clear downed power lines and anything touching them.
- Check for injuries. Stop bleeding by applying direct pressure to wounds.
- Leave seriously injured people in place to prevent further injury.
- If someone isn’t breathing – and if you have CPR training – being CPR immediately.
- If you are trapped, attract attention by blowing a whistle or tapping on debris.
- Seek immediate medical attention for injuries.
Inspecting the Damage
- Be aware of possible structural, electrical or gas-related hazards.
- Have gas, propane, or electrical utilities shut off – or do it yourself if you know how – at the main valves if you suspect damage.
- Use flashlights to inspect damage to reduce the risk of fire or explosions.
- If you smell burning insulation, see sparks or frayed wires turn off the electricity at the main circuit breaker immediately.
- Smell gas? Suspect a leak? Open all windows and shut off the gas at the main valve if you can then leave. Contact your local gas company and emergency responders. Avoid using anything that can cause a spark or fire – including turning on lights.
Build a Safe Room
Even if your home or business is built up to code, you may need extra protection against severe weather like tornadoes. The purpose of storm shelters and safe rooms are to provide a safe space when needed.
Safe Rooms and Shelters can be built in:
- Garage or concrete slab-on-grade
- First-floor interior room
Note: Below-ground safe rooms and shelters provide the greatest protection, but need to be designed to resist water during heavy rains.
Safe rooms and shelters should withstand high wind and debris by:
- Being anchored again overturning and uplift.
- Have walls, doors, and ceilings designed to withstand debris penetration and wind pressure.
- Walls between the shelter and the building should be separate so the shelter is protected from damage to the outside of the building.