Tornado Preparedness

Threats of Tornadoes

Tornadoes are frightening realities. We can't prevent them or even predict where or when they will strike. Many of us aren't sure what we should do during a tornado. Some people aren't even clear about the difference between a tornado "watch" and a tornado "warning."

Your home may not have a basement, or you may not even be at home when the weather turns severe. In fact, your family may be scattered in several locations. Even if you are at home, you can't always rely on weather reports to warn you of an approaching tornado because conditions change so quickly. Tornadoes can occur without warning or you may be out of range of emergency sirens.

That's why it's important to be alert to changing weather, using broadcast information along with your own senses and experience to know when to take cover. You and your family must make a family emergency kit so you're prepared for any situation. Know the basics of tornado safety so that you can plan to survive.

Before a Storm Hits

A little planning can prevent unnecessary panic and confusion if a tornado does strike.
  • Learn the warning signals used in your community. If a siren sounds, that means stay inside and take cover
  • Consider setting up a neighborhood information program through a club, church group, or community group. Hold briefings on safety procedures as tornado season approaches
  • Set up a system to make sure senior citizens and shut-ins are alerted if there is a tornado warning
  • Put together an emergency storm kit including a transistor radio, flashlight, batteries, and simple first aid items in a waterproof container
  • Make a complete inventory of your possessions for insurance purposes. Keep that list in a bank safe deposit box or other safe place away from your home
  • Conduct drills with your family in the home. Make sure each member knows the correct procedures if they are at work or school when a tornado hits

During a Storm

The safest place to be during a tornado is underground, preferably under something sturdy like a work bench. If there's no basement or cellar in your home, find a small room in the middle of house like a bathroom or a closet. The more walls between you and the outside, the better.


  • Residents in mobile homes, even those with tied owns, should seek safe shelter elsewhere at the first sign of severe weather. While mobile homes can be attractive alternatives to traditional homes, they also may be more vulnerable to damage from high winds
  • Go to a prearranged shelter or talk to a friend or relative ahead of time to see if you can go to their house
  • If you live in a mobile home park, talk to management about the availability of a nearby shelter
  • If no emergency plan exists, consider setting up a neighborhood information program. Hold briefings on safety procedures as tornado season approaches
  • As a last resort, go outside and lie flat on the ground with your hands over your head and neck. Be alert for flash floods that often accompany such storms
  • Tornadoes can toss cars and large trucks around like toys. Never try to outrun a tornado. If you see a funnel cloud or hear a tornado warning issued on the radio or by siren, get out of your vehicle and seek a safe structure or lie down in a low area with your hands covering the back of your head and neck. Also, be alert for flash floods
  • Be aware of emergency shelter plans in office buildings and schools you and your family frequent. If a specific shelter area does not exist, move into interior hallways or small rooms on the building's lowest level. Avoid areas with glass and wide, free span roofs
  • If you can't get into a basement or designated shelter, move to the center of the lowest level of the building, away from windows, and lie flat
  • After a tornado, keep calm. Stay in your shelter until after the storm is over. Check people around you for injuries. Begin first aid or seek help if necessary
  • Always cooperate with local officials
  • Check utility lines and appliances for damage. If you smell gas, open the windows and turn off the main valve. Don't turn on lights or appliances until the gas has dissipated
  • If electric wires are shorting out, turn off the power. When you go outside, watch for downed power lines
  • Notify your insurance agent and provide as much detail as possible about damage to your property. Follow the agent's directions on filing your claim
  • Take steps to protect your home and furniture from further damage:
    • Clean and dry your furniture, bedding, rugs, and carpeting as soon as possible
    • Board up windows and holes in the walls or roof
    • Don't be rushed into signing repair contracts. Deal with reputable contractors. If you're unsure about a contractor's credentials perhaps your agent, claim adjuster, Better Business Bureau or Chamber of Commerce can help. Make sure the contractor you hire is experienced in repair work, not just construction. Be sure of payment terms and consult your agent or adjuster before you sign any contracts
    • Keep receipts for living expenses beyond your normal ones (such as temporary quarters) and for temporary repair costs so you can seek insurance reimbursement.

Tornado Watch

A watch simply means that conditions are favorable for tornadoes to develop. In this case you should take precautions to protect you and your property, and listen to the radio to keep informed. Tornadoes are most likely to occur in the late afternoon on a hot spring day. However, tornadoes have occurred in every month at all times of the day or night.

When a tornado watch is issued, be alert for changes in the weather. And be prepared to act quickly. On average, 770 tornadoes are reported annually in the United States.

Watch Precautions

When a tornado watch is in effect you can take certain precautions to lessen danger.
  • Move cars inside a garage or carport, if possible, to avoid damage from hail that often accompanies severe storms
  • Keep your car keys and house keys with you
  • Move lawn furniture and yard equipment such as lawnmowers inside if time permits. Otherwise they could become damaged or act as dangerous projectiles, causing serious injury or damage
  • Account for family members at home
  • Have your emergency kit ready
  • Keep your radio or TV tuned into the weather reports

Tornado Warning

A warning means that a tornado has actually been sighted. Realize that tornadoes can be deadly and devastating storms, with winds up to 260 miles-per-hour. If one is issued for your area, you should seek shelter immediately. There is little time for closing windows or hunting for flashlights. It's a good idea to know where things are, and to have an emergency storm kit already prepared.

Seek Shelter Immediately

When a tornado warning has been issued on the radio or by siren:
  • At home: Take shelter in the basement under something sturdy, like a bench. If there is no basement, a small room in the middle of the house, such as a closet or bathroom, is best. Always stay away from outside walls and windows
  • At work / school: Find the designated shelter areas. Stay away from large open rooms like auditoriums and gymnasiums, and rooms with windows. Lie low with hands covering the back of your head to reduce neck injury
  • In shopping malls: Go to a designated shelter area or to the center of the building on a low level. Stay away from large, open rooms, and windows. Never seek shelter in cars in the parking lot
  • In mobile homes or cars: Leave the vehicle. Seek a safe structure or lie down in a low area with your hands covering the back of your head and neck. Keep alert for flash floods that often accompany such storms