Tornado Safety

Do you live in an area where tornadoes can happen? If so, make sure you know how to stay safe. Read on below to learn how to make sense of tornado watches and warnings and make a plan for what you'll do if there is a tornado. 

Tornado Watches and Warnings

Take a look at the weather forecast to know if storms are coming that could produce tornadoes. In the United States, the National Weather Service makes announcements when there is a tornado danger. The announcements are shared on local news and through mobile phone alerts.

A tornado watch is announced when conditions in the sky make it possible for a tornado to form. If a tornado watch is announced in your area, it's time to prepare. Talk about what you would do and where you would go if there were a tornado. Make sure that everyone you are with knows the plan. 

A tornado warning is announced when a tornado is happening or is about to happen. If a tornado warning is announced, get to a safe place quickly. If you are in a town or city that has tornado sirens, you will hear them start to blast when a tornado is in the area. 

A large speaker of a tornado siren on a flat rooftop

Tornado sirens, like the one on the right side of this picture, are installed in communities with a high risk of tornadoes. This one is on the roof of Monticello City Hall in Georgia. It can blast a siren so loud that it can be heard up to two miles away.

FEMA - Win Henderson

What do you do if there is a tornado?

If you are in a building during a tornado:

  • Go to an interior room on the lowest level of your house. Go to a storm cellar or basement if your house has one.
  • Stay away from windows.
  • Stay away from the corners of the room because they tend to attract debris.
  • Get under a piece of sturdy furniture such as a heavy table and hold on to it.
  • If you have a bike helmet, wear it to protect your head from debris.
  • Avoid huge rooms like a school auditorium or cafeteria.
  • Mobile homes aren't as safe as other buildings. If you are in a mobile home, get out and find shelter elsewhere if there's time.

If you are outdoors during a tornado:

  • If possible, get inside a building.
  • If you can't get indoors, lie in a ditch or other low area or crouch near a strong building. 
  • Protect your head and neck. Wear a bike helmet if you have one with you.
  • If you are in a car, get out and take shelter in a nearby building. Tornadoes can lift a car or truck and toss it through the air.
  • Don't try to drive faster than a tornado in a car or truck. 

A dark funnel cloud coming out of storm clouds

A funnel cloud is a tornado that doesn't reach the ground. If you see a funnel cloud in the sky, get indoors as quickly as possible. The funnel cloud can change position and reach the ground, becoming very dangerous.

Patrick Feller/CC BY 2.0