Tornado Preparedness Guide

Tornados are arguably the most threatening type of natural disaster to many parts of the United States. Each year, tornadoes affect many different parts of the country, from the midwest, to the south and even the eastern seaboard. High winds and little time in the way of warning are among the biggest dangers associated with tornadoes. Like many other forms of severe weather, tornadoes are capable of causing massive amounts of damage, even if you are fully prepared.

Unlike other natural disasters like hurricanes, tornados provide much less warning. Their paths are often unpredictable, and though they provide little in the way of warning, there are still many steps you can take today to improve your chances of making it through a tornado as safely as possible. Just being informed on what to do before, during and after a tornado can go a very long way. Below we'll go over a few ways you can begin the preparation process.

Preparing for a Tornado

Because the biggest hazards associated with tornados are high winds and, consequently, flying debris, these are two of the most important aspects to prepare for. Just because tornadoes do not generally provide you with much warning, there are still many steps you can take to become better prepared for one. We'll start off by going over a few tornado facts, as provided by

A Few Tornado Facts

  • They may strike quickly, with little or no warning.
  • They may appear nearly transparent until dust and debris are picked up or a cloud forms in the funnel.
  • The average tornado moves Southwest to Northeast, but tornadoes have been known to move in any direction.
  • The average forward speed of a tornado is 30 mph, but may vary from stationary to 70 mph.
  • Tornadoes can accompany tropical storms and hurricanes as they move onto land.
  • Waterspouts are tornadoes that form over water.
  • Tornadoes are most frequently reported east of the Rocky Mountains during spring and summer months.
  • Peak tornado season in the southern states is March through May; in the northern states, it is late spring through early summer.
  • Tornadoes are most likely to occur between 3 pm and 9 pm, but can occur at any time.

Tornado Watch vs Tornado Warning

Familiarizing yourself with the information above, and understanding some basic terminology are some of the first steps to being prepared. There is often confusion and misunderstandings regarding the difference between a tornado watch and a warning. In short a warning means that a tornado has been spotted in your area while a watch means that weather conditions are ideal for a tornado. Below we outline the main differences in further detail.

Tornado Watch - This means that a tornado, or multiple tornadoes, are possible. If you receive a tornado watch, it is key that you stay alert for approaching storms by observing changing weather conditions. You should also keep an eye on the sky and stay up to date with a NOAA Weather Radio, radio or TV.

Tornado Warning - This means that there has been a tornado spotted or indicated by weather radar in your area. If you receive a tornado warning, you should take shelter immediately, and follow your family's emergency plans.

What To Do Before A Tornado

Now that you better understand some of the basic terminology associated with tornadoes and know more about what they are, how they work and what causes them, we'll go over what to do before one strikes. One of the first steps in the preparedness process is making an emergency kit. This should be done long before there is a warning ,watch, and even before tornado season starts. An emergency kit will provide you with all of the supplies you need just in case. Below we have outlined some recommendations from

  • To begin preparing, you should build an emergency kit and make a family communications plan.
  • Listen to NOAA Weather Radio or to commercial radio or television newscasts for the latest information. In any emergency, always listen to the instructions given by local emergency management officials.
  • Be alert to changing weather conditions. Look for approaching storms.
  • Look for the following danger signs:
    • Dark, often greenish sky
    • Large hail
    • A large, dark, low-lying cloud (particularly if rotating)
    • Loud roar, similar to a freight train.
    • If you see approaching storms or any of the danger signs, be prepared to take shelter immediately.

What To Do During A Tornado

This section will include information on what to do if you are under a tornado warning, or in the midst of a tornado occurring. During a tornado it is key that you stay indoors and away from windows, as most injuries occur from flying debris.

If you are in: Then:
A structure (e.g. residence, small building, school, nursing home, hospital, factory, shopping center, high-rise building)
  • Go to a pre-designated area such as a safe room, basement, storm cellar, or the lowest building level. If there is no basement, go to the center of a small interior room on the lowest level (closet, interior hallway) away from corners, windows, doors, and outside walls. Put as many walls as possible between you and the outside. Get under a sturdy table and use your arms to protect your head and neck.
  • In a high-rise building, go to a small interior room or hallway on the lowest floor possible.
  • Put on sturdy shoes.
  • Do not open windows.
A manufactured home or office
  • Get out immediately and go to a pre-identified location such as the lowest floor of a sturdy, nearby building or a storm shelter. Mobile homes, even if tied down, offer little protection from tornados.
The outside with no shelter If you are not in a sturdy building, there is no single research-based recommendation for what last-resort action to take because many factors can affect your decision. Possible actions include:


  • Immediately get into a vehicle, buckle your seat belt and try to drive to the closest sturdy shelter. If your vehicle is hit by flying debris while you are driving, pull over and park.
  • Take cover in a stationary vehicle. Put the seat belt on and cover your head with your arms and a blanket, coat or other cushion if possible.
  • Lie in an area noticeably lower than the level of the roadway and cover your head with your arms and a blanket, coat or other cushion if possible.

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 car or truck. Instead, leave the vehicle immediately for safe shelter.
  • Watch out for flying debris. Flying debris from tornados causes most fatalities and injuries.

Having A "Safe Room"

A "Safe Room" is pretty self explanatory. It refers to one of the safer areas of your home that is designated for, in this case, tornados. Some of the best areas to make your safe room include a basement, on top of a concrete foundation or garage floor, or an interior room located on the first floor that does not have any windows. While each of these types of areas will make a good safe room, some of the best area include those which are underground.

It is worth noting that if your safe room is located underground, you should make sure that it is properly equipped to handle flooding. As tornados are often associated with severe storms, you will want to make sure you do not get flooded out. You should also make sure that the area is built to withstand heavy winds, and potentially, flying debris. Below are some further recommendations from

  • The safe room must be adequately anchored to resist overturning and uplift.
  • The walls, ceiling and door of the shelter must withstand wind pressure and resist penetration by windborne objects and falling debris.
  • The connections between all parts of the safe room must be strong enough to resist the wind.
  • Sections of either interior or exterior residence walls that are used as walls of the safe room must be separated from the structure of the residence so that damage to the residence will not cause damage to the safe room.

Making A Tornado Emergency Kit

As we mentioned in a previous section, one of the first steps to being prepared for a tornado is building an emergency kit. The exact items that your kit includes will vary depending on your preferences and personal needs, but the same general types of supplies are recommended. This includes everything from shelter and warmth supplies, to hygiene kits, multi-purpose tools, food, water and other similar equipment.

The main purpose of an emergency kit is to provide you with everything you will need after a natural disaster occurs. You should have at least 72 hours worth of supplies in your kit to help you survive until help arrives. Below we have outlined some of these supplies:

  • Emergency Poncho
  • Mylar Blanket
  • Multi-Purpose Tool
  • Hygiene Kit
  • Survival Whistle
  • Waterproof Matches
  • First Aid Kits
  • Food Bar Rations
  • Drinking water Pouches
  • 2-Person Tube Tent