Top 5 Tips for Tornado Safety

Approximately 800 tornadoes strike in the United States each year
Approximately 800 tornadoes strike in the United States each year

You're sitting in your favorite recliner reading a book when the sky suddenly turns dark. You've seen severe storms, but this one is different. The hardwood floors shake beneath your feet, the wind beats at your front door and then, through your picture window, you see it in the distance -- a large, violent, spinning creature heading for your house.

Being in a tornado is one of the most harrowing experiences you can go through in your lifetime. Preparedness is the key to survival, so here are five tips to guide you if and when the time comes.

Make a Plan

Families can benefit from having disaster plans in place, especially if they live in an area of the country where tornadoes frequently occur. The first thing to determine is where everyone should take cover during a tornado. A basement is the safest location, followed by an interior room or bathroom. Bathrooms are a good choice because their plumbing is anchored into the ground, plus they have extra framing. A hall is the next best place, as long as you have something heavy to hide under, because falling debris will probably get to you before the actual tornado. If you live in a mobile home, plan to head to an underground community shelter. If there is no such facility available, select a low-lying ditch nearby. You should designate an out-of-town family member as a contact person in case your family gets separated, and make sure everyone knows his or her number by heart.

Did You Know?

The American Red Cross has established a list of must-have items to keep on hand in case of a disaster situation:

  • first-aid kit including any family member's essential medication.
  • battery-powered radio
  • flashlight and extra batteries
  • bottled water
  • canned and boxed foods and a hand-operated can opener
  • candles and matches
  • work gloves and sturdy shoes
  • cash and credit cards
  • written instructions on how to turn off the utilities in your home
Buy a NOAA Weather Radio
A bulletin or alert from a weather radio can save your life.
A bulletin or alert from a weather radio can save your life.

Time is of the essence during a tornado. If you're sleeping or otherwise occupied as a storm begins to build, you may have no idea of the danger you and your family are in. NOAA (National Oceanic Atmospheric Association) Weather Radios send out bulletins and alerts 24 hours a day. The radios can be programmed to emit only information pertaining to your community. In short, you may hear nothing out of the radio for months, but you'll be alerted to find shelter when it matters most. The Federal Emergency Management Agency recommends having a weather radio as part of your disaster kit. Weather radios are battery-operated, so if you lose electricity, you'll still receive the necessary information.

Know What to Look For
Preparedness is your key to survival.
Preparedness is your key to survival.

Radios and weather reports are helpful, but tornadoes are tricky creatures and can appear out of nowhere. Keep an eye on the sky. The first clue a tornado is possible is a sickly green color. Clouds are another good indicator. If they're moving quickly, you should keep an eye on them, and if one starts to rotate in the shape of a funnel, you should take cover immediately. If a tornado watch or warning has been issued, hail is cause for concern. If you see flying debris or hear the sound of a train, head for your shelter immediately.

Assume the Position

The greatest danger during a tornado is being injured by flying debris. You probably remember the tornado drills of your elementary school days, during which you and your classmates calmly filed into the hall, got down on your knees, tucked your head and covered the back of your neck. The rules are still the same. You can stow blankets, old mattresses and couch cushions in your shelter to cover yourself with in the event of a tornado. If your bathroom is your shelter, grab some couch cushions, hop in the tub and cover yourself with them.

What to Do if You're Driving

The rules for tornado safety change if you encounter one while you're in your vehicle. It's important to know ahead of time what you should do because you're not going to have a lot of time to think about it if it happens. If you spot a tornado while driving, you need to stop the car and get out. It may sound counterintuitive, but your car is no match for a tornado. Your car can't outrun it, and there's no safe place to hide in it. Look for the closest low area of ground -- a ditch or the bottom of the hill. Lie flat, cover your head and wait for the tornado to pass.


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