Tornado Safety

Tornado Safety Information
The occurrence of tornados are most frequent in the United States east of the Rocky Mountains during the spring and summer. In an average year, 800 tornados are reported resulting in 1,500 injuries and 80 deaths.

Tornado Conditions
tornados are often produced in early spring during thunderstorms associated with strong frontal systems that form in the central states and move east. Thunderstorms in the central plains frequently develop along a "dry line" which separates very warm, moist air to the east from hot, dry air to the west. Tornado-producing thunderstorms may form as the dry line moves east during the afternoon hours. A change in wind direction and an increase in wind speed with increasing height creates an invisible, horizontal spinning effect in the lower atmosphere.

Rising air within the thunderstorm updraft tilts the rotating air from horizontal to vertical. Most strong and violent tornados form within this area of rotation. The lower cloud base in the rear of a storm identifies an area of rotation known as a rotating wall cloud. This area is often nearly rain-free. 

Severe Weather Definitions 
  • Tornado Watch - Conditions are favorable for tornados (or severe thunderstorms) to occur. Stay informed.
  • Tornado Warning - A tornado or severe thunderstorm is occurring or is imminent. Seek shelter immediately!
  • Severe thunderstorm - A storm that produces wind damage, dime-size hail or larger and winds up to 58 mph.
  • Tornado - A violently rotating column of air in contact with the ground and coming from a thunderstorm.
  • Funnel cloud - Similar to a tornado, but not in contact with the ground. 

Safety in a Tornado Threat
If your area is threatened by a tornado, the thought that should be uppermost in your mind is how to save lives, not possessions. Time is of the essence. You may only have time to duck under a sturdy table or get into an interior hallway. 

Safety During a Tornado
Absolutely avoid buildings with large free-span roofs such as auditoriums and gymnasiums, as well as upper stories of multi-story buildings. Stay away from west and south walls and windows. Remember, lowest level, smallest room, center part.

Seek safe places for shelter, such as modern, steel-reinforced office buildings, storm shelters, tunnels, caves, root cellars, sub-basements, bank vaults, underground parking facilities, basements, interior corridors, and subways. Keep away from mobile homes and parked cars. 

Homes / Small Buildings 
Go to the basement (if available) or to an interior room on the lowest floor, such as a closet or bathroom. Upper floors are unsafe. If there is no time to descend, go to a closet, a small room with strong walls, or an inside hallway. Wrap yourself in overcoats or blankets to protect yourself from flying debris. 

Cars / Mobile Homes 
Most deaths occur in cars and mobile homes. If you are in either of those locations, leave them and go to a substantial structure or designated tornado shelter. An automobile, whether parked or moving is the most dangerous place to be. Violent winds can tumble a car over and over, crushing it and its occupants. Seek shelter immediately in the kinds of structures mentioned in this article. Do not attempt to drive out of the storm path, because this has proven fatal to many motorists. If you are trapped in open country, seeking shelter in a ravine or ditch may be your only hope. However be aware of the torrential rains that often accompany tornadic weather.

Office Buildings / Dormitories / High-Rise Buildings
If you are in an office building, dormitory, or any other multi-story structure, go to interior hallways on a lower floor, preferably in the basement. In homes, a basement usually offers the greatest safety. If no basement is available, take cover under heavy furniture in the center of the house against strong inside walls. Covering yourself with a rug or blanket provides some protection against flying glass and falling debris. If you are in a mobile home park, or any non- reinforced structure without a basement, seek shelter elsewhere, such as a public building, friend's basement, community shelter, etc.

Schools / Hospitals / Factories / Shopping Centers
Go to interior rooms and halls on the lowest floor. Stay away from glass enclosed places or areas with wide-span roofs such as auditoriums and warehouses. Crouch down and cover your head. Don't take shelter in halls that open to the south or the west. Centrally-located stairwells are good shelter. Also, avoid school buses unless they are part of an evacuation plan. At shopping centers, stay away from large glass windows. If possible, take cover under a strong counter.

No Suitable Shelter
Lie flat in the nearest ditch or depression and use your hands to cover your head. Be alert for flash floods.

No matter where you are, do some advance planning if possible. Identify protective areas you can get to in a hurry. Obtain a "Secure-Weather Alert" radio that will provide an alarm if a tornado watch is in affect in your county. Call the National Weather Service only to report a tornado you have actually sighted. 

Prepare for Tornados 
Store water in clean covered containers. You should keep disaster supplies in your home at all times (i.e. flashlight, candles, matches, battery powered radio, cell phone, etc.).