Tornadoes are deadly storms that kill numerous people and create billions of dollars of property damage annually. Tornadoes are created by severe thunderstorms. Tornadoes are funnel-shaped storms that twirl violently, often at speeds exceeding 300 miles an hour. Tornadoes often spread one mile in width and 50 miles in length. Tornado risks are prevalent in each state. Tornadoes are typically visible, but sometimes storm clouds block them. Frequently, tornadoes form rapidly and without notice. Prior to a tornado, air becomes stagnant and wind decreases. Debris clouds often mark a tornado’s location when funnels cannot be seen. Tornadoes usually develop on a thunderstorm’s periphery, and it’s not unusual to witness bright and clear skies directly behind a forming tornado.
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What to Do Before a Tornadoes
- Develop a family communications plan and amass an emergency preparedness kit.
- Follow NOAA Weather Radio and local TV and radio broadcasts for tornado warnings and updates. Always follow instructions issued by local officials and emergency personnel.
- Pay attention to changing weather and watch for new storms.
- Pay attention to these signs:
- Greenish or dark skies.
- Larger than normal hail.
- Rotating, dark, low-lying, and big clouds.
- Roars that sound like large trains.
- If a storm is visible or tornado risks present, find shelter ASAP.
- Strike rapidly and without warning.
- Appear transparent until funnels form with debris and dust.
- Move Southwest to Northeast; however, they can move in different directions.
- Move forward at 30 mph, but can move at speeds exceeding 70 mph.
- Accompany hurricanes and tropical storms in coastal areas.
- Form above water. These types of tornados are called waterspouts.
- Form in regions east of the Rocky Mountains during spring and summer.
- Peak March through May in the South.
- Peak spring through summer in the Northeast.
- Form anytime of the day, but they typically form between 3-9 P.M.
What to Do During a Tornadoes
During tornado warnings, find suitable shelter immediately!
If You’re In An Building
- Vacate to a pre-designated shelter area, which includes a safe room, storm cellar, basement, or the lowest building levels. In buildings without basements, stay in the middle of interior rooms located on the lowest level (closet, interior hallway) away from corners, doors, windows, and exterior walls. Position yourself between as many exterior and interior walls as possible. Lie under a sturdy table and protect your head with your arms.
- In multi-story buildings, wait the tornado out in a small room or hallway at the lowest level of the building.
- Never open windows!
If You’re In A Mobile Home, Trailer, or Vehicle
- Vacate immediately and relocate to the lowest level of a storm shelter or other building. Mobile homes, regardless of whether they’re tied down or not, provide minimal protection from tornadoes.
If You’re Outdoors Without Shelter
- Lie in a ravine or ditch and protect your face with your hands. Remain cautious of potential flooding.
- Never lie under a bridge or overpass. It’s safer in a flat or low area.
- Never attempt to outrun a tornado in a car within populated areas. Vacate the vehicle at once and locate safe shelter.
- Watch carefully for flying objects. People killed during tornados are typically struck by flying debris.
What to Do After a Tornado
Tornado-related injuries can occur during and after storms. People are occasionally injured while rummaging through damaged buildings. In fact, 50 percent of injuries following a tornado in Illinois resulted during cleanup and rescue activities. Nearly 1/3 of these injuries were caused by protruding nails. Since tornadoes typically destroy gas and power lines, people can be electrocuted or injured by fires. Be very cautious following a tornado and promptly obtain medical treatment for any injuries.
Immediately inspect yourself for injuries. Never move severely injured individuals unless they are in danger of additional injury. Seek medical attention immediately. Administer CPR immediately if you encounter someone who is not breathing. Apply pressure to bleeding areas of an injured person’s body. Visit a doctor if you have a puncture wound. If you’re trapped in rubble, make as much noise as possible.
General Safety Precautions
Follow these tips to avoid post-tornado injuries:
- Follow local TV and radio broadcasts for updates.
- Use caution while entering a damaged building.
- Never walk in rubble without long sleeves, pants, boots, and other protective clothing.
- Watch for broken glass and protruding nails.
- Never touch damaged power lines or objects near damaged lines. Report downed power lines to the utility company and local officials.
- Avoid using candles to light homes without electricity. Instead, use battery-powered lights. If you must rely on candles, place them in safe areas away from combustible objects, wood, paper, and curtains. Do not burn candles in unattended rooms.
- Never place propone tanks, grills, camp stoves, generators, and pressure washers inside a house, camper, or garage. These devices can create Carbon monoxide (CO) – a colorless and odorless gas that can be fatal if breathed. Immediately seek medical attention if you become nauseated, light-headed, or dizzy.
- Only use landlines during emergencies and hang up offline telephone receivers.
- Always cooperate with local safety personnel.
- Assist emergency management personnel, firefighters, and police officers requesting assistance. However, do not enter damaged areas without permission. You could get in the way of rescue personnel and become injured.
Inspecting The Damage
- Pay attention to potential gas leaks and structural and electrical damage. Contact building inspectors for details about building safety standards and codes. If your home is damaged, building inspectors can refer you to qualified and experienced contractors.
- If any home damage is suspected, turn off propane tanks, natural gas lines, and electrical power to reduce explosion and fire risks.
- Use flashlights to inspect dark homes since candles can cause fires and gas explosions.
- If sparks or frayed wiring is visible, or if a burning smell is present, shut off electricity immediately if it’s not already off.
- If gas odor is present or a leak is suspected, immediately close the main gas valve, open the windows, and vacate the house at once. Do not smoke, light matches, or do anything that creates sparks and contact the fire department or State Fire Marshal’s department ASAP. Return home after it is deemed safe by local officials.
Safety During Clean Up
- Wear gloves, long-sleeved shirts, and boots.
- Do not operate electric or gas powered tools if you do not understand all necessary safety procedures.
- Mop up flammable fluids, spilled drugs and medications, and any other hazardous chemicals.
Preparing a Safe Room Heavy windstorms pose a serious threat to people and property. Although all homes must adhere to building safety codes, it’s not a guarantee that it will remain unscathed during a severe wind storm, hurricane, or tornado. Wind shelters or safe rooms are designed to provide protection during severe wind and tornados. These rooms can be built in:
- A basement.
- Above a concrete structure on the garage.
- A room on a building’s first floor.
It’s best to construct safe rooms in basements or below the ground. However, safe rooms can be effectively built in ground-level floors. Safe rooms located below the ground must be built to prevent excess water accumulation since rainfall often follows heavy windstorms.
Effective safe rooms are designed to withstand severe wind and remain unscathed by flying objects, regardless of building damage. Follow these tips when constructing a safe room:
- Ensure rooms are properly secured to the ground to resist uplift and overturning.
- The room, walls, and doors must withstand severe wind and prevent flying debris and object penetration.
- Safe room connecting points must withstand breakage during heavy wind.
- Shared walls between the building and safe room must be separated from the structure since structural damage to the building could create safe room damage.
Last update 2021-04-08. Price and product availability may change.