Tornado Safety

A tornado appears as a rotating, funnel-shaped cloud that extends from a thunderstorm to the ground with whirling winds that can reach 300 miles per hour. Damage paths can be in excess of one mile wide and 50 miles long. Every state is at some risk from this hazard. Before a tornado hits, the wind may die down and the air may become very still. Tornadoes generally occur near the trailing edge of a thunderstorm. It is not uncommon to see clear, sunlit skies behind a tornado.

Before a Tornado

  • 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.

During a Tornado

If You Are in a Structure (Residence, Small Building, Etc.)

  • 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.

If You Are in 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 tornadoes.

If You Are 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 tornadoes causes most fatalities and injuries.

After a Tornado

  • Check for injuries. Do not attempt to move seriously injured people unless they are in immediate danger of further injury. Get medical assistance immediately. If someone has stopped breathing, begin CPR if you are trained to do so. Stop a bleeding injury by applying direct pressure to the wound. Have any puncture wound evaluated by a physician. If you are trapped, try to attract attention to your location.
  • Do not touch downed power lines or objects in contact with downed lines. Report electrical hazards to the police and the utility company.
  • After a tornado, be aware of possible structural, electrical or gas-leak hazards in your home. Contact your local city or county building inspectors for information on structural safety codes and standards. They may also offer suggestions on finding a qualified contractor to do work for you.
  • In general, if you suspect any damage to your home, shut off electrical power, natural gas and propane tanks to avoid fire, electrocution or explosions.
  • If you smell gas or suspect a leak, turn off the main gas valve, open all windows and leave the house immediately. Notify the gas company, the police or fire departments, or State Fire Marshal's office and do not turn on the lights, light matches, smoke or do anything that could cause a spark. Do not return to your house until you are told it is safe to do so.

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