Surviving a Tornado

Surviving a Tornado

Tornadoes, derechos, sandstorms… whatever type of wind event is headed your way, it can be extremely dangerous to be caught off guard. That’s especially true for tornadoes, which typically touch down with only 13 minutes of warning—if any.

While tornados can occur anytime, peak “tornado season” stretches from March to June on the Gulf Coast and southern Plains, and from March to July in the northern Plains and upper Midwest. While most tornadoes occur between 4 and 9 p.m., because they strike with little warning, being prepared to respond before a twister even forms will boost your chances not only of surviving but also of protecting your home and loved ones as well.

Every year, Team Rubicon volunteers respond to tornadoes across the U.S. Here are some things these disaster relief pros have learned about to prepare yourself and your loved ones for a tornado.

Recognize the Signs of a Tornado

While tornadoes can pop up with little warning, there are signs that indicate a tornado may be forming or active.

Dark, often greenish skies, rotating and funnel-shaped clouds, clouds of debris, and very loud rumbling or roaring sounds are all red flags that a tornado may be imminent.

Heed the Community Warning System

Many communities in tornado prone areas have sirens and alarms that go off when a tornado is incoming. Learn to recognize the warning tone. It’s also important to know what the different alerts mean, and when to keep eyes peeled and when to head to safety.

  • Tornado Watch: Tornadoes are possible. Identify safe shelter and prepare to get inside quickly.
  • Tornado Warning: A tornado has been sighted. Seek shelter immediately.

Put Your Tornado Emergency Plan into Action

As soon as you receive word that a wind event may be brewing, check on your neighbors and enact your emergency plan.

What to Do During a Tornado

If you’re past the watch stage and a tornado has been sighted visually or by radar, there’s no time to waste.

Take Cover in the Safest Place During a Tornado

The safest place during a tornado is below ground. If you have a basement or cellar, take cover there at the first sign of a tornado.

If your home does not have a basement, cellar, or below ground place to hide in, then seek shelter in a windowless room on the ground floor for the duration of the storm.

Ride Out Any Tornado Indoors

The safest place during a tornado isn’t just underground, it’s inside. Do not venture outside if a tornado appears to be approaching, and do not go outside during the storm even if it seems to be quiet. One tornado can spawn a second. Heading outside during high wind events can have lethal consequences, including flying debris, which can kill.

Survive a Tornado When Behind the Wheel

Tornadoes are unpredictable. If a tornado approaches or touches down while you are driving it’s unlikely you will be able to outrun or outmaneuver it. If you can’t get in a building or a below ground parking lot, cover yourself with blankets and extra clothing if possible, get low, keep your seatbelt on, and cover your head and neck with your arms.

During a Tornado, Stay Informed

Keeping an eye on your local weather reports, paying attention to emergency alerts on your phone, or tuning into your local NOAA weather radio station can also keep you one step ahead, as some weather conditions are more likely to produce tornadoes than others. And, tuning in to that NOAA radio channel will provide updates on the ferocity and duration of the storm and give you accurate and usable information on the storm’s progress.

After a Tornado Has Passed, Let It Be

After the tornado has passed, it’s not uncommon for there to be downed trees and utility poles. Stay away from any pole with cables attached until authorities have deemed it safe, and do not attempt to remove downed trees alone.

Sometimes, the biggest dangers from a natural disaster come not from the storm itself but in the days that follow. Stay smart, avoid downed wires, and stay away from hanging limbs to avoid a disaster after the disaster.

Practice Tornado Preparedness Before a Twister Strikes

While no one should try to board windows or clean up yard debris once it has reached Tornado Watch stage, there are steps that can log in advance help improve anyone’s chance of surviving a tornado.

Secure the Goods

The best tornado preparedness begins long before there’s even a cloud in the sky. At the beginning of tornado season, survey your property and remove any items that can be lifted and carried by the wind—and become an airborne projectile. Secure anything that cannot be removed, then remove and store everything else. 

Learn the Basics of First Aid and CPR and Put Together a First Aid Kit

Sometimes wind events can make roads and highways undrivable for emergency vehicles, which means you may be hard to reach if injured and in need of urgent medical attention.

Knowing how to provide CPR, as well as the basics on how to treat wounds and injuries, could save your life or the life of a loved one.

The Red Cross offers CPR training classes as well as a free to download app with information on handling the most common first aid emergencies. 

Pre-Pack a Disaster Kit

Being prepared for a tornado doesn’t stop at knowing the signs and identifying your safe room. Learning how to pack your own preparedness kit and how to prepare for other emergencies, such as floods, fires, hurricanes, and earthquakes, could mean the difference between a rough but survivable day and an absolute disaster.


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