Tornado Preparedness

Here’s some interesting trivia: The United States has more tornadoes on average than any other country in the world, with about 1,250 tornadoes per year.

You may associate tornadoes with the states in “Tornado Alley,” but tornadoes in fact strike all 50 states. Florida leads the list with about 12 tornadoes every year. Tornado Alley, an area encompassing the plains states from Texas up through the Midwest and into the Dakotas, gets hit with about 6-11 tornadoes annually in each of those states.

A little tornado preparation can go a long way to ensure your family’s safety and security during a tornado. Give yourself peace of mind by learning how to prepare for a tornado in four easy steps below.

How to Prepare for a Tornado:

  1. Know Tornado Dangers: know the signs of a tornado and tornado warning systems.
  2. Identify Shelter: know the safe places to go during a tornado.
  3. Make a Tornado Kit: keep emergency essentials in a container in an easily accessible area.
  4. Protect Your Home: make basic changes to your home and know what to bring inside before a tornado.

1. Know Tornado Dangers

Knowing how to survive and prepare for a tornado begins with learning the signs of an approaching twister. You and your family should go to safe shelter, and tune into a radio or TV station with local weather information if you notice any of the following:

  • A dark, green-hued, or yellow-hued sky
  • A cloud that is large, dark, and low-lying
  • Large hail
  • A roar that sounds like a freight train or waterfall
  • An approaching cloud of debris
  • A rotating funnel cloud, or clouds moving in a circular motion

If you are in a tornado-prone area, your community will have a tornado warning system. This may be in the form of emergency alerts or sirens. You can do a quick internet search and check your county’s emergency services website. Be sure your entire family is aware of how these systems work. Also check emergency alerts from the Emergency Alert System (EAS) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio.

Pay attention to weather reports, especially if there are changing weather patterns in your area. If a tornado watch is issued, this means your county is experiencing conditions that give rise to tornadoes. When you are in an area under tornado watch, it’s important to stay tuned into weather and emergency alerts.

Tornado Watch vs Warning - Know the Difference: A tornado watch means the conditions are right for a tornado and may happen nearby. A tornado warning means a tornado has been identified near you. Evacuate to your safe shelter (see step 2 below) immediately.

In the most serious situation, you will be under a tornado warning. This is issued when a tornado has been sighted, either seen forming in the clouds or identified by radar. If you are under tornado warning, immediately move to your safe location and do not leave until the tornado warning is lifted.

TAKE THE NEXT STEP: Talk to your family about tornado warning signs, tornado warning systems, and the difference between tornado watch and tornado warning.

2. Identify Safe Shelter

Stay at the top of your tornado safety game by identifying safe spaces for shelter. The biggest risk you face during a tornado is not getting picked up and whirled away like Dorothy but being struck by flying and falling debris. The following tips are what to keep in mind when heading to safe shelter.

Go to the Lowest Floor - head to the basement. If there is no basement in the building when a tornado hits, then go to the lowest floor against an interior wall. Often this is a hallway, bathroom or closet. In all instances, stay away from windows.

In no circumstances should you stay in a mobile home. Go to the nearest building, or lay in an area of decompression, like a ravine, and cover your head.

Pile on the Protection - if possible, crouch under heavy furniture, and cover yourself with a blanket. Protect your head and neck with your hands. Avoid taking shelter in an area where heavy objects, like refrigerators, are placed on the floor above. These objects can fall through the floor during a tornado.

Learn School and Work Emergency Plans - know the emergency protocols at your children’s school and discuss them with your kids. Be sure you know your place of work’s emergency response plans too, as well as that of other household members.

TAKE THE NEXT STEP: Talk to your family about safe spaces at home, work, and school.

3. Make a Tornado Emergency Kit

The scene following a tornado is often one of considerable destruction, with overturned vehicles, destroyed buildings, and extensive debris. Even in areas with minimal damage, you may still have to face an extended power outage. A big part of answering the question “how to prepare for a tornado” is really preparing for the aftermath. Having a tornado kit on the ready for a hazardous environment will not only make you safer but give your family a boost of confidence as you navigate the tough days following a tornado.

Keep your tornado kit with you as you wait out the storm in your secure room or location. The kit should have the following:

  • 3 gallons of water per person
  • Nonperishable foods like granola bars and canned goods, enough for three days per person
  • Can opener, if you have canned goods packed
  • First aid kit
  • Prescriptions and medications
  • Flashlights
  • Battery-operated radio
  • Batteries
  • Emergency cash
  • Copies of identification, insurance, and financial documents

TAKE THE NEXT STEP: You probably have many of these items already in your home. Collect the ones you do, and purchase the ones you don’t. Be sure to switch out your water every 6 months, and your food once a year.

4. Protect Your Home

As the saying goes, “home is where the heart is,” and it is heartbreaking to see people’s homes and hearts in ruins following a twister. While taking precautions can’t guarantee your home will remain unscathed during a tornado, it will make a considerable difference in protecting your property. Additionally, taking common sense precautionary steps to secure your home also makes it less likely that you will be injured by flying debris.

Make a “Bring Inside” List: make a list of objects outside of your house that you need to bring inside before a tornado. Not only can these be destroyed during the tornado, but damage your home or cause injury when lifted in the air. This will be most things you can carry, like lawn furniture, toys and firewood.

Groom Trees: remove branches so wind can blow through the trees easily. Diseased or damaged limbs can break off easily in strong winds, becoming dangerous projectiles. Make sure to keep trees groomed and remove dead ones.

Make Home Improvements: the following items may require consulting a professional but will significantly protect your property against a tornado.

Install Permanent Shutters: flying glass is a major cause of injury, and shutters that can close quickly provide the safest protection against broken windows.

Reinforce Your Roof: hurricane clips or straps, installed by a professional, are fastened between the trusses or rafters and the studs of a load bearing wall. This creates a strong connection that can better withstand strong winds.

Strengthen Garage Doors: strong winds easily penetrate garage doors, which can trigger a cascade of problems inside the house, ending with the roof coming off. Garage doors are vulnerable due to the doors’ lightweight materials and the long span of opening that they cover. You may be able to retrofit your existing garage door or buy a new one that is wind pressure rated.

TAKE THE NEXT STEP: Make a list of outdoor items to bring inside or secure during a tornado threat.

Taking care to follow each of these steps means that you and your loved ones will know how to survive a tornado and will have resilience in the moments leading up to, during, and following a tornado.