Tornado Safety Tips

Read more about Tornadoes at NOAA's Storm Prediction Center.

Tornado Safety Information & Preparedness Information

Tornado Safety

When a tornado is coming, you have only a short amount of time to make life-or-death decisions. Advance planning and quick response are the keys to surviving a tornado.


Conduct tornado drills each tornado season. Designate an area of your home as a shelter, and practice having everyone in the family go there in response to a tornado threat.

Discuss with your family the difference between a Tornado Watch and a Tornado Warning.

Contact your local emergency management office or your local American Red Cross chapter for more information on tornadoes.

Have Disaster Supplies On Hand

  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • Portable, battery-operated radio and extra batteries
  • First-Aid kit and manual
  • Emergency food and water
  • Non-electric can opener
  • Essential medicines
  • Cash and credit cards
  • Sturdy shoes

Develop an Emergency Communication Plan

In case family members are separated from one another during a tornado (a real possibility during the day when adults are at work and children are at school), have a plan for getting back together.

Ask an out-of-state relative or friend to serve as the "family contact". After a disaster, it's often easier to call long distance. Make sure everyone in the family knows the name, address, and phone number of the contact person.

Tornado Watches and Warnings

A Tornado Watch is issued by the National Weather Service when tornadoes are possible in your area. Remain alert for approaching storms. This is the time to remind family members where the safest places within your home are located, and listen to the radio or television for further developments.

A Tornado Warning is issued by the National Weather Service when a tornado has been spotted by trained weather spotters or has been indicated by weather radar. This is the time to move into a safe, secure location immediately.

Mobile Homes

Mobile homes are particularly vulnerable during a tornado. A mobile home can overturn very easily even if precautions are taken to tie down the unit. When a tornado warning is issued, take shelter in a building with a strong foundation. If shelter is not available, lie in a ditch or low-lying area a safe distance away from the unit.

Tornado Danger Signs

Learn these tornado danger signs:

  • An approaching cloud of debris can mark the location of a tornado even if a funnel is not visible
  • 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

During A Tornado

If at home:

  • Go at once to a windowless, interior room, storm cellar, basement, or the lowest level of the building
  • If there is no basement, to to an inner hallway or a smaller inner room without windows, such as a bathroom or closet
  • Get away from the windows
  • Go to the center of the room. Stay away from corners because they tend to attract debris
  • Get under a piece of sturdy furniture such as a workbench or heavy table or desk and hold onto it
  • Use your arms to protect your head and neck
  • If in a mobile home, get out and find shelter elsewhere

If at work or at school:

  • Go to the basement or to an inside hallway at the lowest level
  • Avoid places with wide-span roofs such as auditoriums, cafeterias, large hallways, or shopping malls
  • Get under a piece of sturdy furniture such as a workbench or heavy table or desk and hold onto it
  • Use your arms to protect your head and neck

If outdoors:

  • If possible, get inside a building
  • If shelter is not available or there is no time to get indoors, lie in a ditch or low-lying area or crouch near a strong building. Be aware of the potential for flooding and flying debris
  • Use your arms to protect your head and neck

If in a car:

  • Never try to out-drive a tornado in a car or truck. Tornadoes can change direction quickly and can lift up a car or truck and toss it through the air.
  • Get out of the car immediately and take shelter in a nearby building
  • If there is no time to get indoors, get out of the car and lie in a ditch or low-lying area away from the vehicle. Be aware of the potential for flooding and flying debris

After a Tornado

  • Help injured or trapped persons
  • Give first aid when appropriate
  • Don't try to move the seriously injured unless they are in immediate danger of further injury
  • Call for help
  • Turn on the radio or television to get the latest emergency information
  • Stay out of damaged buildings. Return home only when authorities say it is safe
  • Use the telephone only for emergency calls
  • Clean up spilled medicines, bleaches, or gasoline or other flammable liquids immediately. Leave the buildings if you smell gas or chemical fumes.
  • Take pictures of the damage -- both to the house and its contents -- for insurance purposes
  • Remember to help your neighbors who may require special assistance (infants, the elderly, and people with disabilities)

Inspecting Utilities in a Damaged Home

Check for gas leaks. If you smell gas or hear a blowing or hissing noise, open a window and quickly leave the building. Turn off the gas at the outside main valve if you can and call the gas company from a neighbor's home. If you turn off the gas for any reason, it must be turned back on by a professional.

Look for electrical system damage. If you see sparks or broken or frayed wires, or if you smell hot insulation, turn off the electricity at the main fuse box or circuit breaker. If you have to step in water to get to the fuse box or circuit breaker, call an electrician first for advice.

Check for sewage and water line damage. If you suspect sewage lines are damaged, avoid using toilets and call a plumber. If water pipes are damaged, contact the water company and avoid using water from the tap. You can obtain safe water by melting ice cubes.

Fujita-Pearson Tornado Scale

F0: 40-72 mph winds, chimney damage, tree branches broken
F1: 73-112 mph wins, mobile homes pushed off foundation or overturned
F2: 113-157 mph winds, considerable damage, mobile homes demolished, trees uprooted
F3: 158-205 mph winds, roofs and walls torn down, trains overturned, cars thrown
F4: 207-260 mph winds, well-constructed walls leveled
F5: 261-318 mph winds, homes lifted off foundation and carried considerable distances, autos thrown as far as 100 meters

More Information

For more information about tornadoes, please visit the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) tornado section.