Severe thunderstorms can spawn tornadoes that vary greatly — from less severe storms that are gone almost as soon as they form to deadly ones that are miles wide and capable of destroying everything in their path.
While it may seem hard to prepare for conditions that can be so unpredictable, there are actually several steps you can take to keep your family safe if a severe thunderstorm is forecasted for your area. Be weather aware and prepared to act: it can save your life.
Tornadoes can happen without much warning. Planning now ensures your family is ready to move to safety quickly:
Know Your Risk
Know your area’s risk for tornadoes. Parts of the country like the Midwest or in “Tornado Alley” (Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota), or areas that get seasonal severe storms (Florida, Georgia, North and South Carolina), you’re at greater risk. Become familiar with local emergency protocols for tornadoes and familiarize your children with the tone of the warning siren.
Sign Up for Emergency Alerts
Weather can change quickly and without warning, exposing you to dangerous tornadoes. Monitor your weather radio (and have extra batteries) to stay on top of the forecast. The National Weather Service will provide updates on weather and emergency alerts. It’s also helpful to download apps that send local emergency alerts directly to your phone. This information can be crucial in knowing when to seek shelter.
Identify a Safe Room
An ideal place to ride out the tornado is a basement or underground storm shelter. If you don’t have one, select a room in the interior, lower level of your house away from windows, doors with glass, and skylights.
Have a Disaster Supplies Kit Ready
Keep an emergency supply kit in or near your safe room. Pack the kit in an easy to carry container, preferably one with a lid that secures tightly in case of high waters or flooding. If possible, you may even consider creating multiple kits, so you can have one in your safe room, one near your home’s exit and one in your vehicle.
Create a List of Emergency Phone Numbers
You may not all be at home together during a tornado. Make sure each of your family members, including your children, know how to contact each other. Store emergency phone numbers in your phones and make sure schools, daycares and the parents of your children’s friends have your contact information as well. Being able to talk to each other after the tornado to check on everyone’s status is vital for your peace of mind.
Stay Safe DURING
Recognize the Signs of a Tornado
The sayings “the calm before the storm” and “it sounds like a freight train” are actually true and clear signs of a dangerous storm — maybe even a tornado — approaching. People who’ve survived some of history’s most dangerous tornados have shared how eerie it can be in the moments right before a tornado touches down. As they describe it, the climate changes from severe lightening, thunder and high winds to a sudden stillness and silence (the calm). Then, the funnel touches down with a roaring sound (like a freight train). You can also look for these signs:
- Dark, green-tinted sky
- Debris-filled cloud approaching
- Large hail
- Rotating funnel-shaped cloud
Seek Safe Shelter
Continue to monitor your weather radio for updates and warnings. Forecasts these days are quite accurate and news teams work hard to give clear and life-saving instructions. When tornado warning sirens sound or you’re notified through the local TV, radio stations or weather radio, seek shelter immediately in your safe room or storm shelter. Once all your family members are in your safe room, you should:
- Get under a heavy table or inside the bathtub
- Put pillows, blankets or even a mattress over you to protect yourselves
- Stay away from windows, glass doors or skylights
If you’re in a vehicle: Stay in the car (parked) and fasten your seat belt. Keep your head below the level of the windows and try to cover your head with a coat, pillow or blanket.
If you’re outside with no shelter or vehicle: Find a ditch or the lowest ground around you and lie down as flat as possible.
If you live in a mobile home or trailer:Get out immediately and seek shelter in a sturdy building or storm shelter.
If possible, bring your pets with you to the safe room or storm shelter. Make sure your pet is wearing a secure collar and identification tag with his or her name and your contact information.
Stay Safe AFTER
Avoid the Storm’s Aftermath
Once a tornado has passed, you may think you’re in the clear. But there are still many dangers. Here are some guidelines:
- Avoid entering damaged buildings until they’re marked safe by authorities
- If you’re trapped beneath rubble, try to cover your mouth with a cloth to avoid breathing dust. Try sending a text, making a phone call, banging on a wall or pipe or using a whistle to attract attention so that help can find you
- If you smell propane gas, leave and call 911 to report it
- Stay clear of downed power lines and fallen trees
- When it’s time to begin cleaning up, be sure to wear sturdy shoes or boots with thick soles, long pants, work gloves and a mask
Continue to Monitor Forecasts
If the weather conditions were right to create one tornado, they may still be right to create another. Stay on high alert and continue to monitor the weather radio for updated information.
Choose a channel for communicating with your loved ones that can provide updates to many or all of them at once, like via group text message or social media to save battery life and to avoid overloading phone lines and broadcasting systems.
Every minute counts. If you’re instructed to seek shelter, do so immediately — don’t hesitate. Your response time can make a significant impact on your family’s safety.
If you or a loved one need medical attention during a disaster, call 911. If you need care after an event has passed, please visit the emergency room or Centra Care location nearest to you.