How to Survive a Tornado: a Step-by-Step Guide

Tornadoes are horns of rapidly circling air reaching up to 318 mph. Every US state has had a tornado registered, meaning that there’s no area that is completely safe from this natural disaster. That’s why it’s essential to develop a preparedness plan regardless of the area in which you reside.

This guide has all the information you need to understand how to survive a tornado and what to do before, during, and after such an emergency. 

Tornadoes in the US 

Although tornadoes can occur in any part of the world, they are most common in the US. These calamities attain the greatest vigor in the Great Plains of the central United States, with Weld County, Colorado, showing the most instances over the years 1950-2016.

Tornado Warning Signs

"Tornado Shelter" sign

When tornadoes occur, the sky becomes dark-greenish, and black storm clouds gather. Often, a hail of approximately the size of a baseball starts falling. Then, a funnel emerges from a cloud. As it hits the ground, it usually creates a roar similar to a cargo train approaching. 

But is there a way to predict that a tornado is approaching? Some warning signs include:

  • Violent thunderstorms with frequent lightning and thunder 
  • A whistling or a rumbling sound 
  • An unusually dark sky sometimes filled with yellow or green clouds 
  • A funnel cloud at the rear base of a thundercloud

According to the FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), one should look for danger signs like low-lying dark clouds, boisterous roars, and large hail. 

Interpreting Tornado Warning Signals 

There are two types of tornado warning signals you should familiarize yourself with:

  • Tornado watch. This means that there’s a possibility of tornadoes occurring in your area, and you should stay tuned to the radio or TV news.
  • Tornado warning. It’s an alert that signifies that a tornado is on the ground or is detected by Doppler radar. Seek shelter without delay!

  • Check the NOAA Weather Radio frequently or create an account at Wireless Emergency Alerts to keep yourself updated. 

    How to Prepare Yourself for a Tornado 

    An open storm cellar

    Besides knowing the tornado signs and interpreting the warning signals, there are some steps you should undertake to prepare yourself for this natural disaster:

    1. Determine the Safest Place to Take Shelter

    Unfortunately, there cannot be an entirely safe place during a tornado. However, some spots are safer than others, namely:

    • A basement
    • A storm cellar
    • An innermost room with no windows

    If you reside in a mobile house, determine a nearby building that you can reach quickly in case of a natural disaster, as it is dangerous to stay in a vehicle during a tornado. If the area is susceptible to frequent tornadoes, motivate your mobile home community to create a tornado shelter. 

    2. Take Measures to Deal with the Emergency 

    How to prepare for a tornado at home? Follow these guidelines to make yourself ready for an emergency

    • Get a floor plan of your building, mark the suitable spots for shelter on it according to the recommendations listed above, and inform other residents about it. 
    • Find multiple ways to exit the house. Know the exact location of any special equipment, like a ladder or rope, that may be required. 
    • Place fire extinguishers and emergency kits at secure places where these are easily accessible in case of emergency and inform the household members about their location. 
    • Make sure that the people around you also understand the tornado warning system. 
    • Put extra effort into educating your kids about tornadoes and teach them how to take shelter. 

    3. Have an Emergency Supply Kit 

    Make sure you have emergency supplies that can be utilized after a tornado. It should include essential items, such as a first aid kit, emergency food, and water for at least three days. 

    For more information on kit lists (on-foot, ready-to-load, meals, vehicle, work, pet, wellness, and toiletries), check the guidebook inside your Grab + Go Box.

    Also, find out more about where to store your emergency kit in this guide.

    What to Do to Survive a Tornado?

    "Seek Shelter!" sign

    Follow these key tornado survival tips to safeguard yourself during a natural disaster: 

    • As soon as you receive a tornado warning, go to the safest location you have identified without wasting a second. Call your household members to gather there as well. 
    • Pay attention to NOAA Weather Radio, EAS, or local altering systems for recent emergency updates and instructions. 
    • Cover your neck and head with your arms to protect yourself. You can also place blankets around you. 

    If you are in a vehicle and see the tornado approaching from far away, you may be able to drive out of its path if the traffic is light. If seeking shelter in a building isn’t possible and you are in a zone with strong winds or flying debris, park the car away from the road and stay inside with the seat belt on.

    Your head should be below the window level, covered with your hands and a blanket, coat, or another soft item. Don’t seek shelter under bridges, as they can create deadly traffic hazards while offering little protection in surviving a tornado.

    Suggestions to Stay Safe After a Tornado

    The consequences of a tornado

    With the advice listed above, your chances of surviving a tornado are very high. However, even after the natural disaster seems to be over, there are situations for which you should be prepared. Here are some additional tornado survival tips:

    • If you are trapped, try shouting, banging on a pipe or wall, sending a text message, or whistling. 
    • Seek medical help if you have bleeding, open wounds, or other injuries. Do not try to move if you are seriously injured unless you are in immediate danger of further injury.
    • Stay away from damaged buildings, broken utility lines, fallen power lines, and materials like broken glass, nails, etc. 
    • Wear suitable gear while cleaning your house. It may include long pants, face coverings, thick-soled shoes, and work gloves. 

    Although we cannot stop natural calamities, we can take measures to protect ourselves from them. If you reside in areas where such disasters occur frequently, focus on gaining enough knowledge on how to survive a tornado and take time to prepare both mentally and physically.