How to Respond if a Tornado Hits Close to You

Tornadoes are dreadful and it can be quite easy to panic when such an event occurs. Knowing what to do can assist you, your loved ones, and others save their lives.

Your family’s protection should come first in the event of a tornado warning. You may only have a few seconds to take cover, so instantly activate your tornado strategy. We shall cover several strategies recommended by NOAA, FEMA, and Red Cross on how to keep safe during tornadoes.

Forecasting Tornadoes

A tornado is a rapidly spinning column of air that makes contact with the Earth’s surface, a cumulonimbus cloud, or, very rarely, the base of a cumulus cloud.

At the NOOA Storm Prediction Center (SPC), meteorologists closely monitor weather conditions and issue daily forecast and convective outlooks on severe thunderstorms covering the U.S.

In case conditions that are favorable for tornadoes develop, a severe tornado watch is issued and it typically lasts between four to six hours. Additionally, local forecast offices, emergency managers, storm spotters, and the general public receive severe weather warnings.

When a tornado has been observed or if the weather radar has indicated one, the local National Weather Service Forecast Office issues a tornado warning. People in risk zones are expected to seek refuge right away in such situations.

The Top 7 Tornado Safety Measures

  1. Tornadoes are really scary events and they can happen at any time of the year, especially in high-risk areas. If you ever find yourself in a situation like this, remember that your safety always comes first. You should do a number of things, including:
  2. Look for a place to shelter from the tornado. This should preferably be a building. Do not shelter in a mobile or a manufactured home as these can be blown away.
  3. Once sheltered in a building, move away from any windows. If possible go to the basement or find storm cellars and shelter there.
  4. Ensure that you have your shoes on and if you can access a helmet put it on. It will guarantee you more safety. If you cannot access a helmet, then you should cover your head and neck with your hands.
  5. If you have pets, put them on a leash or in a carrier and take them into the shelter with you. In such a situation, there might be a lot of confusion and panic and it will be easy to lose your pets so keep them close.
  6. One of the recommendations given by NOAA is to avoid running away from a storm. It can be dangerous and impossible to outrun a storm. Never try to drive away from or leave your home during a tornado.
  7. It is good to have some knowledge of a few weather terms so you can easily interpret the weather reports. This will help you understand the status of the situation and also know when it is safe to come out. Common weather terms include:
  • Severe thunderstorm warning
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A warning that a severe thunderstorm is occurring or about to occur in the warning region, as determined by spotters or by radar. These alerts typically last between 30 and 60 minutes.

  • Severe thunderstorm watch

Severe thunderstorms are forming because of the atmosphere inside and outside the watch area. These storms produce wind gusts of at least 58 mph and hail up to 34 inches in diameter.

  • Tornado Warning

A tornado has been observed by spotters or has been detected on the radar; it is currently occurring or is about to occur in the warning area. People in the impacted area are urgently advised to seek cover immediately once a tornado warning has been issued.

  • Tornado watch

In and around the watch region, conditions are ideal for the development of powerful thunderstorms and numerous tornadoes. People in the impacted areas are urged to exercise caution in advance of severe weather.

  • Tornado emergency
  • This warning is extremely uncommon and only issued in the most dangerous circumstances.

Choosing the Right Shelter When a Tornado Occurs

  • If you are already inside a building, move towards a basement or a storm cellar. If the house has none of this,  move to an interior room that is far from windows, corners, doors and outside walls. Find a safe location in the middle of the structure; it can be a closet or a bathroom. When you get there, cover your head and neck with your arms and hide underneath something solid, like a table.
  • If the tornado finds you in a manufactured or mobile home, you should leave immediately and seek shelter in a contemporary building. Mobile homes are not safe to shelter as they can easily be blown away even if the home has steady foundations. Seek refuge in the interior, far-away-from-window rooms of surrounding buildings.
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What Should You Do If a Tornado Appears While You’re Driving on the Highway?

If the Tornado Is Visible From a Far Enough Distance?

If from reports you can gauge that the tornado is far enough from your current location, or if you can see it in the distance, NOAA advises drivers to drive out of its path while moving at right angles. If the tornado is headed eastwards, drive towards the south. This helps to ensure that the tornado does not find you on its way and sweep you off. Remember that this is not an attempt to flee from a tornado.

You are advised to seek shelter from sturdy buildings such as nearby truck stops, convenience stores, basements, restaurants or walk-in coolers. When you find a spot to take cover, avoid rooms with windows. Be sure to find a room without windows, in the basement, or in the middle of the structure.

What if the threat of a tornado is imminent?

You should park as soon as you can if you see strong gusts or flying debris. NOAA suggests one of the following actions from here:

  • Stay put in your car, make sure your seatbelt is buckled properly and cover your head with a blanket, cushion or jacket. You should also duck to a distance below your car’s windows.
  • If it is safe to get out of the car, do so and go to a place that is lower than the roadway, preferably a ditch or a depression. Duck or lie down and make sure to cover your head with your hands.

What You Should NEVER do.

Some tactics are strongly advised against during a tornado and you should never do any of them.

  • You should not lie under your car. Debris could end up falling over it and covering you.
  • Avoid seeking shelter below an underpass as these openings experience stronger winds. According to NOAA, anyone seeking shelter beneath a highway overpass faces a high chance of being blown out and carried away by the tornado winds and turning into a stationary target for flying debris.
  • Avoid sheltering under bridges and tunnels. Bridges and tunnels do not shield you from a tornado’s winds since they lack four walls.
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There is a common misconception that it is safe to park under an overpass or a bridge. Just as we mentioned earlier, these structures form a channel for the wind making it much more dangerous.

Remain informed.

Once you have sheltered and feel a bit safe, make sure to stay up to date on what is happening outside. It is important to get the latest ongoings to further increase your safety in case any evacuations are to take place.

You can either:

  • Find the local weather emergency channel for storm updates on your radio.
  • Tune in to the Weather Channel to get real-time weather alerts. You will also get an interactive radar feature on the Channel.
  • Download a weather app on your phone for updates. Make sure to turn on the notifications.
  • Access the meteorologists’ radar scope, which provides real-time data on the distance between the storm or tornado and the user. It however costs $10 to access.
  • Use Storm Eye. It provides information on the storm path, its location, intensity and hail size.
  • Access Tornado by the American Red Cross. When a tornado warning is in effect, an alert is sounded.

Steps to Take After the Tornado Has Passed

Once it has been confirmed that the tornado has passed, and it is safe to come out of the place you were sheltering in, keep an eye on dangerous debris. These include things like:

  • Power lines that have fallen.
  • Broken gas lines
  • Sharp debris

The NOAA urges you to be aware of tornado warning signs and that safety is not guaranteed within a tornado.


Tornadoes happen from time to time and they can cause a lot of damage and even loss of life. If you live in high-risk areas, it is important to stay keen and updated on weather conditions such that if anything were to happen you would have time to shelter and keep safe. In these situations, safety is paramount and should be put first.

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