Before a tornado:
- Know when conditions are right for a tornado to develop.
- Understand the difference between a tornado watch (conditions are right for a tornado to develop) and a warning (a tornado has been sighted or indicated by radar).
- Be aware of weather patterns and when conditions are right for a tornado to develop,
listen to the radio or television for notice of a watch or a warning. Better yet, equip yourself with a NOAA emergency radio. And if you grew up in a tornado alley, pay attention to your own instincts. Some people can “feel” a change in barometric pressure and know the weather is right for a tornado.
- Do not wait until a tornado warning is issued to figure out what to do. Make sure everyone in the family is fully prepared to take responsibility for his or her own safety.
- Know tornado warning signs, as you might not hear a tornado warning siren. Look for a dark, greenish sky, a wall of clouds and hail that can be as large as grapefruits. Before a tornado strikes, the wind may die down and the air may seem eerily still. Eyewitnesses say a tornado sounds like an approaching freight train.
- If you live in a mobile home, identify a nearby safe structure and take shelter as soon as a tornado warning is issued. Don’t wait; even a weak tornado can destroy a mobile home and kill its occupants.
- Learn the truth about tornado myths. Yes, tornadoes are able to cross lakes and large rivers. Yes, tornadoes will strike twice in the same place. Yes, tornadoes strike big cities – just ask the folks in cities like Dallas, Salt Lake City, and St. Louis. And no, opening house windows will not reduce damage by equalizing air pressure.
During a tornado:
- Never underestimate the power of a tornado, one of the most violent forces on earth.
- Stay low and get away from windows or exterior walls as you seek shelter.
- If you’re indoors, shelter in a basement, storm cellar, or the lowest building level. Even in a basement, hide under a heavy worktable or the stairs for protection, and use old blankets to protect against flying debris.
- If you’re indoors and cannot get to a lower level or live in a high-rise, go to the smallest interior room or hallway, as far from the exterior of the building as possible. Put as many walls as possible between yourself and a tornado. Get under a heavy piece of furniture, such as a heavy table or desk. Use your arms to protect your head and neck. If you can’t find anything else, even a metal trashcan pulled over your head can save your life.
- Another possibility is to get in the bathtub and cover yourself with a sofa cushion or mattress for protection from flying debris. The bathtub’s pipes help anchor it, and a bathroom has extra framing that can make a difference. A bathtub might not be the choice if it is located on an exterior wall or there are nearby windows, however.
- If you live in a mobile home, even if it has tie-downs, you should leave and seek shelter somewhere else. Don’t wait. Many tornado deaths occur in mobile home parks.
- At school, go to interior rooms and halls on the lowest floor. Stay away from glass in windows and doors. Crouch down with arms crossed over your head and neck.
- At work, go to interior rooms and halls on the lowest floor and stay away from class. Stay out of elevators in case of power failure. If you’re in a wide-open space like a department store, seek a corner if you’re not able to get into a bathroom, closet or office. Bank vaults and walk-in refrigerators are very safe.
- If you’re driving when a warning is issued, try to drive to the closest place you can take shelter. Do not take shelter under an overpass, which can actually increase the force of the wind by creating a wind tunnel.
- If you cannot get to shelter, get out of the vehicle. Lay facedown, with your arms and hands crossed over your head in a ditch or a depression away from the vehicle.
- If you’re driving and see a tornado, do not try to outrun it. Pull over immediately and shelter with one of the two previous methods.
- If you’re in a car, get out and seek a safe shelter or lie down in a low area again with your hands over your head and neck.
After a tornado:
- Listen to emergency radio stations and stay informed with local authorities before trying to return to an area you may have evacuated.
- Do not move an injured or trapped person unless he or she is in immediate danger of further injury.
- Watch for debris, nails, and damaged structures—most injuries that occur after a tornado afflict people trying to help others who may be stuck or attempting to clean up tornado damage.