Tornado Preparedness: The Essentials

Tornado Preparedness: The Essentials

The tornado, also known as twisters and cyclones, is the most violent storm in nature, and tornado preparedness in regions prone to them is essential.  It is a rotating column of air that is in contact with the ground and a cumulonimbus cloud.  The majority of tornadoes have wind speeds of under 110 miles per hour, but some can reach 300 miles per hour.  Very extreme tornadoes can stretch to more than two miles wide, though most are smaller.  Tornadoes may accompany hurricanes and other tropical storms as they move inland.  Most tornadoes move Southwest to Northeast, but they can move in any direction.  Tornadoes can develop quickly so they may strike with little or no warning.  Most twisters occur east of the Rocky Mountains, though every state has some risk.  Every year, on average, twisters kill around 60 people and cause $400 million dollars in damage.  The risk to life, limb, and property can be mitigated against with proper tornado readiness though.  The following guide offers some tips for doing just that.

Tornado Preparedness – Know the Signs of an Impending Tornado

Tornadoes may gather and strike with little or no advanced warning which highlights the need for advance tornado preparedness.  However, before a tornado hits:

  • An unusual black or green color to the sky may indicate a tornado is coming.
  • The wind may quiet down and the air may become very still.  The calm may be preceded by hail or heavy rainfall.
  • A loud roaring sound may be heard.  Tornadoes have been described as sounding like a jet engine, a locomotive, or a strong waterfall.
  • A debris cloud may indicate the location of a tornado, even if the characteristic funnel is not seen yet.
  • Before dirt and debris are picked up, the tornado may appear transparent.
  • Tornadoes can accompany tropical storms, so be on guard as they make landfall.

Receive Tornado Alerts

Emergency Alert System for Tornado Preparedness

Emergency Alert System

There are a number of ways to be alerted of a coming storm.  These include:

  • Tune into NOAA Weather Radio.  NOAA will provide alerts of dangerous weather patterns.
  • If you use a mobile device, consider installing a Tornado alert app.  Both free and paid solutions are available for Apple iOS and Google Android.
  • If you community has a siren installed, know the sound and heed the warning.
  • Commercial radio and television broadcasts can also be monitored.

When a Tornado Warning Sounds

If a tornado strikes, seek shelter IMMEDIATELY.   Depending on where you are:

  • If in a structure (e.g., home, school, factory, hospital, office, et al.), go to a pre-designated shelter area such as the basement, safe room, storm cellar, fallout shelter, etc.  If there is no basement or lower level, get the center of an interior room.  If in a school, do not shelter in a auditorium, cafeteria, or gymnasium.  Do not use elevators as power may fail.
  • If in a passenger vehicle, stop, get out of the vehicle, and lie flat in a ditch or other low area.  Do not get under your vehicle.  It is not advisable to take shelter under a bridge.
  • If in a mobile home or trailer, leave immediately and seek shelter in a nearby building or storm shelter.  If caught outside with no shelter, lie flat in a depression or ditch, but be aware of possible flooding.  Cover your head and neck from flying debris.
  • Never attempt to outrun a tornado on foot or in a vehicle.

A big part of tornado preparedness is planning – including knowing in advance where you will find shelter when one strikes.

Preparing for a Tornado Before One Strikes

Steps can be taken to before a tornado incident that can greatly reduce the possibility of injury.  These include:

  • Build a disaster kit and have it available in your home and/or place of business.
  • Invest in a NOAA Weather Radio.
  • Review the materials available from the American Red Cross on tornado preparedness.  The ARC also has a free mobile app for iOS and Android that provides a great deal of training and information on the topic.
  • If the means are available, the best protect would be to install a safe room in your home or business.  These may be built in existing structures or separately.
  • Consider obtaining or installing a backup generator in the event of extended power outages.

Additional details on tornado readiness are available on the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s website, and state and county level emergency organizations.  Issues related to tornado preparedness may also be discussed on the Disaster.com forum.  Sign up is quick, easy, and totally free.

Citations

  1. The Online Tornado FAQ (by Roger Edwards, SPC). (2015, January 25). Retrieved February 10, 2015, from http://www.spc.ncep.noaa.gov/faq/tornado/
  2. Taking Shelter From the Storm: Building a Safe Room For Your Home or Small Business (3rd ed.). (2008). Washington DC: FEMA.
  3. Allaby, M. (1997). Tornadoes. New York: Facts On File.
  4. Tornadoes. (2014, April 30). Retrieved February 10, 2015, from http://www.ready.gov/tornadoes
  5. Are you ready? An In-depth Guide to Citizen Preparedness (pp. 7, 57-65). (2002). Washington, D.C.: FEMA.
  6. U.S. Tornadoes as Deadly, Costly as Hurricanes: Lloyd’s. (2013, February 13). Retrieved February 10, 2015, from http://www.propertycasualty360.com/2013/02/27/us-tornadoes-as-deadly-costly-as-hurricanes-lloyds
  7. (n.d.). Retrieved February 10, 2015, from http://www.brunswick.oh.us/Fire/Tornado_TipSheet_WarningSigns_v3.pdf
  8. Storm Aware. (n.d.). Retrieved February 11, 2015, from http://stormaware.mo.gov/alerts/
  9. Governor’s Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Preparedness | State of Louisiana. (n.d.). Retrieved February 11, 2015, from http://gohsep.la.gov/tornado.aspx
  10. Safety in Schools. (2011, September 1). Retrieved February 11, 2015, from http://www.crh.noaa.gov/images/dvn/downloads/backgrounder_DVN_Tornadoes.pdf
  11. Tornado Preparedness, from http://www.ready.gov/tornadoes

Zachariah Amela

Zachariah is a writer with Disaster.com and is an Information Technology professional. He has worked with and contributed to disaster relief organizations and has a strong interest in emergency management, wireless communications, Civil Defense, and family preparedness. He lives in the Pacific Northwest and is married with children. When not working or writing, he enjoys time with the family, hiking, trap/skeet shooting, and reading.

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Discussion
  1. Guest
    I\'m from the West Coast, but I went to Minnesota for college. The first time I heard the tornado siren test, I was very confused because it was the same sound as our tsunami warning. I didn\'t see anyone running so I stayed put. I later asked my friends and they told me what it was. Luckily there was only one time were we were put at the warning level while I was there.
    I know that tornadoes can be devastating. I think the best thing IAS to avoid the area by leaving if possible. A good underground cellar could be the next best thing in dry weather.
    Those are some very good ideas. I live in Florida and we don't get that many tornadoes, but we get a lot of severe thunderstorms. Having a weather radio is good and it will wake you if there is an impending storm.
    Inside a vehicle is the worst place to be when a tornado strikes. What if one is in a diner, away from nearby buildings and places. This situation would be a real cause for concern. Perhaps if diners install underground basements as well, it would help a lot.
    If you're living anywhere near or inside tornado alley you can bet that the houses there have tornado shelters and basements in their homes. People in that part of the US have learned to live with that kind of disaster for a long time now. Not being from there though, this is a good resource to learn and be familiar with.
    I'm originally from the West Coast and moved to the Midwest a few years ago so it was an interesting transition for me to make. Yes a lot of the houses here do have basements but there's also a great deal of people who also live in trailers and a lot of the newer homes don't have basements. Generally almost all the older homes in the region do. When sirens go off it's not uncommon for people to immediately head to a local church because they often have large basements and supplies.

    Always heed the warnings no matter what. Do not take them for granted because tornadoes are unpredictable in where they will form and where they will go. The weatherman can get pretty close about where they will generally form but you never want to take chances.
    The following is an introductory guide to tornado preparedness. It covers how to prepare of and respond to a tornado.

    The tornado, also known as twisters and cyclones, is the most violent storm in nature, and tornado preparedness in regions...

    [Now, is the season, its the right time to start preparing for any type of disasters. It is better to be safe than sorry. The Atlantic Hurricane season starts on June 1 every year. Although some times we have disasters struck before the month of June. There are times at the beginning of the year when we start having a active hurricane season long before the month of June. For persons living near coast and low line areas its best you start getting ready to leave as these are the areas that are most hit when a disaster struck. Please see to it that you are stock up on non perishable, all your important papers are rap in plastic containers, if babies are in the families try to stock up on a lot of baby foods and warm clothing. medications are to be put up securely and administer to the elderly if necessary.
    As I am living in a city, tornadoes are so rare to be seen. I just want know, can we even predict when a tornado will be formed? I am aware of dust devils (small tornadoes), but I do not know if it can inflict heavy damage like a usual tornado? Thanks for the answers :)
    mwin43587
    As I am living in a city, tornadoes are so rare to be seen. I just want know, can we even predict when a tornado will be formed? I am aware of dust devils (small tornadoes), but I do not know if it can inflict heavy damage like a usual tornado? Thanks for the answers :)


    A dust devil is similar to a tornado in that is wind that is swirling around; but there is not water or rain involved like there is in a tornado. While a dust devil will certainly cause a dust storm, and move a lot of dirt around; they are not usually known to cause any serious damage like a tornado does.

    Weathermen can tell when the conditions look right for a tornado to form; but no one knows whether one will actually form or not, until it does. In this respect, it is unlike a hurricane, which people know is coming days ahead of time and have time to prepare.

    With a tornado, you may only have minutes to get to a shelter. Almost any time that there is a heavy thunderstorm, there is also a possibility of a tornado, and when a warm front and a cold front collide, then the chances are much greater.

    Tornadoes are a hit and miss kind of a tthing, too, again, unlike the hurricane, which just devastates anything in its path. The tornado might totally destroy one house, and leave the house next door virtually untouched.

    Since a tornado is so unpridictable; and happens so suddenly; you just have to be prepared to deal with one at any time. Although the spring and summer are the usual seasons for tornadoes, they can happen even in the winter.

    Even though the tornado has only lasted a short time, if it has taken out powerlines and cell towers; you can be without power and communications for days afterwards.

    When we had the tornadoes here, we had no power in the whole area for around a week; so all stores and businesses were closed. Anything that you didn't already have; there was no way to go and get it afterwards. That is why it is important to plan ahead and be prepared for tornado season.
    It seems this could be an active year, at least in my area, but I'm thinking overall, since the plains states are also experiencing quite a bit of severe weather already. We had 2 waterspouts nearby recently (basically tornadoes over water), and there are no basements down here, since the water table is so high, here along the coast.

    Your comment is the first time I've heard that about churches, it's great that people have a communal, safe place to go. That could be a fantastic marketing tool for local churches, I wonder if they've considered using it? Come meet the staff and congregation, tour the building, come seek shelter from the storm...I can see putting that on a billboard and flyers, and growing the congregations that way.
    We have not experienced real tornadoes here except for some minor ones which made dried leaves flew up in the air. But I have heard that in provinces there were incidents of tornadoes. Since there is no tornado prediction so what they do there is to just be aware of the surroundings particularly the hissing sound before the tornado occurs. But shelter or refuge, we have nothing like that.

    With the billboards and tarpaulins, they are put down when there is a storm signal. I'm glad that it's now a standard operating procedure by the billboard advertiser's organization.
    A tornado descending in a column is an incredible sight. Shallow tornados do most damage. People living in tornado-prone states must install Advance warning systems and have a storm cellar built in every residential complex.
    Bonzer
    A tornado descending in a column is an incredible sight. Shallow tornados do most damage. People living in tornado-prone states must install Advance warning systems and have a storm cellar built in every residential complex.


    You really can't have an advance warning for a tornado. It is not like a regular storm where you can know it is coming and prepare for it. The only warning that you can have is that conditions are right for a tornado where you are at, and that has to come from storm-watchers. Once a tornado is on the ground, they can usually plot itscourse, and warn people where it is headed for. However, they are erratic and a tornado can totally one house, and leave the one right next door untouched. .

    Most places have warning sirens for tornado warnings; but if you live in the country, then you just have to listen to the weather report, and keep an eye on what the weather is doing, and be ready to get in a safe place if and when a tornado does touch down.

    Storm cellars are a great idea; but in some states they are at a low enough altitude that they can't have basements or cellars without them flooding.

    If they are able to build a storm cellar into a hillside, then it is still on the level with the ground and not as likely to flood, although you also get torrential rains with the storm that brings the tornado.
    I'm in a city that, although it is somewhat rural and very "small town", has an OUTSTANDING EMA and wonderful volunteers and emergency workers. We have a great notification system and sirens everywhere that are tested weekly. They utilize social media to make sure people heard them. They share articles like the one linked in the OP often and offer advice to citizens about preparedness and have even given away weather alert radios. Still, many people do not pay attention and seem to not know what to do when we have severe risk. I wish there were more ways to get attention.
    Thank God we've never had Tornado's here where I live, at least in the area I live in, but we're very prone to earthquakes. I think a lot of points here you've mentioned do make a lot of sense and they're very very important. It has to get more attention for preparedness.
    Just about anywhere that a person chooses to live, there are some kind of weather-related problems to deal with.

    Some places , it is tornadoes, other places, snowstorms/blizzards, hurricanes, heat/drought, and of course, earthquakes. It simply makes good sense to be as prepared as possible to deal with any kind of a disaster where you might lose electricity, water, and the ability to purchase needed supplies.

    When you know the kind of natural disaster most common to where you live, then you should take whatever precautions are needed for that type of disaster.

    Some houses are better than others for surviving a tornado, and mobile homes are about the worst places to be. It seems like every tornado trashes out at least one mobile home park. If you have to live in one, at least choose one that has a community shelter, or find out where the nearest public shelter is at.

    Churches often have a public shelter available in their basement. When we had the tornadoes here, the churches were also the first places to help the tornado victims afterwards. Many churches set up temporary shelters for people whose homes had been destroyed, and also gave free meals to people who needed them.

    Since there was no power, and not much of any way to cook food, sometimes, what they could give people was only sandwiches; but it was still a blessing to people who had no place to live or get food.

    I try to get a few extra canned food items each time that I shop. Most of the food in cans can actually be eaten cold out of the can if necessary. Crackers are good because they will keep much better than bread does, and you can use crackers for mini-sandwiches.

    If you rotate your extra food supply and use the oldest ones first, then you should be fine if a tornado does strike and you have to live on the canned food for a few days.

    Radios and lanterns that use solar power or can be hand cranked are a good idea for any kind of an emergency, and every home should have one or two of these.
    I was in the hospital yesterday to visit my uncle. He is quite okay so the conversation segued and segued until the topic of his mother was reminisced. I remember the story of his mother who was lifted up in the air by a tornado or maybe a cyclone? She flew more than 10 feet in the air and fortunately the wind was kind enough to put her down gently. Except for the trauma, she suffered no major injury.
    Alexandoy
    I was in the hospital yesterday to visit my uncle. He is quite okay so the conversation segued and segued until the topic of his mother was reminisced. I remember the story of his mother who was lifted up in the air by a tornado or maybe a cyclone? She flew more than 10 feet in the air and fortunately the wind was kind enough to put her down gently. Except for the trauma, she suffered no major injury.


    It's amazing how tornadoes will do that, totally devastating one area or building, then the next one will be unharmed. Before I moved here, a small tornado touched down and damaged the house next door. For years, it was left like that, open to the environment, with water and animals getting in, while the owner lived there. It was really crazy. Every night at dusk I would see heads pop up, out the side of the house, as the raccoons living in his attic woke up and decided to go on the prowl. Thankfully, the new owner fixed the house, but it was a good reminder of what could happen.
    Diane Lane


    So they don't announce watches or warning on the radio and television, or by local sirens? We have a siren here in the neighborhood, but I'm not exactly sure what they use it for. There was an explosion nearby when I first moved here, and I believe it went off at that time, but it's not manned, so someone has to get there to set it off, and I'm not sure that would be possible with a tornado, since they often occur quickly.

    Unfortunately, I have a feeling the government in Ciudad Acuna probably didn't have much of an alert system either, which is probably why at least 10 people died in the tornado there yesterday.

    In that case, it would definitely be worth knowing what signs to watch for, that would signal impending rotation/tornadoes. I've never heard of a hissing sound, here it's described as the roar of a freight train, but I'm sure the geography, conditions, and infrastructure there are different, so that could be why.


    No, we don't have such sirens for a tornado warning. In fact, our only alert system is the media - traditional and digital. People rely on tv and radio for news about an impending disaster like typhoons, tsunamis, tornadoes and the like. That is why there was a huge number of deaths when the public did not heed the warning on the tsunami simply because the media used the term STORM SURGE that would result in a tsunami or tidal wave.
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