How to Prepare for a Tornado

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Scientists have made great strides in their ability to predict, detect, and monitor tornadoes, but these deadly storms still often strike with little or no warning, and they can move very quickly. When a tornado strikes, every second counts, so advance planning is key to survival.


  1. Understand that tornadoes can occur just about anywhere, at any time. The U.S. has the most tornadoes each year, but tornadoes have occurred on every continent except Antarctica. While tornadoes are more common at certain times of year (in the spring and summer in the U.S.), these deadly storms can strike during any month of the year and at any time of the day or night. No matter when you’re reading this article, if you don’t have a plan in place, you should start now, and you should make sure your preparations are up-to-date throughout the year.
  2. Know what to watch for. Tornadoes almost always develop in the presence of thunderstorms (though the thunderstorm may be some distance away from you), so lightning, rain, and hail (especially if occurring after a tornado watch or warning has been issued) should put you on guard. In addition, watch out for the following:
    • Darkening skies, particularly if the sky appears a sickly greenish color
    • Strong, persistent rotation of the cloud base
    • Very calm and quiet conditions during or right after a thunderstorm
    • A rumble or roar that sounds like continuous thunder or, sometimes, a train or jet
    • Whirling debris near the ground, even in the absence of a funnel cloud
    • Blue-green or white flashes at ground level in the distance at night–a sign of power lines being snapped by high winds

  3. Stay informed. Even if you know the signs of a tornado, you can’t always rely on your own eyes and ears alone to know if one is coming. Listen to local radio stations or watch local TV to stay informed, especially during conditions that are likely to form tornadoes.
    • In the U.S. the best way to get information about severe weather is to get a NOAA weather radio. These can be purchased cheaply at most big box retailers and outdoor supply stores. If possible, find one with backup battery power and a tone-alert feature which automatically notifies you when the National Weather Service issues a severe weather watch or warning for your area.
    • Find a website with a local radar link or page. This will give you a real-time look at storm cells in your area, and because you can see the intensity and direction of movement of storm cells and systems relevant to your home, you can judge more accurately when precautions should be taken. Several weather websites have this feature.
    • Find out if your community has tornado sirens and learn what they sound like. If you hear these sirens, seek shelter immediately.

  4. Listen for tornado watches and warnings. The National Weather Service in the U.S. issues both watches and warnings for severe weather.
    • A tornado watch indicates that conditions are right for tornado development and tornadoes are possible in your area. If you hear a tornado watch or a severe thunderstorm watch, you should pay special attention to weather conditions.
    • A tornado warning indicates that a tornado has been seen in your area or that radar indicates the presence of a tornado. If a tornado warning is issued, you should seek appropriate shelter immediately. A severe thunderstorm warning means that a severe thunderstorm has been spotted in your area, and you should take appropriate precautions and watch for tornadoes.
    • Keep maps of your local area handy so that you can identify the location of a storm when it’s reported on the radio.

  5. Identify appropriate shelters at home, work, and school. When a tornado strikes, you often don’t have time to search for an appropriate place to seek shelter. Think about where you’ll go ahead of time so that you’ll be ready in the event of a storm. For more information on where to seek shelter, see this article. In general:
    • Check the structure of your home. In the event you are in your home when a tornado strikes, you should know what area is the most structurally capable of withstanding the force of the tornado. If you have a tornado shelter, that is the best place to go, and if you live in an are that frequently experiences tornadoes, you should consider building such a shelter. Otherwise seek shelter in a basement or, if you don’t have a basement, in an interior room (particularly a bathroom) on the first floor of your house.
    • Know where to go at work or school. The general rules for seeking shelter at home also apply at work or school. If you are in a tornado-prone area, your workplace or school may have a designated shelter.

  6. Prepare a family disaster plan. If a tornado or other disaster strikes, communicating with your family may be difficult or impossible. Plan ahead to make sure everyone knows what to do in the event of a disaster. You should also maintain a disaster supplies kit at all times. If your workplace or school doesn’t have a disaster plan in place, work to develop one.


  • Mobile homes are not a good place to weather severe storms. If you live in one, special care should be taken to watch for weather warnings and alerts to allow time to move to a more safe shelter. Think about neighbors, also. If you have neighbors who live in vulnerable homes, give them a call if you hear about dangerous conditions heading toward them.
  • Keep an eye out for fast moving clouds, especially rotating cloud formations. Often tornadoes drop down vertically and lift straight back up, so you will not always observe them coming toward you.
  • Don’t second guess your decision where to ride out the weather, once a storm is imminent, stay put, and don’t take chances.
  • Purchase a self powered Weather Radio, found at the local Radio Shack, a self powered flashlight, found at the local Wal*Mart, light sticks. Do not use candles, smoke, etc., due to the presence of mangled gas lines and other explosive gases may be present.


  • It goes without saying that tornadoes are deadly weather events. Don’t take any life-threatening chances.
  • Tornadoes are sometimes obscured by clouds or rain, and there is sometimes no visible funnel cloud.

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