Preparing for Tornadoes

Tornado Facts and Tips for Tornado Safety

A tornado rips through the countryside. Image courtesy of NOAA

Believe it or not, tornadoes aren't just a Midwest problem. They happen on the coasts as well. I'm a California boy and even in my hometown there have been a few tornadoes.

As you can imagine, those of us with little or no exposure to tornadoes aren't exactly prepared to deal with them. Until I started writing about disasters, the only thing I really knew about tornadoes came from the movie Twister.

Knowing what to do during a tornado can save your life. provides detailed information on tornadoes and other disasters. These are some highlights to help you prepare for tornadoes, as well as what to do to survive a tornado.

Tornado Facts

  • Wind is invisible. You may not see a tornado until the dust, debris, or clouds get sucked into the funnel.
  • Most tornadoes travel toward the Northeast, but tornadoes can move in any direction.
  • Tornadoes usually travel at 30 MPH, but may go as fast as 70 MPH.
  • Tornadoes can form as tropical storms and hurricanes move onto land.
  • Waterspouts are just tornadoes that form over water.
  • Most tornadoes happen east of the Rocky Mountains during spring and summer.
  • Tornadoes occur most often in the early evening, but can happen any time.
  • Flying debris causes the most tornado injuries and deaths.

Tips to Recognize a Tornado

FEMA suggests looking for the following danger signs:

  • Dark, often greenish sky
  • Large hail
  • A large, dark, low-lying cloud (particularly if rotating)
  • Loud roar, similar to a freight train.

Tips to Survive a Tornado

  • In a permanent structure (not a mobile home): Go to the lowest level (cellars are best) in the center of the building. Put as many walls between you and the outside as possible. Stay away from windows and leave them closed. Get under a sturdy table, face down, with your hands covering your head.
  • In a vehicle, trailer or mobile home: Get out! Go to the lowest level of a permanent building or storm shelter. If no permanent building is available, follow the tips below for being in the open. If the tornado is far away, you may be able to avoid it by driving in right angles away from the funnel. Never try to outrun a tornado in congested or urban areas; it's safer to get out and seek shelter or a low, flat area.
  • Out in the open: Lie flat in a depression or ditch, face down with your hands covering your head. Beware of possible flooding. Do not seek shelter under a bridge or overpass; you're safer in a low and flat location. Beware of debris.

Read up on tornado behavior before you get caught in one. There's no time to be searching through the internet for tips when the twister is bearing down on you.

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