Tornadoes can develop very suddenly, which leaves little time to react. Advanced planning is a key to survival.

What is a tornado?

A tornado is a violent windstorm characterized by a twisting funnel shaped cloud. It is spawned by a thunderstorm. They are produced when cool air overrides a layer of warm air, forcing the warm air to rise rapidly. The damage from a tornado is a result of the high wind velocity and windblown debris. 

Tornado season is generally March through August, although tornadoes can occur any time during the year. They tend to occur in the afternoons and evenings. Eight out of ten tornadoes occur between noon and midnight.

Tornado Watches and Warnings

TORNADO WATCH - The National Weather Service issues a tornado watch when conditions are favorable for the development of tornadoes. 

TORNADO WARNING - The National Weather Service issues a tornado warning when a tornado has been sighted or observed on radar. Move to a pre-identified safe room and stay tuned to a battery-operated radio (preferably a weather-alert radio) until the National Weather Service determines that the threat has passed.

Tornado Facts 

  • The United States witness about 100,000 thunderstorms annually, which produce about 1,000 tornadoes.
  • Tornadoes can be made up of numerous mini-funnels.
  • About 42 people are killed annually due to tornadoes.

Key Points

The best protection during a tornado is an interior room on the lowest level of a building - better yet, a basement or storm cellar if they are available.  Tornadoes have incredible wind speeds. Sometimes wind velocity reaches 300 miles an hour, far more than a Category Five hurricane. The winds can uproot trees and structures and turn harmless objects into deadly projectiles. All this can happen in seconds. Mobile homes are particularly vulnerable to tornadoes.

The leading causes of deaths in a tornado are from building collapses, flying debris and the effects of trying to outrun the tornado by car.

Tornadoes are most destructive when they touch ground. While tornadoes can touch the ground many times during their life span, each incident will usually last no more than twenty minutes.


Advanced planning is the key to surviving a tornado. The entire family must be aware that there may be little warning. Having planned their actions prior to the event is critical.


Designate an area in your home as a shelter. This room should be structurally enhanced to protect against flying debris.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency encourages people to have a "safe room" in their house. This room should be structurally enhanced to make it more secure than it was when originally built. If a home being constructed you should consider talking with the contractor about building in extra strength for one of the rooms. It is less expensive to do this during construction than to modify the house later.


  • Get to the lowest level in your home, such as a basement.
  • If your home does not have a basement, go to an area without windows, such as an inner hallway or perhaps a bathroom.
  • Stay away from windows.
  • Use your arms to protect your head and neck.
  • Seek shelter under a sturdy piece of furniture, such as a dining room table.
  • If you are in a mobile home, leave it and seek shelter elsewhere.


  • If a basement exists, use it.  Otherwise seek an interior hall.
  • Avoid facilities with wide span roofs, such as shopping malls, auditoriums and gymnasiums.
  • Use your arms to protect your neck and head.


  • If possible, seek shelter in a building
  • If you do not have time to get inside of a building, seek out low lying ground or a ditch.
  • Crouch near a strong building


  • Tornadoes can change direction and can lift very large vehicles and toss them through the air.
  • Leave your vehicle as quickly as possible and seek shelter in a building.
  • If you cannot reach a building, seek shelter in a low lying area or a ditch.


Dark, often greenish sky 

  • Wall cloud
  • Large hail
  • Loud roar, often described as sounding like a freight train
  • Visible funnel, often with debris below it
  • Rain or low lying clouds can often obscure the funnel
  • The wind could die down and the air become very still just prior to the tornado hitting
  • A cloud of debris could be visible even if the funnel is not

Tornadoes often occur on the trailing edge of thunderstorms. It not uncommon to see sunlit sky behind a tornado.


  • Give aid to the injured.
  • Listen to broadcast news reports.
  • Stay away from damaged buildings. If your neighborhood has been evacuated, return home only after authorities have permitted re-entry.
  • Use telephones only for emergency calls.
  • Clean up spilled medicines, bleaches, gasoline and other hazardous substances.
  • Leave any building in which you can smell gas or chemical fumes.
  • Take photographs of damage to support your insurance claims.