Tornado Safety Information for different Locations and Situations

Some folks go right to their basement the moment the sirens go off. Others head out to the front porch, hoping to see a force of nature. Here’s what you need to do in order to stay safe when a tornado heads towards you.

* What Is a Tornado? *

A tornado is a rotating column of air that extends from a storm cloud to the ground. These destructive dervishes develop in the warm, moist, and unstable air within cold fronts of severe thunderstorms. In addition to high winds, the thunderstorms that generate tornadoes can also produce large hail, although it does not have to be raining in order for a tornado to form.

* When Do Tornadoes Occur? *

Few areas of the world are exempt from tornado activity. Tornadoes have been reported in every U.S. state, and although they most typically occur in the afternoons and evenings of spring and summer, tornadoes can form any time of the year if the weather conditions are right.

* Staying Informed During Threatening Weather *

During threatening weather, keep you eye on your local weather forecast, either by watching your area news broadcasts or viewing updates on their website. Make sure that you have a battery operated radio available in the event that you lose electricity during the storm.

* What Is the Difference Between a Tornado Watch and Warning? *

When the National Weather Service (NWS) issues a tornado watch message, this means that weather conditions are favorable for a tornado to form in your area. A NWS warning means that a tornado has been spotted or indicated by weather radar. Local NWS offices issue watches and warnings on a county-by-county basis.

* What to Do During a Tornado *

If You Are in a Structure:

* Always go to the lowest level of the building; underground in a basement or cellar is ideal.

* Find a windowless central area with as many walls as possible between you and the outdoors, such as a closet, bathroom or interior hallway.

* Areas of the building with close walls, like hallways and small rooms, tend to be more structurally sound than large open areas.

* Stay away from corners, windows, doors, and outside walls.

* If available, get under a piece of sturdy furniture, such as a table or workbench, and use your arms to protect your head and neck.

* Contrary to what you may have heard, do not open the windows and doors. Always keep them closed during a tornado warning. There is not enough of a pressure difference between the tornado and the inside of your home to cause the windows to blow out. And open windows can allow dangerous debris into the home.

If You Are in a Trailer or Mobile Home:

* If one is available, take shelter in a nearby sturdy building. Mobile homes, even if anchored down, are not safe in a tornado. Have a well-built building picked out ahead of time, and go to the lowest level of that structure.

If You Are Outside With No Shelter Available:

* Find a nearby ditch or depression, lie flat, and cover your head with your hands. Be alert for potential flooding.

* Never take shelter under an overpass or bridge. The National Weather Service advises against it because winds become stronger and more focused when they move under an overpass. In addition to the high winds, the wind funneling effect can draw both large and small debris under, posing an additional hazard. No matter how tempting the solid structure of a bridge or overpass appears, you are safer in a low, flat location.

* Do not try to use your vehicle to outrun a tornado when in an urban or potentially congested area. You may become trapped in your car while in the path of the tornado. Leave the vehicle immediately and seek safe shelter.

* Even if you are traveling in a wide open area, trying to outrun a tornado can be risky, since twisters can unexpectedly, and quickly change speed and direction.

* If you must take cover out of doors, try to protect yourself from flying debris. Most fatalities and injuries during a tornado are the result of the airborne wreckage of the storm.

For a complete guide to tornado preparedness, see the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrations NOAA tornado guide or the NOAA’s National Severe Storm Laboratory.