Tornadoes can form in a manner of minutes, and the most powerful can pull whole homes from the ground. They are scary, unpredictable storms, but they are survivable. Just follow these five simple steps, and you’ll be ready for the worst.
1. Know where To hide
Established tornado shelters are everywhere, even in areas where tornadoes are relatively rare (these same structures can be used as bomb shelters). You’ll find them at the ground or basement level of schools, hospitals, and most government buildings. They’re also common in the basements of grocery stores and office buildings. Official public shelters are always marked.
Try to identify the public shelters that are nearest to your home, work, and other areas you frequent. If you can’t find any within a short distance, look for basement-level stairwells or other sheltered areas you would seek out in the event of a storm. You’ll be looking for a room on the ground or basement level that puts as many walls as possible between you and the outdoors.
If your home has a basement, consider that your shelter. But if you live in a fabricated wooden home or a mobile home, identify some other place nearby. These buildings will offer no shelter in a tornado.
2. Know what to look for
In the U.S., we have a pretty robust tornado alert system. If NOAA weather-watchers determine that conditions are right for a tornado, they’re announce a tornado watch over the emergency broadcast system. If a tornado actually touches down, that will be upgraded to a tornado warning.
That system works pretty well, but no system is perfect. So you should also know how to detect tornado conditions with eyes and ears.
Before a tornado touches down, people in the area often experience:
- A dark, green-tinted sky
- Large, dark, low-lying clouds
- Large and heavy hail
- A loud roar, like of a train or jet
If you experience any of these phenomena, don’t wait for an emergency broadcast. Seek shelter immediately.
3. Keep your car ready
If you can avoid it, you should never drive in an area under a tornado watch. No vehicle is sturdy enough to provide adequate shelter—in strong storms, they’ll simply become pieces of airbone debris.
But if a tornado forms while you’re out on the road or far from a shelter, or if you live in a home without a basement, you may have no choice but to drive to safety. So take care of your car. Keep the gas tank full, perform regular maintenance, and stock an emergency kit.
If you are driving away from a tornado (which, again, you really shouldn’t do unless you have to), try to drive at a right angle to the storm’s path. Tornadoes have been clocked at speeds up to 70 miles per hour, so you should never try to outrun one.
And fasten your seat belt. Duh.
4. Prep for destruction
If a major tornado comes through your town, the damage will be serious. Expect stores to be closed (or destroyed), utility service suspended, and emergency services delayed. You may be on your own for several hours.
Keep a bag packed with supplies for this worst-case scenario. Store it in your basement, your car, or near your front door, and fill it with:
- Non-perishable food and bottled water
- A first-aid kid (we recommend My Medic’s MyFAK)
- A power system (batteries, a solar charger, or both)
- A powerful flashlight
- A communication system (like a satellite phone, PLB, or goTenna device)
- Extra layers, including rain jackets
- Matches or a cigarette lighter
We also recommend storing the Firefighters’ Handy Rescue Tool Premium from Off Grid Tools. It was designed for use by rescue workers and will allow you to extricate yourself or your neighbors from collapsed buildings.