Tornados are known for sudden appearances and deadly intensity. Most common in the Great Plains and Midwest, tornados are highly unpredictable and can occur anywhere when warm, moist air systems collide to trigger severe storms. With wind speeds from seventy to over two hundred fifty miles per hour, you must be prepared to act quickly in order to survive a tornado.
An emergency kit should be prepared long before a tornado is imminent. Basic supplies include a flashlight, radio, batteries, first aid items, nonperishable food, bottled water, fire extinguisher, sturdy shoes, and blankets. Store the kit near a storm shelter or the interior room that serves as a tornado safety room to ensure it can be reached immediately.
Because tornados form rapidly and are difficult to predict, most offer very little warning of their approach. Radio and television warnings should be taken seriously and shelter sought immediately. Many tornados strike without warning, and a loud rumbling or roaring noise, similar to a freight train, may indicate a funnel’s proximity. Erratic wind patterns hail and uneven cloud bases are other indications of possible tornado formation.
If there is sufficient time as the storm approaches, travel to a designated tornado shelter such as a school, church, or other concrete public building with few windows and reinforced construction. In tornado-prone areas, many people construct such shelters in their own homes. A tornado safe room should have extra fortifications that separate the walls and ceiling from home’s structure in case the house is destroyed by the storm. A safe room should be strongly anchored to the home’s foundation for the best chance of withstanding a severe tornado.
Most people do not have personal shelters and there may not be enough time to reach a designated shelter. For the best protection in your home, stay away from windows and keep them tightly closed. The idea of opening windows to equalize air pressure and minimize damage is a myth – opening windows only lets the wind in more quickly and makes it easier for the tornado to rip a home apart.
A basement, closet, bathroom, or another interior, windowless room on the first floor is the best option for immediate shelter. Bring your emergency kit and crouch under sturdy furnishings, such as a workbench, heavy table, or bed and cover yourself with a mattress or blankets to protect against flying debris. The idea is to put as many protective walls and other coverings between you and the storm as possible.
Underneath a staircase is a good option for shelter, because stairs are built to withstand heavy loads and often lead to exits, offering an efficient rescue path if necessary. Resist the urge to check on the storm’s progress and wait at least thirty minutes to an hour before venturing out to assess any damage. Severe storms may spawn multiple tornados, so be prepared to remain in a sheltered area for several hours.
If you are driving as the storm approaches, try to reach shelter immediately in the nearest building. Do not attempt to race a tornado: they can change directions suddenly, increase speed without warning, and flying debris in a wide arc away from the visible funnel that can obstruct roadways and damage vehicles. Instead, stop safely and lie face down in a ditch or low-lying area, using your hands and arms to protect the back of your head and neck. Contrary to popular belief, an overpass or tunnel is not a wise shelter area because as the tornado passes the winds become concentrated and create a powerful wind tunnel.
After the storm has passed, tend to any injuries and be cautious while sifting through debris. Broken glass, live electrical wires, and gas leaks are frequent hazards after a tornado. If no warnings were issued about the storm, call the police, radio stations, or local news stations immediately to report the intensity of the storm and help save additional lives.
With careful preparation and quick responses, it is possible to survive even the most severe tornado. An adequate emergency kit and reinforced shelter are essential tools, while adaptability and quick thinking help keep you ahead of any unpredictable storm.