Tips for staying safe during a tornado


Tornadoes are nature's most violent storms and can level neighborhoods in seconds, resulting in multiple fatalities.

That's why it's important to take some basic tornado safety precautions. Hundreds of tornadoes touched down each year in the United States and strikes have occurred in every state, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI).

In this aerial photo, people walk amidst destruction from a tornado that struck Tuesday, March 22, in Arabi, La.

If there is a tornado warning, you should take shelter immediately. Here are some key steps to take if you are under a tornado warning — which means a tornado has been spotted or has been detected on radar — as well as what you should not do.

1. If you are driving on the road — If you see a tornado while driving, do not take shelter under an overpass, and never try to outrun a tornado. The narrow passage underneath an overpass could cause an increase in the wind speed under the bridge, according to weather experts. If the tornado is visible at a far distance, drive at right angles to the perceived path of the twister and seek shelter in a building off the roadway.

But when there is no shelter immediately nearby, experts recommend staying in your car, secured into your seat belt, and putting your head down below the window, covering it with your hands or a blanket if you have one. Or, if you can safely get to a low-lying area such as a ditch or ravine, basically lower than the roadway, then exit the car and lie down in the area and cover your head with your hands or use a protective covering like a blanket or tarp. Flying debris is one of the greatest risks when a tornado hits.

2. If you are at home — Go to a pre-designated shelter area such as a safe room, basement, storm cellar, or the lowest building level. If your house/building does not have such a room, and you know your neighbor’s place does, take shelter in their building (if you have enough time).

If that's not an option and there is no basement, go to the center of an interior room on the lowest level (closet or interior hallway) away from corners, windows, doors and outside walls. Put as many walls as possible between you and the outside. Get under a sturdy table and use pillows, blankets or other cushions to protect your head and neck and putting materials, such as furniture and blankets, around or on top of you, according to FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency). Gather up pets only if time allows.

3. If you live in a mobile home — Leave the mobile home immediately because it will provide little to no shelter from a tornado. Instead, go to a community shelter, if available, or get as far away from your mobile home as possible and lie down in a low-lying area, covering your head with your hands or use a blanket or other kind of covering.

4. At work or school — Follow your tornado drill and proceed to your tornado shelter location quickly. Stay away from windows and do not go to large open rooms, such as cafeterias, gymnasiums, or auditoriums, the National Weather Service advises.

5. Don't open windows and doors — A popular myth is that if you open your windows and doors, the pressure inside and outside the house will equalize, and the tornado will cause less damage. However, this is false, and opening doors and windows only wastes precious time.

Also, don't forget to sign up for weather alerts and notifications ahead of time so that you know when a tornado watch or warning has been issued. And pay attention to weather alerting systems for current emergency information and instructions while sheltering in place.

6. After a tornado strikes — It's important to stay clear of fallen power lines or broken utility lines. Also, do not enter damaged buildings until you are told they are safe.

On average, tornado warnings are issued 13 minutes in advance. This is not a ton of time, but it is more than enough to take shelter. However, other times the lead time is less than 13 minutes. This is why it is important to react to a tornado warning immediately.