According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), in an average year, 1,000 tornadoes are reported in the United States. The Midwestern states are the sites of most tornado activity, but these catastrophic weather events have also increased in frequency in the Southern United States. If you live in, or near these areas, it is crucial that you and your family know how to survive a tornado. These storms can sometimes occur without warning. So, you want to have a strategy that you can immediately refer to if this weather event happens.
You can prepare for a tornado by identifying shelter that can withstand high winds, knowing the emergency plans of your workplace and child’s school, and selecting a reliable radio station for weather updates.
Your ultimate goal should be to stay informed as well as to educate your family about the steps they should take if they are not with you. In addition to the preparation tips above, below are additional ways you can successfully prepare for a tornado in your area.
Know the Signs of a Tornado
Even though we have more access to news and weather reports than ever before, you might not always be up-to-date on what is happening around you. This reason is why it is essential to know the signs of tornado formation for yourself.
Tornadoes are created in thunderstorms. So, if a violent storm is occurring in your area keep an eye out for the following:
- A dark and greenish sky
- Large hail
- A loud roar-like sound
These signs in combination with violent winds could signal the arrival of a tornado. Keep an eye on the seasons as these events are also more likely to happen in the afternoon and during the spring and summer months.
So, be aware of these conditions in your area. Also, share them with your family, so they know what to look for. While these occurrences may not always signal the arrival of a tornado, it is better to be safe than sorry.
If you can access a weather report on your phone, computer, or radio, do so for confirmation. For example, the NOAA weather radio station is a great choice. However, if you cannot, you may still want to engage in your evacuation plan with your family.
It also helps to be aware of the difference between a tornado warning and a watch. A tornado warning means that one has been sighted in your area while a watch signifies that a tornado is possible. The former means that you should immediately locate shelter in your area.
Locate Shelter or Prepare a Room in your Home
You have two options depending on the severity of the tornado. You can either locate shelter away from your home or seek shelter within it.
Regardless of what you choose, you should make a decision ahead of time so you can seamlessly move into your preparation plan. You do not want to waste time deciding where to go; you already want to have that information ahead of time.
If you decide to leave your home, you should have a designated place for shelter. This place could be the home of a family member or friend that is outside of the tornado’s path or a locally designated shelter.
Wherever you choose to go, make sure that it is reasonably easy to get to, and that it is sturdy enough to withstand the conditions caused by a nearby tornado.
You can also decide to stay home and prepare it to act as a reliable shelter. The goal is to secure yourself in the lowest room in your home, so an area like a basement would be ideal. It would also be best if the room was windowless and small. If possible, create a safe room that is built using FEMA’s safe room criteria.
Again, decide where you will go before a tornado happens, so you don’t have to waste time choosing where to go.
Have a Family Evacuation and Emergency Plan
If you do decide to leave your home, you need to have an evacuation plan that includes the following:
- Where you are going to for shelter
- Multiple routes that will get you there safely (having options will allow you to prepare for potential road closures)
- A list of two or three other locations where you can go for shelter if your original site is compromised
- Where everyone will meet in the home to prepare to leave
- The location of an emergency kit, and who is responsible for attaining it
You should also include a section of your plan that guides everyone on what to do if you are separated. So, have a place inside your home to meet if there is an in-house emergency.
Also, designate a location outside your house where everyone can meet if the family is out and about for the day. This could be a nearby shelter, the youngest child’s school, or another location that makes sense for your family.
It is also a good idea to have an emergency contact that is not in the immediate area that everyone can reach. For example, you may not be able to reach one another in the chaos of the tornado.
Local phone lines may be overwhelmed by emergency calls. So, have your family check in with a person outside of the area that can confirm everyone is okay.
Lastly, ensure that you have already created an emergency kit to either use in your home or to take with you. It should include the following:
- Hand-crank or battery-powered radio
- One gallon of water per day per person (plan for a few days if you evacuate, and two weeks if at home)
- Non-perishable food items
- Essential medications
- Family first-aid kit
- Portable USB chargers
- Rain gear
- A multi-purpose tool
- A change of clothes and shoes
- Toiletries and personal hygiene items
- Local maps
- Copies of all family documents (IDs, passports, insurance information, deeds)
- Additional sets of car and house keys
- Sleeping bags
- Bleach (to purify water)
- Any other items that are essential to your situation
Again, tornadoes can happen at any time and any place. So, you should also have a variation of this emergency kit in your car and at your workplace.
You may even want to have older children carry essential items like a first-aid kit, non-perishable food items, bottled water, a two-way radio, and a portable charger with them to school.
As far as your household evacuation plan, you should plan to practice this process at least twice a year to ensure your family knows what to do if a tornado occurs.
Educate your family on the importance of emergency preparation, and what the expectations are regarding the agreed upon evacuation plan.
Become Aware of Emergency Plans at Work or School
Since tornadoes are likely to occur in the late afternoon, there is a good chance one could happen while you are at work or while your children are in school. Therefore, it is essential to find out the emergency plans and procedures at both places. For example, does your workplace have an evacuation plan or a safe room that can withstand a tornado? What do the conditions have to be like before they release you?
Concerning your child’s school, talk to teachers and staff about their tornado emergency plans. Is there a safe room for children to seek shelter, or will they have a dismissal process for all children in attendance? The answer to these questions will likely depend on whether there is a tornado watch or warning, and the severity of the weather.
In an ideal world, you will be able to reach your children, but you have to prepare for them to be separated from you if a tornado comes without proper warning. So, reiterate their school or day care’s plans to them, and tell them about what they can expect from you once the storm is over. This step will clear up fears or anxieties they may have during the storm.
Know How to Protect Yourself in Your Car
You might also be on the road if a tornado happens in your area. So, you need to prepare yourself if this occurs.
If a tornado is visible to you, and you are far enough away where you do not feel the effects, drive at a right angle to the storm if traffic is light. At some point, If you can, leave your car and seek shelter in a sturdy building.
The least ideal scenario is that if a tornado is visible, but it is too close to out-drive or outrun. The best option is to stay in your car with the seat-belt on and cover your head with your hands and any soft materials. The goal is always to get as low as you can and protect your head.
You also want to have some variation of the above emergency kit in your car in case you have to be in it for an extended period. However, also be sure to include:
- Jumper cables
- Reflective Vest
- Car charger
- Work gloves
You might not feel the immediate effects of a tornado, but the heavy winds and rains could severely impact your vehicle. So, having these items gives you added security while you protect yourself from the storm in your car. Also, always remember to:
- Ensure your car is current on all maintenance procedures (oil changes, tune-ups, tire rotations, etc.)
- Make sure your vehicle has a full tank of fuel
- Avoid driving through flooded areas
You likely spend a lot of time in our car, so there is a good chance a storm like this could occur while you are driving from one location to another. So, ensure your vehicle is as safe as it can be in the event a tornado forms in your area.
Protect Your Home
Tornadoes can cause a lot of property damage, so you want to take steps to preserve your home ahead of time. First, be sure to call your insurance company to find out what is covered regarding tornado damage. You want to have an idea of what to expect if your home is damaged, and even discuss new plan options if your current one is insufficient.
Second, remove any weak trees, and tree limbs from your backyard. Tornadoes can reach speeds of 200 MPH. This can easily uproot trees or send limbs flying into your home. Also, be sure to get rid of any loose branches, debris, or trash from your backyard.
Third, ensure you have an idea of all the outdoor items that need to be brought inside before a tornado hits your area. Lawn chairs, tables, and any outdoor equipment can also cause damage to your home due to high winds.
Fourth, take time to further secure windows and doors. Adding shutters to your windows can block broken glass, and strengthening your doors will prevent wind from pushing it open (letting in more wind and debris). While you may not be able to fortify your home thoroughly, you want to make sure you and your family are as safe inside it as possible.
The most important thing to remember as you put together a preparation plan is to avoid panicking. It is entirely understandable to become fearful or anxious at the thought of a tornado. They are dangerous storms that can bring much tragedy and damage to an area. However, by taking the time to think through how to respond to this event, you are significantly decreasing your chances of being harmed.
Thinking through where you will go, how you will get there, and how you can empower your family is putting you in the best position for survival. You will not have to think of what to do, as you will have already developed a strategy. So, you can approach the actual process with a level-head.
You give yourself and your family the best opportunity to get through a tornado by avoiding the temptation to panic. Calmness will allow you to follow your plan, or make deviations as necessary.
So, take a moment to go back through the steps above and create a checklist to go along with it. You never know when your area might be the location of a tornado, so take the time to plan ahead of time.