Tornadoes are violently rotating columns of air in contact with and extending between a convective cloud and the surface of the earth.
Spawned from powerful thunderstorms, tornadoes can carry winds of up to 300 miles per hour. Damage paths can be in excess of one mile wide and 50 miles long.
Some tornadoes are visible, while rain or nearby low-hanging clouds obscure others. Occasionally, tornadoes can form so quickly advance warnings can’t be released in time.
Before a tornado hits, the wind may die down and the air may become very still. A cloud of debris can mark the location of a tornado even if a funnel is not visible. Tornadoes generally occur near the trailing edge of a thunderstorm, but they can still appear behind clear, sunlit skies.
- Build a safety kit and make a family communications plan.
- Listen to radio or TV newscasts for the latest information and instruction in case of any emergency.
- Be alert to changing weather conditions. Look for approaching storm and take shelter immediately.
- Dark, often greenish sky; large hail, a large, dark, low-lying cloud (especially if rotating); and loud roar that sounds like a train.
- If in high-rise building, be prepared to take shelter on or below the 10th floor.
- First, seek shelter immediately.
- If you are in a structure (i.e. residence, small building, school, nursing home, hospital, factory, shopping center, high-rise building), go to a pre-designated shelter area such as a safe room, basement, storm cellar or the lowest building level.
- No basement? Go to the center of an interior room on the lowest level (closet, 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 your arms to protect your head and neck.
- In a high-rise building, go to a small interior room or hallway on the lowest floor possible.
- If you are in a trailer or mobile home, get out immediately. Go to the lowest floor of a sturdy, nearby building or a storm shelter. Mobile homes offer little protection.
- Immediately get into a vehicle, buckle your seat belt and try to drive to the closest sturdy shelter.
- If your vehicle is hit by flying debris while you are driving, pull over and park.
- Stay in the car with the seat belt on. Put your head down below the windows; cover your head with your hands and a blanket, coat or other cushion if possible.
- If you can safely get noticeably lower than the level of the roadway, leave your car and lie in that area, covering your head with your hands.
- Do not get under an overpass or bridge. You are safer in a low, flat location.
- Never try to outrun a tornado in urban or congested areas in a car or truck. Instead, leave the vehicle immediately for safe shelter.
- Watch out for flying debris. Flying debris from tornadoes causes most fatalities and injuries.
- Avoid injuries. Injury may result from the direct impact of a tornado, or it may occur afterward when people walk among debris and enter damaged buildings.
- Continue to monitor your battery-powered radio or television for emergency information.
- Be careful when entering any structure that has been damaged.
- Wear sturdy shoes or boots, long sleeves and gloves when handling or walking on or near debris.
- Be aware of hazards from exposed nails and broken glass.
- Do not touch downed power lines or objects in contact with downed lines. Report electrical hazards to the police and the utility company.
- Use battery-powered lanterns, if possible, rather than candles to light homes without electrical power. If you use candles, make sure they are in safe holders away from curtains, paper, wood or other flammable items. Never leave a candle burning when you are out of the room.
- Never use generators, pressure washers, grills, camp stoves or other gasoline, propane, natural gas or charcoal-burning devices inside your home, basement, garage or camper - or even outside near an open window, door or vent. Carbon monoxide (CO) - an odorless, colorless gas that can cause sudden illness and death if you breathe it - from these sources can build up in your home, garage or camper and poison the people and animals inside. Seek prompt medical attention if you suspect CO poisoning and are feeling dizzy, light-headed or nauseated.
- Hang up displaced telephone receivers that may have been knocked off by the tornado, but stay off the telephone, except to report an emergency.
- Cooperate fully with public safety officials.
- Respond to requests for volunteer assistance by police, fire fighters, emergency management and relief organizations, but do not go into damaged areas unless assistance has been requested. Your presence could hamper relief efforts and you could endanger yourself.