Survive a Tornado

Tornado season is upon us. No matter where you live in the US a tornado is possible so you need to
be prepared. We have had a tornado in every state with Texas, Oklahoma, and Florida being the top three. A twister can cause catastrophic damage to everything within its path and they can develop so quickly that advance warning is not possible.  We are not talking about a glorified thunderstorm here, twisters are one of nature's most violent storms with possible wind speeds of 300+ mph and damage paths a mile wide and 50 miles long. This is not a storm to toy with. Having an understanding of tornadoes, an emergency plan, and a shelter are the only things you can do to be prepared for this devastating type of storm.

Basic Tornado Information

Watch vs Warning
Tornado Watch - Conditions are right for a tornado and the development of a tornado is possible
Tornado Warning- A tornado has been sighted, touched down, or indicated on weather radar GET TO SHELTER IMMEDIATELY!!!!
  • Tornado season typically lasts from March through June but they can and have happened in all months of the year. Here's some more info on monthly averages
  • Approximately 1200 tornadoes touch down in the United States each year
  • Alaska, Rhode Island, and Vermont are the least likely states to have tornadoes with an average of just one over 30 years
  • Texas, Oklahoma, and Florida are the top 3 states for tornadoes each year
  • Tornadoes can last from seconds to over an hour with an average duration of around 10 minutes
  • They move along between 0 and 70mph with an average of 30mph
  • Typically twisters move southwest to northeast or west to east but they can move in any direction
  • Sometimes tornadoes double back on their path and hit the same area twice
  • The most common time of day for a tornado is 3-7pm with 5pm being the peak time. Tornadoes have happened at all times of day and night.

Tornadoes are measured on the Fujita scale. This scale measures wind speed, damage path size, and the amount of damage the storm causes.

Estimated wind speed*[5]Relative frequency[citation needed]Average Damage Path Width[citation needed]Potential damage[5]
F0 40–7264–11638.9%10–50 metres (33–164 ft)Light damage. Some damage to chimneys; branches broken off trees; shallow-rooted trees pushed over; sign boards damaged.
F0 damage example
F1 73–112117–18035.6%30–150 metres (98–492 ft)Moderate damage. The lower limit is the beginning of hurricane wind speed; peels surface off roofs; mobile homes pushed off foundations or overturned; moving autos pushed off the roads; attached garages may be destroyed.
F1 damage example
F2 113–157181–25319.4%110–250 metres (360–820 ft)Significant damage. Roofs torn off frame houses; mobile homes demolished; boxcars overturned; large trees snapped or uprooted; highrise windows broken and blown in; light-object missiles generated.
F2 damage example
F3 158–206254–3324.9%200–500 metres (660–1,640 ft)Severe damage. Roofs and some walls torn off well-constructed houses; trains overturned; most trees in forest uprooted; heavy cars lifted off the ground and thrown.
F3 damage example
F4 207–260333–4181.1%400–900 metres (1,300–3,000 ft)Devastating damage. Well-constructed houses leveled; structures with weak foundations blown away some distance; cars thrown and large missiles generated.
F4 damage example
F5 261–318419–512<0.1%1,100 metres (3,600 ft)Incredible damage. Strong frame houses lifted off foundations and carried considerable distances to disintegrate; automobile sized missiles fly through the air farther than 100 metres (330 ft); trees debarked; steel reinforced concrete structures badly damaged.
F5 damage example
There is also an F6 but this is purely hypothetical and has never been recorded.
Read more about the fujita scale here

Know The Warning Signs Of  A Tornado

Dark greenish clouds

Wall Cloud

A cloud of debris

Large hail

Funnel cloud

  • Dark often greenish clouds
  • Wall cloud- an isolated lowering at the base of a thunderstorm
  • A cloud of debris
  • Large hail
  • Funnel cloud- Visable rotating extension of the cloud base
  • A roaring sound similar to a freight train
  • Tornadoes are typically at the trailing edge of a thunderstorm and it is not uncommon to see sunny skies behind one
  • Before a tornado hits the wind may die down and the air will become completely still

Develop An Emergency Plan
Now that you know a little more about a tornado you need to come up with a plan of action. You need to have a plan in place, discuss it with your family and run drills so everyone will be prepared should a tornado strike.
  1. Sketch a floor plan of your home
  2. Show a second exit for each room and mark the location also include the location of emergency ladders if needed.
  3. Mark the location of your fire extinguishers and first aid kits
  4. Mark where the utility shutoff switches and valves are located
  5. After everything is mapped out teach your family how to use the fire extinguisher, how to perform basic first aid, and how and when to turn the utilities off
  6. Learn your school district emergency dismissal policy
  7. Decide where the storm shelter will be then teach your children the following
    1. What a tornado is
    2. The difference between a watch and a warning
    3. What county they live in
    4. How to take shelter
  8. If you or a family member have special needs write own any specific needs, limitation, capabilities, and meds needed. Put this list in your wallet or purse. Find someone who will agree to help you in the event of an emergency such as a neighbor or family member that lives nearby. Give them a copy of the special needs list and a spare key or directions where to find a spare so they can help you in the event a tornado hits.
  9. Heres how to disconnect your utilities
    1. Electric
    2. Gas and Water
Determine Your Storm Shelter
  • Basement or storm cellar
  • Internal room with no windows like a bathroom
  • Closet
  • Safe room
  • Pre made storm shelter
  • A small room or hallway on the lowest level of a building 
  • A neighbors house
  • Public storm shelter
  • Vehicle
***** Avoid overpasses and bridges*****

Get a Disaster Kit Together
If you have a storm shelter on your property or in your house keep the disaster kit in the shelter. If you will have to drive to your shelter this list should be modified so you can fit it in a tote or pack and carry it. This is not a list to end all but its a damn good start. You may need to add things or ignore things depending on you and your families specific needs. It is also a good idea to prepare for at least 72 hours.
  • Baby food/formula and diapers
  • Pet food and extra water
  • Cash
  • Change of clothing for each person
  • Regular chlorine bleach and a medicine dropper to purify water. Add 16 drops of bleach to 1 gallon of water. Do not use color safe, scented, or any other type of bleach other than regular
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Fire kit
  • Whistle
  • Garbage bags
  • 5 gallon bucket which can be used as a toilet if needed
  • Crescent wrench or channel locks to turn off the utilities
  • Can opener
  • Digital camera for insurance claims
  • Copies of important documents including
    • Birth certificates
    • Titles
    • Social security cards
    • Insurance policies
    • Will
    • Household inventory
    • Photos or video of the contents in each room
    • List of contents
    • Photos of high value items
  • 1 gallon per person per day of water. So a family of 3 should have at least 9 gallons of drinking water
  • 3 days worth of non perishable food for each person
  • Candles- These should be used with extreme caution
  • Lantern- preferably battery powered but an oil lamp could be used with caution
  • Flashlights for each person and extra batteries
  • Glow sticks
  • An emergency radio with extra batteries
  • Cell phone with charger
  • First aid kit and any medications needed
  • Toilet Paper
  • Duct Tape
  • GTFO Bag or Bug out bag. Whatever you want to call it you need the survival essentials
  • Sleeping bag or blankets and pillows
  • Deck of cards, a book, or board games to pass time especially if you have children
  • List of important phone numbers and addresses including
    • Police
    • Fire
    • Paramedics
    • Medical centers/ hospitals
    • Name, address, phone number, and policy number for insurance company
    • Electric
    • Gas
    • Water
    • Neighbors
    • Landlord
    • Bank phone number and account numbers
    • Radio and TV stations to tune to for emergency broadcast
    • A brief medical history for each member of the family and any important medical info like allergies or daily meds
Being prepared and having a plan in place long before a storm ever hits will greatly improve your chance of making it through a tornado. Please remember there is no such thing as a tornado proof shelter but certain shelters will weather the storm better than others. Every bit of advice out there is completely situational and you need to use common sense over everything else. Most of the government disaster websites say to get out of your car and lie in a ditch if you see a tornado. However if there is softball sized hail falling the better approach would probably be to ride it out in your car. Consider your current situation and use common sense before doing anything. Now lets get into what to do before during and after the twister.

  • If there is a thunderstorm be on alert for changing conditions.
  • Keep a tv or radio on during thunderstorms to stay up to date on changing weather conditions
  • Be sure you have a battery powered radio in your shelter
  • Set your phone to battery saver mode if a tornado watch has been issued
  • Grab any meds on your way to shelter if a warning is issued
  • Get your family and pets ready to seek shelter if needed
  • If you hear tornado sirens get to shelter immediately
  • Get to shelter immediately
  • Don't go out in the storm
  • Don't open any windows. There is an old myth about equalizing the pressure in your house.
  • Don't try to outrun the storm in a congested urban environment
  • Don't take shelter where heavy stuff can fall on you such as under your kitchen in the basement
  • Avoid windows
  • Try to get under a heavy workbench or table
  • Cover your head and if possible body with your hands, a helmet, a pillow, blankets or a mattress


  • Be prepared to treat injuries
  • If you have become trapped try to draw attention to yourself
  • Use caution when you walk outside
  • Watch for downed powerlines
  • If you smell gas shutoff the main, kill the power, and open all the windows, then get out
  • If you see sparks or smell something burning kill the power at the main
  • If you have water leaks turn off the main valve where water enters your house then shut the valve going from your water heater to the rest of the house
  • Use flashlights or battery powered lanterns when entering buildings. Open flames from candles and lanterns can cause an explosion if there is a gas leak
  • Stay out of damaged buildings
  • Keep your pets under control
  • Take pictures of all damage for insurance claims
  • Only use the phone for emergency calls
  • Clean up any spilled gas, bleach, medications, or other chemicals
  • Be prepared to help those in need and volunteer to help first responders but do not get in their way
  • Do not put yourself at risk
  • Understand that it may take hours or even days until emergency personnel will be able to reach you. This is why being prepared long before a disaster is so important.
  • If your house is still standing but you do not have running water you can drain it from the water heater just open the bleed on the side slightly.
  • If your house is still standing but you do no have power don't open the fridge or freezer unless absolutely necessary.
Mobile Homes
In a car
  • Try to drive to shelter
  • If you run into flying debris pull over, put your seatbelt on, and try to ride out the storm. New research shows that staying in the car may be a better idea than lying in a ditch because most storms don't have the power to flip a car. Get below the windows and cover your head.
  • You can also get out and lie in a deep ditch
  • In some cases you can try to drive away from the storm but this is strictly situational. Use your better judgement
  • Do not get under your car

  • Get to shelter if possible
  • Get to a vehicle
  • Avoid areas with a lot of trees
  • Get down and cover your head with your arms or an object like your pack if you have one.
We all have the ability to make it through a tornado as long as we prepare for the worst. I have made it through several tornadoes in my life. A few at home, a few at work, and one when I was at school in 4th grade. The one at school was the worst but we all made it through just fine. Use common sense and prepare that is all you can really do.

More Info On Tornadoes.

Here are some links to other websites that I found to be helpful while writing this article

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