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What to Do Before, During and After a Tornado Strikes 
by Joanne Heck May 31, 2005

This article details exactly what you should know and do before a tornado hits your area, during the event and the aftermath. Having the basic knowledge of tornadoes, how to prepare for them and the things to do during and after one hits can save your life!

Imagine having only a minute to take cover from a tornado! Are you prepared? Do you know what to do, where to go and how to protect yourself and your family? Does your family know how to contact you in case you are separated? What about after the tornado strikes?

This article details exactly what you should know and do before a tornado hits your area, during the event and the aftermath. Having the basic knowledge of tornadoes, how to prepare for them and the things to do during and after one hits can save your life!

Things to Do and Know Before a Tornado Strikes

Know the Signs of a Tornado

  • Any strong rotation in the cloud base
  • Whirling dust or debris on the ground
  • Hail or heavy rain followed by a short period of calm
  • A loud roar

It is important to know the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning. A tornado watch means that weather conditions are favorable for a tornado to occur. A tornado warning alerts the public that a funnel cloud or tornado has been spotted. In the event of a tornado warning, you should tune to your local television channel and watch the reports to see if the tornado is in your area or coming in your direction. Don’t wait until you spot the tornado! If your local news channel has issued a tornado warning, it’s time to head for safety.

Be Prepared

Planning and preparation ahead of time will ensure that you have the supplies and information you need to get through the storm. Tornadoes often give only a minutes warning. Preparation and practice will allow you to get to safety immediately.

Discuss a safety plan with your family. Be sure they know where to go in case of emergency weather conditions. Things to include in your plan are:

  • Emergency communication plan -- In case there are family members away from home when the tornado strikes, you should have a plan to contact an out of state relative to let them know where you are. Be sure everyone knows the number. Many times, out of state phone calls are easier to make than local ones during an emergency.
  • Emergency supply kit -- Your emergency supply kit should be assembled and rechecked at least once a year. You should include at least one flashlight with extra batteries, a portable radio, bottled water, good shoes for each family member if possible, and cash and credit cards. If space allows, a few canned goods and a can opener are a good idea. It’s important that all family members know where the emergency supply kit is. Be sure to stress the importance of not trying to gather supplies when they should be seeking safety.
  • Practice -- Have a drill at least once a year to ensure everyone knows what to do and where to go during a tornado. Review your emergency communication plan and meeting place.
  • Have a meeting place -- If you become separated from your family, or there are family members who were not at home during the tornado, a predetermined meeting place will help in finding your loved ones.

What to Do and Where to Go During a Tornado

Some areas are safer than others during a tornado. Seconds count! The list below describes the safest areas to go in various locations.

  • In a house -- If you are in a house when a tornado strikes the basement is the best and safest place to go. If there is not a basement you should go to a room in the center of the house that has no windows, preferably under heavy furniture or in a bathtub. An inside hall or closet can also be used. Use cushions, pillows or if time permits, a mattress to cover yourself to prevent injury from flying debris.
  • In a high rise -- Go to the lowest level possible. Interior halls or stairwells offer the most protection. Get into a crouched position and cover your head (with your hands if you have nothing else). Do not use elevators during a tornado! If the electrical system goes out you could be stuck in an elevator for hours.
  • In a mobile home -- Never stay in a mobile home. Many people feel safe in their mobile homes but regardless of how the structure is secured, a tornado can twist a mobile home into shreds in seconds. If there is no shelter nearby, lay flat in a ditch or low lying area.
  • In shopping centers, schools, hospitals and factories -- Go to the lowest level of the building or interior rooms. Stay away from glass and avoid auditoriums, cafeterias, or any room with a large spanned roof.
  • In a car -- Never try to outrun a tornado! Get out of your car and take shelter in a ditch or low lying area. Don’t take cover under bridges!

Note: If your community has a storm shelter and conditions are not volatile yet, this would be the place to go. However, don’t attempt to go to the shelter if weather conditions are bad.

What to Do After a Tornado

After a tornado has hit there are several things you can do:

  • Above all else, try to stay calm!
  • Assess any first aid your family may need. Render aid to neighbors if necessary.
  • Stay away from power lines! Caution your children to be aware of possible downed power lines and the hazard they can cause if they go near them.
  • Stay out of heavily damaged buildings. They could collapse or have gas leaks.
  • Remind everyone that they should not be lighting candles, matches or lighters. The risk of a gas leak is considerable.
  • Although safety is the first concern, if your house or area is heavily damaged it may be a few days before things start to get back to normal. Remember to keep all your receipts so you insurance company can reimburse you.
  • Go to the community shelter in your area. You will most likely need a place to stay and your community center will have any necessary supplies, equipment, help and information you will need.

Tornadoes can be devastating and life altering disasters. Knowing how to prepare ahead of time and what to do during and after a tornado will ensure that you are taking the best measures to get through it safely.


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