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Tornadoes, nature's most violent storms, can appear suddenly and without warning – even remaining invisible until dust and debris are picked up or a funnel cloud appears.

photo of a man picking through tornado debris

These violent storms can pack winds over 200mph and leave damage trails up to 1 mile wide and 50 miles long. Tornadoes vary greatly in their appearance and can occur with little or no warning. However, it is important to know the signs that a tornado could be imminent:

  • A dark, often greenish sky
  • A wall cloud, particularly if it is rotating
  • Large hail, which is often produced by the same storms that produce tornadoes
  • A loud roar, similar to the sound of a freight train

Take Action Before a Tornado

You can find detailed information on your local TV and radio stations, the National Weather Service, your local government's emergency management website and social media sites like NOAA's Twitter and Facebook.

Steps to Be Ready

  1. Complete the Family Emergency Plan pdf file and discuss it as a family. This is a simple way of keeping each member of the family informed on critical information: where to reconnect should you become separated, who to call, and what you will do should a tornado occur.
  2. Complete the Emergency Contacts Card pdf file and place one in your Emergency Kit.
  3. Prepare an Emergency Kit. The Emergency Kit should be easily accessible should you and your family be forced to shelter in place (stay at home) for a period of time.

Take Action to Protect Your Family

  • Listen to NOAA Weather Radio or other broadcast news for the latest information.
  • Look for approaching storms on the horizon.
  • Determine a place where you will take shelter in case of a tornado warning. Storm cellars or basements provide the best protection.

Be Safe During a Tornado

During a tornado, remember what is in your Family Emergency Plan if you are at home. If you are at the office, school, or in a store, follow the instructions given to you that will help keep you safe.

  • If underground shelter is not available, go into an interior room or hallway on the lowest floor possible.
  • Stay away from windows, doors and outside walls. Go to the center of the room. Stay away from corners because they attract debris.
  • If you are not in your home, seek shelter in the basement or an interior room of a nearby sturdy building. Do not try to outrun a tornado in your car; instead, leave it immediately.
  • Schools should have a designated shelter area (usually an interior hallway on the lowest floor). Stay out of auditoriums, gymnasiums and other structures with wide, free span roofs.
  • Never try to outrun a tornado in urban or congested areas. Leave your vehicle and seek shelter right away.

Be Safe Outdoors

If you are outside with no shelter, do not go under an overpass or bridge. Lie flat in a nearby ditch or depression. Be wary of flying debris and flooding.

Take Action After a Tornado

After a tornado, reunite with your family members at your pre-designated meeting location. Remember to be extremely careful of where you walk – broken glass, nails, and power lines can all cause injury after a tornado.

  • Continue listening to local radio or television stations and your NOAA Weather Radio for updated information. Use 9-1-1 only for emergency calls, and try to limit your activity on your cell phone. Ask emergency points of contact to notify additional family members or others, as communications networks are often overwhelmed during disasters.
  • Assess any damage to your home or immediate surroundings. Be aware of any potential hazards such as ruptured gas lines, structural damage to your home, downed electrical lines, and localized flooding. Immediately report these hazards and advise family, friends and neighbors.
  • Call 9-1-1 to report injured or trapped persons. Give first aid where appropriate, but do not move seriously injured persons unless they are in immediate danger. Never enter any building that appears to have suffered structural damage or that poses any other hazards.
  • If you are not impacted by the disaster, do not enter the disaster area. Your presence will add to confusion and may hamper emergency response efforts. Public messages will be broadcast if public safety officials are looking for volunteers.

Tornado Watch vs. Tornado Warning
Tornado Watch
Conditions are favorable for tornadoes in and close to the watch area.
Tornado Warning
A tornado has been detected by Doppler Radar and/or has been sighted.

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