The tornadoes that recently devastated parts of the South and Midwest are a stark reminder of just how deadly and destructive these storms can be. This particular system brought 35 confirmed tornadoes across five states , destroying over 1,000 homes in Kentucky alone. Worse, the death toll stands at 90 with over 100 people unaccounted for as of this writing.
One reason tornadoes are so dangerous is that there’s no “tornado season.” They may be more common in the spring, but they can occur at any time of year and in places far removed from Tornado Alley. Moreover, they develop quickly and behave erratically, leaving little time for people to react and take shelter.
Knowing what to do before a tornado hits can save you precious time. Here are 10 tips to show you and your family how to stay safe during a tornado.
1. Pay Attention to Warnings
The most important tornado safety tip is to stay alert when bad weather moves through your area. That includes tuning in to weather reports, staying alert when there is a tornado watch, and immediately taking shelter when a tornado warning is in effect.
2. Move to the Basement Quickly
While no space is 100 percent safe during a tornado, rooms below ground like a basement offer you the most protection. If you don’t have a basement, your best bet is a room on the lowest floor of your home, preferably an interior one that doesn’t have windows like a bathroom, closet, or center hallway. You should also avoid sheltering where there are heavy objects like appliances on the floor above you.
Getting to the lowest floor is also ideal if you’re in a high rise. However, the average lead time for a tornado warning is only about nine minutes, so that may not be possible. Your next option is to find the safest room in your apartment. Again, this could be a bathroom, center hallway, or interior closet.
3. Crouch Low to the Ground
When you find a suitable spot to shelter, lay face down on the ground and cover your head with your hands to protect yourself from flying debris. You might also want to get under heavy blankets and pillows. Even winter coats can act as a cushion if anything falls on you, plus they may keep you warm once the storm is over. Avoid laying next to heavy, unsecured objects that might fall on you.
4. Get Under Something Sturdy
You need to be prepared for the building to collapse. While you don’t want to be next to heavy objects that might fall on you, being under something sturdy like a heavy table, workbench, or desk. This can create a pocket of safety for you if the entire room collapses.
5. Monitor Storm Alerts
There are several ways to get updates on whether tornadoes continue to pose a danger in your area. Your local news will post updates, as will the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) via its network of radio stations. If you haven’t already, you can also sign up for community alerts on your mobile phone. Try to have one of these handy so you know when you can safely go back outside.
6. Do Not Stay in a Mobile Home
Mobile homes are particularly susceptible to damage in a tornado. Many mobile home communities have storm shelters for their residents. If yours doesn’t, or if you live on private land, then you may need to find other shelter, preferably a building with a foundation. You’ll need to act fast if a tornado is approaching, so identify nearby options now.
7. Go Inside
Being outside makes you very susceptible to being swept up by tornado winds, so you want to find a building to shelter in. If possible, choose a building that has a basement where you will be safer from collapse and debris.
If there isn’t suitable shelter, or there isn’t enough time to get to it, then go to the lowest ground you can find and lay flat with your hands over your head. Do your best to move away from cars or trees.
8. Don’t Try to Outdrive the Tornado
In general, you don’t want to try to outrun a tornado, but some situations may require you to get in your car to drive to a safer location. When that happens, take the most direct route to shelter.
If you’re caught in your car during a tornado, stay in it with your head below the windows and your seatbelt on. Only leave your car if you can safely get to ground that is clearly lower than your car. Once there, lay face down and cover your head.
9. Avoid Overpasses if Possible
An overpass might look like a safe structure for sheltering, but it can actually put you in greater danger during a tornado. The shape creates a tunneling effect that can increase wind speeds, so do not shelter below overpasses or bridges.
10. Prepare an Emergency Disaster Kit
Being prepared for a tornado includes thinking about what you might need after one hits. You have to assume that it may be days before assistance arrives, so you want to build a disaster kit that has important supplies, such as:
- Bottled water.
- Nonperishable food.
- A NOAA radio.
- Bandages, gauze, and other first aid supplies.
- Cell phone charger.
- Prescription medications.
- Copies of your identification.
Put these and other items you cannot do without in a bag and stash it in the area you’ve designated for shelter.
While some weather events provide enough warning to prepare for the potential impact, tornadoes can hit within minutes. Having a disaster preparedness plan can make the difference for your and your family.