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What Should I Do When a Tornado Approaches My Area?

Tornados are an intensely dangerous natural phenomenon. If you live in the "Tornado Alley" region, you're used to hearing the sirens tested on the first Wednesday of every month. You may understand that the sirens are designed to warn of potential tornado activity, but simply being aware of the possibility of a tornado isn't sufficient. Unfortunately, many people don't develop the necessary safety precautions around what to do in a tornado, which could save their lives should the siren's call ever serve as more than a test.

Because tornadoes travel very quickly and can change direction at any time, waiting to follow safety precautions until after the siren sounds might be too late. Early preparation is essential. To raise awareness and help keep everyone safe in the event of a real, fast-approaching tornado, follow these common practices.

What Should I Do When a Tornado Approaches My Area?

What's the Difference Between a Tornado Watch or Warning?

For starters, everyone should understand the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning. A tornado watch means no tornado has been sighted yet, but the conditions are right for a tornado to appear. A tornado warning means a tornado has been spotted and residents need to get to safety.

Stay Informed During a Tornado Watch

If a tornado watch has been issued, you don't need to take action immediately, but you should remain vigilant to the potential danger. Stay indoors and follow the weather through media channels. You can also keep an eye on your immediate surrounding by looking out the window. If the sky has turned dark and greenish in color and there are low-lying, dark clouds, strong winds, or large hail, then severe weather is coming to the area.

What to Do in a Tornado Warning

Once a tornado warning has been confirmed, proper safety precautions will vary depending on your location, but in general, the best thing to do in a tornado is to move everyone in the family to a designated safe area.

  • Find the lowest room. People fortunate enough to be inside a sturdy building with structurally sound walls should head for the lowest room in the building. In many homes, this will be the cellar or basement.
  • Find the most central room. In homes or buildings without a cellar or basement, head to the most centralized room available and avoid windows, doors or any outside walls.
  • Take cover. Once everyone has reached the safe place, get under something sturdy, like the base of a staircase, and cover up with a blanket.
  • Keep clear of heavy objects. Avoid sitting next to heavy things like pianos, refrigerators or shelves that could topple over during the storm. Any areas directly beneath these objects on the floor below should be avoided as well, as they could fall through the floor during the storm.
  • Head for the stairs in your office. In a high-rise or corporate building lacking a basement, head for a stairwell or hallway without windows and crouch low to the ground.
  • Leave your mobile home. People inside mobile homes should leave the unit if possible to find more secure shelter, as even the most interior of rooms in a mobile home will offer little protection. Many mobile-home communities have tornado shelters for these situations.
  • Find the right outdoor location. Those who find themselves outside with no shelter available should concentrate on getting as low as possible by lying face down and covering their head. Drainage ditches and low ground are ideal in these situations, but do not go beneath bridges or overpasses as they may be damaged or destroyed by the tornado. It is also important to avoid wooded areas as trees may be knocked over during the storm.
  • Don't attempt to outrun a tornado. Under no circumstances should a person try to outrun a tornado on foot or by vehicle. The safest choice is always to abandon the vehicle and find shelter or low ground immediately.

Tornados can be immensely powerful and present extreme danger to life and property, but these best practices can help you stay as safe as possible and reduce the risk to you and your family if a tornado does visit your area.

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