How to Be Safe in a Tornado

Before a Tornado

Prepare your family beforehand

  • If you live in tornado-prone areas, you should designate a tornado shelter (like the basement) in the event of a tornado. Wherever it is, the shelter should be well known by each member of the family.
  • You and your family should conduct annual emergency tornado to ensure that everyone remembers what to do and where to go when a tornado is approaching.
  • Plan ahead by creating an emergency plan that everyone is familiar with and an emergency kit that is located in an area that is easily accessible.

Be alert to changing weather conditions

  • Listen to NOAA Weather Radio or to commercial radio or television newscasts for the latest information.
  • Look for approaching storms and if you see any of the danger signs, be prepared to take shelter immediately.
  • Look for the following danger signs:
    • Dark, often greenish sky
    • Large hail
    • A large, dark, low-lying cloud (particularly if rotating)
    • Loud roar, similar to a freight train

Know what weather advisories mean:

  • If a tornado "watch" is issued for your area, it means that a tornado is "possible."
  • If a tornado "warning" is issued, it means that a tornado has actually been spotted, or is strongly indicated on radar, and it is time to go to a safe shelter immediately.

During a Tornado

Encourage your family members to plan for their own safety in many different locations. It is important to make decisions about the safest places well BEFORE you ever have to go to them.

At home or in a small structure

  • In a storm shelter specifically designed for that use--within the basement or outside the home entirely.
  • In a basement, away from the west and south walls.
  • Hiding under a heavy work-table or under the stairs will protect the you from crumbling walls, chimneys, and large airborne debris falling into the cellar.
  • Old blankets, quilts and an unused mattress will protect against flying debris, but precious time can be lost by trying to find these items at the last minute.
  • In a small, windowless, first floor, interior room, like a closet or bathroom. Getting into the bathtub with a couch cushion over you gives you protection on all sides, as well as an extra anchor to the foundation.
  • Put as many walls as you can between yourself and the tornado. In a pinch, put a metal trash over as much of you as you can. It will keep some flying debris from injuring you. Even that may make the difference between life and death.

At school

  • If you’re at school, don't assume that there will always be a teacher or other adult there to tell you what to do--if there is, you should follow their direction, but you need to know these things too.
  • Go to interior rooms and halls on the lowest floor, but avoid halls that open to the outside in any direction.
  • Stay away from glass, both in windows and doors.
  • Crouch down, and make as small a "target" as possible.
  • If you have something to cover your head, do so, otherwise, use your hands.

In a vehicle, trailer, or mobile home

  • Get out immediately and go to the lowest floor of a sturdy, nearby building or a storm shelter.
  • Mobile homes, even if tied down, offer little protection from tornadoes.
  • If you are in a car, and you can see a tornado forming or approaching, you should leave the car and take shelter as above. Remember, your car is no match to a tornado. A tornado can blow a car off a road, pick a car up and hurl it, or tumble a car over and over.

Out in the open

  • If caught in the open, seek a safe place immediately. The chances of encountering falling trees, power lines, and lightning is greater than encountering the tornado itself.
  • Lie flat in a nearby ditch or depression and cover your head with your hands. Be aware of the potential for flooding.
  • Do not get under an overpass or bridge. You are safer in a low, flat location.
  • Never try to outrun a tornado.
  • Watch out for flying debris. Flying debris from tornadoes causes most fatalities and injuries.


Tornado Project
American Red Cross