Tornado Safety

Here in the USA, tornadoes have occurred in every month, so any time is a good time to review tornado safety procedures – for home, for school, for work, in the car, and while out and about. And if you are considering a storm shelter, take a look at our page about shelters.


graph that shows monthly distribution of killer tornadoes from 1950 to 2011

Each year about a thousand tornadoes touch down in the US. Only a small percentage actually strike occupied buildings, but every year a number of people are killed or injured. The chances that a tornado will strike a building that you are in are very small, however, and you can greatly reduce the chance of injury by doing a few simple things.

One of the most important things you can do to prevent being injured in a tornado is to be ALERT to the onset of severe weather. Most deaths and injuries happen to people who are unaware and uninformed. Young children or the mentally challenged may not recognize a dangerous situation. The ill, elderly, or invalid may not be able to reach shelter in time. Those who ignore the weather because of indifference or overconfidence may not perceive the danger. Stay aware, and you will stay alive!

If you don't regularly watch or listen to the weather report, but strange clouds start moving in and the weather begins to look stormy, turn to the local radio or television station to get the weather forecast.

Check The Weather Channel for additional information, or if you have trouble getting up-to-the-minute forecasts on a regular radio, then a “NOAA weather radio” is a wise investment.

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.

Be alert to what is happening outside as well. Here are some of the things that people describe when they tell about a tornado experience:

  1. A sickly greenish or greenish black color to the sky.
  2. If there is a watch or warning posted, then the fall of hail should be considered as a real danger sign. Hail can be common in some areas, however, and usually has no tornadic activity along with it.
  3. A strange quiet that occurs within or shortly after the thunderstorm.
  4. Clouds moving by very fast, especially in a rotating pattern or converging toward one area of the sky.
  5. A sound a little like a waterfall or rushing air at first, but turning into a roar as it comes closer. The sound of a tornado has been likened to that of both railroad trains and jets.
  6. Debris dropping from the sky.
  7. An obvious “funnel-shaped” cloud that is rotating, or debris such as branches or leaves being pulled upwards, even if no funnel cloud is visible.

If you see a tornado and it is not moving to the right or to the left relative to trees or power poles in the distance, it may be moving towards you! Remember that although tornadoes usually move from southwest to northeast, they also move towards the east, the southeast, the north, and even northwest.

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.

Is it likely that a tornado will strike your home or school? No. But being ready for the possibility will keep you safer!

Deaths and injuries from tornadoes have dropped dramatically in the past 50 years. Casualties numbers are holding steady as scientists learn more about tornadoes and develop the technologies that detect them sooner. Forecasters must continue to improve techniques because the population is increasing. The National Weather Service, Storm Prediction Center, and television and radio weather people have taken full advantage of the advancements in tornado prediction to improve warnings.

In addition, many people generously donate their time and expertise to help protect their neighbors and communities in another way — by tornado and severe storm “spotting.” “Spotters” combine an interest in the weather, a willingness to serve and often, ham radio experience to make tornado prone areas safer for all. Spotting can provide a focus to a person’s interest in the weather, and ham radio helps you meet other like-minded people. It is not often that something that starts out as a hobby can potentially do so much good. If you are interested in Skywarn training and becoming a spotter, check out the National Skywarn page.


The Tornado Project salutes both the professional and non-professional for their work!




Now that you have read our “Safety Page”, try the “Tornado Safety Crossword Puzzle” in our Storm Cellar.



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