Knowing what to do when a tornado hits is critical to surviving a tornado. With these deadly twisters that claim over 70 lives annually, injuring a lot more, you cannot afford to have coulda, shoulda, or wouldas.

This article will show you what to do when a tornado hits, how to prepare for it, how to survive it, what you can do during the storm, along with other helpful tips. Without further ado, let us look at some helpful tips to help you navigate your way before, during, and after the storm.

It All Starts with Being Prepared

The global impact of tornadoes has been astronautical, especially in the United States and Canada. Although tornadoes are expected to be prevalent in Central Plains, the Midwest, and the Southeast, tornadoes, twisters and cyclones sweep across all 50 states.  

Knowing the dangers a tornado poses, if you live in a tornado prone area, and what to do during a hurricane is the first step in preparedness. Storms like tornadoes and twisters can be predicted, so being prepared and knowing what to do when one strikes your neighborhood can give you ample time to get your house and family in order.

A full plan for surviving a tornado must include plans for potential evacuation (especially for those without a basement or tornado shelter), solid shelter, non-perishable food, and a healthy stock of drinkable water. To learn more on tornado preparedness, read our "How to be Prepared for a Tornado" article.

~Know the Signs and Characteristics of a Tornado

~Tornadoes and thunderstorms often come hand-in-hand. If you notice thunderstorms in your vicinity, you should turn on your tv or radio to get the latest weather updates from relevant authorities. Additionally, paying attention to weather conditions to note when there is a severe thunderstorm watch, or warning, will also help.

~It is essential to know the difference between the weather terms watch and warning. A severe thunderstorm watch means thunderstorms are likely to occur in your area. While a severe thunderstorm warning means thunderstorms are currently happening in your area.

~The same formula works for tornadoes; a watch means there is a possibility, while a warning indicates an active tornado in or around your area.

~One of the most reliable ways to receive warnings from the National Weather Service is by using an NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) radio. This radio gives consistent and prompt updates on prevailing weather conditions in your area. IN full preparedness, when having this radio in your preps, you should have backup batteries and turn on an audible alert that would notifies you of a weather watch or warning.

~~Key Tornado Signs

~~Tornadoes can sometimes be unpredictable in their occurrence, and thus, they might strike without notice or warning.

~~Here are some essential tornado signs to look out for in your area:

  • Cloud in the shape of a funnel that rotates.
  • Debris cloud approaching
  • A dark or green colored sky
  • Cloud that is large, dark, and low-lying.
  • Hailstorm
  • A loud rumble, similar to that of a freight train

~~After noticing any of these signs, you should take cover immediately. Keep attention on a tv and radio, NOAA weather radio, or the internet for relevant information. Additionally, if you live in an area where tornado sirens are used, use those as your official warning that a tornado is on its way.

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Have Your Evacuation & Protection Plans in Place

Having an evacuation and protection plan for you and your family is essential to ensure no last minute anxiety, panic or forgetfulness.

~How to Create an Emergency Tornado Plan

  • Find a safe place in your home for you, your family members, and pets.
  • Make a floor plan of your house and go through each room and figure out where and how you'll seek refuge.
    • Show everyone a second exit route from each room or area. Mark the location of any special equipment you'll need, such as a rope ladder.
    • Make a note of where you keep your first-aid kit and fire extinguishers.
    • Mark the location of any utility switches or valves so that they can be turned off (if time allows) in the event of an emergency.
  • Ensure that everyone in your household is aware of the tornado warning system.
  • Teach your family how to use a fire extinguisher, administer basic first aid, and turn off your home's water, gas, and electricity.
  • Learn about your child's school's emergency dismissal policy.
  • Make sure your children know the answers to the following:
    • What is a tornado?
    • What is the difference between tornado watches and warnings?
    • What parish or county do they live in? (warnings are issued by county or parish)
    • Whether they’re at home or school, how and where do they take shelter?

~Make a Drill Out of Your Tornado Emergency Plan

~To ensure that everyone in your household grasps what they need to do to survive a tornado, it’s crucial to have some drills; and can even make it fun for the kids. Conduct drills and ask questions to ensure that your loved ones remember tornado safety information, including how to recognize hazardous weather conditions and where to seek shelter.

~Protection Tips During a Tornado

~~Secure your documents:

~~If the unthinkable happens during a tornado and your home gets damaged, you may be fraught by the stress placed on you to get your lost documents. Therefore, we advise you to put your essential documents in a portable fireproof and waterproof lock box, safety deposit box, or faraday cage.

~~These boxes are built to survive harsh weather conditions and you can also take them along with you to your designated shelter. This box should include important documents like your mortgage documents, birth certificates, rental agreements, insurance policy numbers, deeds of trust, citizenship documents, and important financial records.

~~Keep a tornado kit at home and in your car

~~Have two tornado kits, one for your home and one for your car, as you may not be at home when a tornado strikes. If it strikes while you are in your vehicle, you can take out your fireproof and waterproof kit box and head to safety.

~~A typical kit in your car should have water bottles, a first-aid kit, weather radio and batteries, a little cash, disinfectant wipes, and non-perishable edibles like nuts, chocolates, and protein bars.

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~Know Where you Are Going

~During an active Twister, falling and flying debris are transported violently, and they can be harmful to humans, livestock, and pets. Having a shelter or a place to stay safe from the falling and flying debris cannot be overemphasized. Although nowhere is 100 percent safe, some areas offer better safety than others:

  • Basement
  • Storm Shelter
  • Interior Room w/ No Windows
  • Bathtub with Mattress Covering You
  • If Outside: a Low Lying Ditch

~One important shelter safety rule is to avoid rooms with windows. You can go to your basement or find shelter in rooms with no windows on the lowest floor. Bathrooms, closets or interior rooms, center hallways, etc., are ideal examples of such rooms.

~To improve your protection during a tornado attack, you can cover yourself with a blanket, sleeping bag, or mattress. You can also hide under a heavy table, workbench, or any sturdy object or furniture.

~~Mobile Shelters Are Not Safe

~~Seeking shelter in a mobile home can be a very bad idea. If you live in a mobile home, your best bet would be to running towards the nearest building, locating the basement (if applicable), and staying there. Once again, do not forget to avoid rooms with windows.

~~If you are in your car at the time of this attack, trying to outrun the twister will likely not end well. A good option is to find a sturdy building and seek shelter there or get out of your car and into a ditch.

~~You can avoid last-minute chaos by keep tabs on your local weather reports and anticipate the thunderstorms looming. Take ample time to educate your family members on the necessary steps, giving them vital information before its occurrence.

~~If you live in a tornado-prone area, living in a mobile home may not be the best idea. However, if it is unavoidable, you can try encouraging your community to build a local tornado shelter in your park that is large enough for everyone to go to during the twister.

~Know How You are Traveling

~We strongly advise against traveling during a tornado attack because cars can become flying objects that can cause you and others harm. A good approach is to park your vehicle and seek shelter within a sturdy building or locate the basement until the twister subsides.

~Avoid driving on freeways; unlike the popular myth, freeways or highways are not an ideal place to drive during a tornado attack. The wind moving through these highways will often increase speed and lead to terrible outcomes for many drivers. If you have to drive, you can use designated state evacuation routes to flee the area, outside of the projected path of the tornado.

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After the Tornado

Once the tornado has passed and you've received the "all clear" from local authorities, it's time to assess the damage and begin the recovery process.

Here's a quick synopsis:

  1. Check on your family and neighbors: Make sure everyone in your immediate area is safe and accounted for. Provide first aid if needed and call emergency services for any serious injuries.
  2. Inspect your home: Carefully exit your shelter and inspect your home for any damage. Look for signs of structural damage, fallen trees or power lines, and other hazards. If your home is severely damaged or unsafe, do not re-enter and contact the appropriate authorities.
  3. Turn off utilities: If you suspect any damage to your home's gas, electricity, or water lines, shut off the main valves or breakers to prevent further damage or potential hazards.
  4. Clean up safely: Begin the cleanup process but be cautious of any debris or unstable structures. Wear protective gear, such as gloves and a mask, to avoid injury or exposure to hazardous materials.
  5. Document the damage: Take photographs or videos of any damage to your property. This documentation can be helpful when filing insurance claims or seeking disaster assistance.
  6. Seek help if needed: If your home is uninhabitable or you've suffered significant losses, reach out to local authorities, disaster relief organizations, or your insurance provider for assistance.
  7. Stay informed: Continue to monitor local news and weather reports for updates on the storm's aftermath and any ongoing safety concerns.

Remember, the recovery process can be long and challenging, but by staying calm, following safety protocols, and seeking help when needed, you can get your life back on track. For more information read our "Dealing with the Aftermath of a Tornado" article.