Tips to prepare for tornado season
Last updated: August 2023
Tornadoes can cause damage to buildings and injuries to people, so it’s important to know what to do if one is in the area. While you can’t control the weather, you can take steps to help prepare your home for tornado season. In addition, knowing what to do in the event of a tornado may help you and your family stay safe even while you’re away from home. Here are some tips on what you can do to be prepared and some safety measures to consider if a tornado does strike.
Prepare your home for tornado season
Tornadoes can happen at any time of the year. However, peak tornado season in the U.S. is in the spring and summer, according to the National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) — typically early spring on the Gulf Coast, from May into early June in the Southern Plains and June and July in the upper Midwest and Northern Plains.
However, that doesn't mean you should wait for peak tornado season to make your home secure — especially as many of these preparations can be time consuming and may require the work of a professional. The American Red Cross suggests having trees trimmed so that diseased or damaged limbs are removed, installing permanent shutters on windows that you can close quickly and having your garage door strengthened. Also, Ready.gov recommends signing up to receive notifications from the local warning system or the Emergency Alert System.
If you have time before a tornado approaches, the Red Cross also suggests moving or securing debris and other loose items, such as lawn furniture and firewood, that may become a projectile during a tornado. You don't want your patio set or lawn decorations to potentially become a source of danger for your family or neighbors.
Plan a Family Tornado Drill
Practicing where to go in the event of a tornado may help keep everyone in your household on the same page regarding how to stay safe. Your drill should also include a discussion of which rooms in your home or apartment building are the safest in the event of a tornado. For example, if your home has a basement, you should seek shelter there, avoid windows and use sturdy protection as cover. The National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration's Storm Prediction Center (NOAA SPC) suggests getting under a heavy table and covering yourself with some cushioning, such as a mattress or sleeping bag, to help shield yourself from falling debris.
If you don't have a basement, or if you live in a high-rise and can't get to one, then you still have a few options for finding a safe space. The NOAA SPC recommends going to the lowest floor, or a small center room without windows, like a bathroom or closet. Other options include going under stairwells or to an interior hallway. Cover yourself with something like a mattress or blankets that can act as padding against debris.
Stay Safe on the Road
If you're in a car when a tornado is spotted, pull over and seek shelter in a sturdy building. If that's not possible, you have a few other options. The Red Cross advises pulling over, staying in the parked car with your seat belt on and keeping your head below the windows. Next, cover your head with your hands and a blanket.
Also, you should avoid seeking shelter under a bridge or overpass. The Ohio Committee for Severe Weather Awareness (OCSWA) notes that flying debris can become "dangerous missiles." In addition, the OCSWA points out the passage underneath the overpass may increase the wind speed, potentially making it an unsafe location to seek shelter. If you find yourself outside of the car during a tornado, lie flat on the ground with your face down and your hands and arms protecting the back of your head. If possible, the OCSWA recommends getting an area that is lower than the roadway, such as a ditch.
Know the Difference Between a Watch and a Warning
There are tornado watches and tornado warnings, and knowing the difference between the two is part of being prepared. A tornado watch means that tornadoes are possible in the area, notes the NSSL. In a tornado warning, a tornado has been sighted. It's also a time for action, as you should find shelter immediately, according to the National Weather Service.
Pack an Emergency Kit
If a tornado touches down in your area, power might be knocked out. It might be a few days before you have electricity and clean running water in your home. It's a good idea to prepare a basic emergency kit in advance of peak tornado season for everyone in your household. Ready.gov recommends an all-purpose emergency kit should include at least one gallon of water per person in your household per day for at least three days and enough food for each person. The food supplies should also be enough to last at least three days.
Ready.gov also recommends storing a battery-powered or hand-crank radio, as well as a NOAA Weather Radio so you can stay up to date on tornado movements, as well as receive information when it's safe to leave your shelter. You may also want to include a flashlight, batteries, first aid supplies and local maps in your emergency kit, says Ready.gov.
Know What Not to Do
If a tornado is on the way to your area, don't wait to take shelter. It is not safe to go outside and check on the storm or even watch it from inside. The NOAA recommends avoiding windows if a tornado is nearby. Don't waste time opening windows to "equalize air pressure," which is a tornado myth. Get into an interior room in the lowest level of your home. If you lose power, use flashlights instead of candles, says the Red Cross.
Look for Damage After a Tornado
Just because the outside appears calm doesn't automatically mean it's safe to leave your shelter. When a tornado is in your area, Ready.gov recommends staying sheltered until the tornado warning has expired. When you do have the all clear to leave your shelter, you'll need to check for any damage to your home, vehicle and other property. Use caution when inspecting your property, and contact the authorities if debris is preventing you from exiting your home, you see downed power lines or you think there is a safety issue with the utilities, such as a potential gas leak or fire hazard.
By taking a few steps to prepare your home and emergency kit ahead of time, and practicing what to do during a tornado, your family can be better prepared when a tornado is in your area.