A tornado is a rotating funnel-shaped cloud that drops out of a storm cloud to the ground. Whirling winds range from 75 miles an hour to 300 miles an hour. Tornadoes can measure one mile in width and travel for 50 miles, often changing direction erratically.
Texas averages 125 tornadoes every year- more than any other state. Oklahoma comes in second with an average of 57 per year. Twisters can occur at any time of year but spring and summer are considered tornado season around here. And while tornadoes can happen at any time of day, they’re most likely to occur between 3 and 9 p.m. So when your afternoon talk show or evening sitcom is interrupted for a tornado watch or warning - pay attention and don’t go outside!
Probably the most important thing that you can do to protect yourself is to understand the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning.
A tornado watch means that the formation of tornadoes is possible.
A tornado warning means that one has been sighted or detected by radar; seek shelter now!
Mobile homes are particularly vulnerable, but even sturdy, brick buildings on concrete slabs are in danger. The power of tornadoes can be great enough to hurl objects as large as cars over long distances, resulting in extreme damage.
Each year tornadoes are responsible for about 70 deaths and 1,500 injuries nationwide. To learn more about tornadoes, go to NOAA’s Tornado FAQ.
How do I prepare for a tornado before it strikes?
Learn about Warning Systems.
Inspect Your Home: Paying close attention to the walls and roof. You may need to make some improvements such as bolting the walls to the foundation or attaching "hurricane clips" between wall studs and roof rafters. You may want to contact building inspectors in your city or county about structural concerns that you might have.
Prepare a Shelter:
- If your home does not have a basement or storm cellar, locate the safest room in your house and designate it as your storm shelter. An interior room without windows such as a closet, bathroom or the crawl space under a staircase may be the safest place. Lower-level interior bathrooms provide the best protection if no basement is available because the plumbing provides additional sturdiness to the walls.
- Mobile homes – even those with tie-downs – are not safe during tornadoes. Mobile homes should always be abandoned during severe weather and plan on sheltering in a nearby sturdy building. If no shelter is available, get out of vehicles and find the most low-lying area (ditch, ravine, etc.) lay flat on your stomach and cover your head with your hands.
Safe Rooms: Building a safe room is another option. Safe rooms are above-ground shelters built to withstand tornado-force winds and flying debris. An existing room, such as an interior bathroom, can be reinforced to function as a safe room while remaining functional as a bathroom. See information from FEMA on Preparing a Safe Room. Manufactured free-standing safe rooms also are available.
How do I protect myself and my family during tornado threats?
Outside: When severe weather is approaching, you may not be able to see funnel clouds, as they can be obscured by rain or nearby low-hanging clouds. Learn how to look for other weather conditions that may indicate tornadic activity:
- A dark or green-colored sky
- Large, dark, low-lying clouds
- Large hail
- A loud roar that sounds like a freight train
- Signs of flying debris near the ground below funnel clouds or wall clouds.
If you see any of these signs, go to your shelter immediately and tune in to local radio, television or get information about NOAA Weather Radio. Help alert others by reporting tornado sightings to the media.
Occasionally, tornadoes develop so rapidly that advance warning is not possible. Remain alert for signs of an approaching tornado and watch for flying debris.
In Your Car: If you see a tornado while you are driving, stop your car and get out. Find the lowest spot, such as a ditch, and lie flat on the ground. Cover your head with your hands. Do not seek shelter beneath overpasses as wind speeds can be higher in narrow passages. Never try to out-drive a tornado.
At School, Office or Shopping Centers: In schools and office buildings, go to a designated shelter. If there is not one, the safest place is the basement or an interior hallway on the lowest floor. In shopping centers, move as far away from glass doors and windows as possible. If you are in a building with a large-span roof, such as a gymnasium or auditorium, seek shelter elsewhere.
Did you know? Firewheel Town Center in Garland has designated "Storm Shelters". Look around the next time that you are shopping or ask one of the store managers to help direct you. Make sure that you share the locations with your family in case you are caught unexpectedly in a storm. It could save your life!
How do I stay safe after a tornado?
Once a tornado has passed, the danger is not over. In fact, half of all tornado-related injuries occur following the storm. Before you leave your shelter, look outside and assess potential hazards. While inspecting damage, cleaning up and living without power, take the following precautions:
- Do not touch downed power lines or any objects that are in contact with downed lines. Report electrical hazards to authorities.
- Wear sturdy shoes or boots, long sleeves and gloves when cleaning up.
- Look out for broken glass and exposed nails, a leading cause of tetanus. If you get a nail puncture, contact your doctor or local health department. You may need to get a tetanus shot.
- Use extreme caution when entering damaged structures.
- If your home is damaged, shut off the electrical power, natural gas and propane gas to avoid electrocution, fires and explosions.
- If you smell gas in your home, turn the main gas valve off and call the gas company. Open windows and doors. Do not smoke, light candles or use matches.
- Whenever possible, use battery-powered flashlights and lanterns instead of candles.
- Help avoid injuries when using chain saws and power tools by learning how to operate them properly, and always following recommended safety procedures.
- Never use generators, grills, camp stoves or other gas or charcoal-burning devices inside your home, garage or near open windows, doors and vents. Carbon monoxide – a colorless, odorless gas – can build up and cause sudden illness and death. If you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning or feel dizzy, light-headed or nauseous, seek immediate medical attention.
Tornado Fact vs. Fiction
Fiction: Areas near rivers, lakes, and mountains are safe from tornadoes.
Fact: No place is safe from tornadoes. In the late 1980s, a tornado swept through Yellowstone National Park leaving a path of destruction up and down a 10,000-foot mountain.
Fiction: The low pressure with a tornado causes buildings to "explode" as the tornado passes overhead.
Fact: Violent winds and debris slamming into buildings cause most structural damage.
Fiction: Windows should be opened before a tornado approaches to equalize pressure and minimize damage.
Fact: Opening windows allows damaging winds to enter the structure. Leave the windows alone; instead, immediately move to a safe place.
Source: Nature's Most Violent Storms, A Preparedness Guide, USDC, NOAA, NWS