With almost 1,000 tornadoes in the U.S. in 2016, as reported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), it’s important to know what to do if one is in your 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. Here are some tips on what to do.
Peak tornado season in the U.S. is March through May in the southern states, and late spring through early summer in the northern states, according to Ready.gov. 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 hiring a professional to help reinforce masonry walls that provide support to your home, secure your chimney and to connect your manufactured home permanently to its foundation, if relevant.
If you have time before a tornado approaches, the Red Cross also suggests moving or securing lawn furniture and other items 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.
You may have had family fire drills, but what about a tornado drill? Practicing where to go in the event of a tornado helps keep everyone in your household on the same page regarding how to stay safe. For example, if your home has a basement, you should seek shelter there, avoid windows and use sturdy protection as cover, with the NOAA suggesting a mattress or sleeping bag.
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 recommends avoiding windows and to go to the lowest floor, or a small center room, like a bathroom or closet. Other options include going under stairwells or to an interior hallway. 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.
Don’t remove that blanket that was stashed in your car over the winter, and here’s why. If pulling over and getting inside a sturdy building to seek shelter isn’t possible, there are other options. The National Weather Service (NWS) advises staying in the car with your seat belt on and keeping your head below the windows. Next, the NWS advises covering 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. The NWS advises that if you find yourself in a car during a tornado, pull over and stay inside with the seat belt buckled. If you find yourself outside of the car during a tornado, seek shelter in a ditch, even though it may not provide much protection, says the NWS.
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 NWS. In a tornado warning, a tornado has been sighted. It’s also a time for action, as you should move to an interior room on the lowest level of your home, according to the NWS.
If a tornado touches down in your area, power might be knocked out and it might be a few days before you have electricity and clean running water in your home. To get through those days, you will need 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 be enough to last at least three days just like the water.
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. Don’t forget to pack extra batteries in your emergency kit, too. What else goes in your kit? According to the NWS, keeping a map of the area in your kit can help you follow storm movements and determine if you are in the path of the tornado.
If a tornado is on the way to your area, that doesn’t mean you should stand in front of a window and take pictures. The NOAA recommends avoiding windows if a tornado is near. If it’s possible, get into the lowest level of your home. If you lose power, don’t light candles. For more tips on what not to do, see these debunked tornado myths.
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. Before a tornado strikes, consider keeping this guide handy so you know how to assess storm damage safely.
By taking a few steps to help practice what to do in a tornado and packing an emergency kit, your family can be better prepared when a tornado is in your area.
Originally published June 7, 2016.