How To Survive a Tornado: Safety, Tips and Preparing For The Storm

How to survive tornado

If you have ever watched the movies “Twister” or “Into The Storm” or experienced one yourself, then you will know how devastating this type of storm can be.

But what can you do to prepare for in the event of a tornado?

Luckily there are some simple things that you can do to drastically increase your chance of surviving one of these disastrous events.

The fact of the matter is that there is nothing that you can do to steer a tornado away from your house other than to prepare yourself and to brace for the impact.

In this article, I am going to go through everything.

I am going to cover the basics of what a tornado is and its characteristics. I am also going to show you how to plan for the storm, how to survive inside a house and also what to do if you are outside in the open.

I am also going to tell you how to handle the aftermath once the storm has calmed.


Tornadoes 101

In this section, I am going to cover the basics of tornadoes. I am going to cover the causes, scales, seasonality and also the early signs that you need to look for before a tornado is formed.

a) What causes tornado’s

For a tornado to form, there needs to be instability in the atmosphere. This instability comes when hot, humid air comes into contact with cold, dry air. The warm moist air is at the lower part of the atmosphere while the colder and drier air is present at higher altitudes.

The hot air will be less dense which causes it to rise while the cold air will start to fall. This action will create a mesocycle to form which will create an updraft of hot air. This updraft will begin to spin and will also be fed by the cold air.

This video below will give you a glimpse of what causes tornadoes.

A supercell thunderstorm also needs to exist for the tornado to form. You will also need wind shear which will be a driving force for developing tornadoes. These are the essential components required for a tornado to exist, but there is still a lot of mystery surrounding this devastating phenomenon.

b) Tornado severity scales

Not every tornado is created equal. Some tornadoes will damage the chimney of your house while others will rip your home from its foundation. Tornadoes also have their severity scale which can also be called Fujita scale.

This scale is based on its wind speed because the faster the wind, the more damage will occur. This scale became operational in the year 1971. The Fujita scale was also replaced by the enhanced Fujita scale (EF) in the year 2007.

The EF scale does consider not only wind speeds but also the related damage. This method was accomplished by taking satalite photos of the aftermath caused by a tornado. The severity scale will range from 0-5 and can either be expressed as F0-F5 or EF0-EF5. The higher the scale, the more ferocious the tornado. 

c) Seasonality and location

Tornadoes can occur almost anywhere on land, and they rarely happen on the ocean. There is also no limit as to which country they can happen. In the US, Tornado Alley is an area that stretches from the middle of the continent eastwards.

tornado alley

It is also more concentrated in the states of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota. The frequency of tornadoes in the western area of the continent is almost zero.

If you live in one of the states mentioned above, then you need to prepare your home for such an event. Tornadoes also tend to occur during spring and throughout the summer months. The likely reason for these seasons is because of the warmer temperature.

They also happen during the late afternoon and can go throughout the night. Enough heat has been built up throughout the morning and midday to initiate the tornado.

d) Early signs of a tornado

If you live in one of the states that are known for having tornadoes, then it is crucial that you are familiar with the early signs that come before the tornado is formed. This way, you will be able to find shelter before the disaster strikes quickly.

There are also two types of signals that you can look for when coming from weather stations. This will include a tornado watch and tornado warning.

A Tornado watch is when the atmospheric conditions are favorable for a severe thunderstorm that can produce a tornado. If you hear this news, then you need to prepare your family and immediately start with planning.

A Tornado warning is when a severe thunderstorm has already developed, and a tornado is present. Once you are presented with a signal, then you need to seek out shelter asap.

Early Signs

  • High winds and thunderstorms – A tornado is not just going to pop up out of nowhere on a sunny day. There first need to be a storm accompanied by heavy rains, strong winds and also hail.
  • Green clouds – Just before a tornado forms, you will notice that the clouds will start to turn turquoise-green. If heavy rains or hail accompany a thunderstorm, then a blueish color will be reflected from the core of the storm.

Because most tornadoes happen during the late evening, the reddish sunlight during sundown will mix with the core and product a turquoise green color. If you combine red with blue, then you will get a green color.

  • Low-lying clouds – Tornadoes usually starts from the top down, and if the clouds are closer to the ground, then a tornado is more likely to happen. You will also notice clouds moving downwards to form the base of the funnel.
  • Loud roaring noise – When you mix the sound coming from the thunder with that of the strong winds, then you will be presented with a loud roaring sound that does not stop.
  • Whirling debris – Just because the tornado has not formed yet, does not mean that there is not a whirling action on the surface of the land. You will notice that sand and debris will move in a swirling motion under the cloud base because the tornado does not have a funnel yet.


If you live in a tornado hotspot, then you will at least have the opportunity to prepare for when one should occur. Do not underestimate the planning involved with these types of situations as it might save your life.

a) Preparing your family

If you have a family, then you cannot just leave them behind when a tornado strikes. You will need to consider everyone and get them involved in the planning as well.

You can start by educating your family members on how tornadoes look like and also the signs of one starting to form. The most important thing that you cannot go without is communication. Make sure that you can contact every family member.

You can also register each member of your family on the website called Safe and Well which is designed to let each other know if you are safe after a natural disaster. This website can help give each member peace of mind.

You should also teach your family members how to use the emergency kit and which items must be present. Show all of your family members where the shut off points are located for gas, water, and electrical connections. This strategy will help prevent further damage to your home.

b) Customizing a safe room

There are some things that you can change inside of your home that might help at protecting you and your family. If you do not have a basement, then you can designate a room somewhere in the middle of the house and strengthen it to become a storm shelter.

You can also reinforce your doors so that they have at least three hinges along with a deadbolt lock. Make sure this room does not have any windows. If you are handy with tools, you can also build a storm shelter.

tornado safe room

If you have a basement, you should make sure to have a couple of mattresses ready to cover yourself. Mark locations in the basement that are not below heavy objects such as a piano.

You do not want the piano to fall on you if the floor tumbles. It is also essential to store some supplies in the basement such as an emergency kit, food, water, and radio. Also, make sure to save a helmet(s) to protect your head and that of your family.

Devise a plan where all of the connections to gas, water, and electricity are made visible so that it can be turned off before a tornado strikes. Another thing that you can do is to install impact proof windows.

The windows might still break, but it will not shatter that much. There is nothing worse than glass flying everywhere at 200 MPH. Last but not least, you need to make sure that you have at least home insurance.

c) Preparing for your pets

Most people ignore their pets when planning for an evacuation plan. For most people, they are like family and cannot be ignored. First of all, make sure that your pet has an identification tag for when it might get lost during a storm.

You can also contact animal shelters and vets to see if they have any plan to look after your pet in the case of disaster temporarily. Some of these shelters are very well equipped at protecting animals. If your pet is small, make sure you have a pet carrier in place to minimize the time lost.

pets during tornado

If your pet is large, you can also arrange for a strong leash. Make sure your pets are vaccinated against rabies and other diseases before taking them to the kennels. If you plan for your pets to stay at home with you, then you need to plan your shelter accordingly.

Have enough supplies such as food and water for your pets and make sure to wrap them with a blanket which might help to protect them.

d) Have an Emergency Kit

The emergency kit should be stored in your safe room. This kit should include medical supplies and also items which are essential for survival. In regards to medical supplies, I would recommend bandages, antibiotics, sterile wipes, gauze pads, and even products for sanitation.

For survival purposes, I will recommend a flashlight, pocket knife, NOAA weather radio which operates on batteries and a compass. You can also add a whistle and a dust mask.

You should also keep important documents with you such as phone numbers, a map of the city, birth certificates, your will, insurance policies, social security cards and also a household inventory.

Regarding food, you also want to have enough water, canned food and also baked goods such as hardtack. Make sure to add food that will not spoil quickly.

This is not all.

You can also add boxes which will include extra clothes, jackets, sturdy shoes and gloves, and some items for comfort.

e) Clean up around your house

You do not want to add any more fuel for the tornado to throw at your house. Believe me when I say that it will be in your best interest to clean around your home and removing heavy objects. If you have any lawnmowers or garden equipment lying around, then I suggest you store it somewhere in your house.

trimming trees around house

If your yard has a tree or more, then I would suggest cutting away any dead branches that can be torn off by high-speed winds and used as missiles against your home. If you have any furniture outside, then it is also a good idea to bring it inside. Any heavy object needs to be out of reach from the wind.

You can also make a list of everything outside that you need to bring into your home before the onset of a tornado.

Tornadoes and Buildings

Buildings play a significant role in surviving a tornado. I will need to know which buildings are the best and also which ones to stay away from. I will also provide information on what to do during a tornado.

a) Places to avoid

Sometimes you will find yourself in a situation where you can choose the building in which you want to shelter. Some of us are not that lucky because we have limited options. Some buildings are just better than others when it comes to its ability to withstand heavy winds. Below is a list of some buildings to avoid:

Mobile homes

Mobile homes might offer some protection and can be better than nothing but should not be your first choice. The problem of mobile homes is that they are not fixed to the ground and can be easily lifted into the air.

Buildings with a flat roof

Flat roofs, in general, are not that strong and offer very little support. A roof that is flat can easily fall apart and can also be lifted into the air without much effort.

Under a bridge or overpass

While hiding under a bridge might protect you against objects that fall from above, it will not protect you from winds that come from the side. Most bridges are also not built to withstand sideways pressure and will fall apart.

bridges and overpass

There were also cases where people were swept out from under a bridge.

Avoid skyscrapers

The problem with tall buildings is that once they start to break down and fall, they will create a lot of debris. You have a slim chance to survive if such a large building is tumbling down on you.


The elevator itself will give a lot of protection, but then you sit with the risk of it getting stuck which will have you trapped. An elevator will also not work if the power is off.

b) The best buildings to choose from

If there is a tornado warning in your area and you have access to one of the following buildings, then you are in luck. Below are some buildings that should protect you against a tornado.

A House with a basement

The house itself will not prove to be that effective but the basement will help a lot. The basement is protected from the sideways force generated by the tornado and is also underground. There is also no windows in a basement that could potentially break.

Shopping mall

The best place to hide inside a shopping mall would be the bathrooms and storage rooms. Most shopping malls also have a basement area where some of the cars park that might offer some protection.

shopping mall

Community storm shelter

Some community shelters will allow you to survive the night. Just make sure that you know the rules of each one. Make a list of all the shelters in your location. You should also not wait until the last moment to go inside a shelter as they will fill very quickly.

c) During a tornado

Now that you have done all of the preparation that you can think off, there are still some things that you can do in the case of a tornado to increase your odds of survival.

Protect yourself

If you have a baseball or bicycle helmet in place, you should wear it. It might protect your head from incoming debris and save your life. Head injuries are very common during a tornado. There is nothing worse than being knocked out by a brick during a tornado.You can also cover yourself with blankets, mattresses and sleeping bags.

Best location in the room

It is imperative to stay away from the outside wall, the door, windows and also the corners of your room. If you are in a basement, then make sure that you do not stay under a heavy object which is located in the floor above. The best location in the room is going to be right in the middle away from the walls, windows, and doors.During a tornado, this heavy object might fall through the floor and squash you like an insect.

Hide under heavy an object

If you have a sturdy table in the room in which you are hiding, then that might prove to be useful. By hiding under this table, you might further protect yourself against flying objects.

Stay away from Elevators

The elevator itself will give a lot of protection, but then you sit with the risk of it getting stuck which will have you trapped. An elevator will also not work if the power is off.

elevators and tornado

Your body position

Covering your head and neck with your arms is essential. Make yourself as small as possible. Go on your knees and push your chest against your upper legs.

When In The Open

Sometimes you will find yourself in the situation where you are far from a building, or you are busy driving which a tornado strikes.

a) While driving

I have seen many videos about storm chasers driving near tornadoes. Personally, I would be too terrified to approach an upcoming tornado. The best practice while driving is to drive to the closest building. The closest building would be garage stations or fast food restaurants.

If you are too far from any buildings, then you should try to drive around the tornado or at least get off its path. When a tornado is in your view, the first thing to do is to determine the direction it is heading and then pick a road or direction 90 degrees from its path. Do not try to outrun it.

b) Find a trench or ditch

If you find yourself in a situation where you cannot drive away from it, then you should find the closest ditch, lie down in it and cover your body. Lie down as flat as possible with your face down and brace the impact.If you are too late and there is no ditch or building nearby, then stop the car, fasten your seatbelt, duck as low as possible and cover your head with your arms.

c) Avoid bridges

I should also remind you not to stop your car under a bridge as it will not work. You will only be protected from above, but the wind will still be able to sweep you out from under it. There is also the possibility of the bridge collapsing on top of you.

The Aftermath

After the storm has passed, it is time to reflect on that which has happened. There are some things that you should do right away and some things to avoid.

Tornado Aftermath

a) Check for injuries

Go through each of your family members and yourself to check for injuries and wounds. Look for cuts and broken bones throughout the whole body.

Hopefully, you already have an emergency kit in place which includes a medical kit. Apply pressure where on the wound to prevent a lot of blood loss and try to contact the ambulance.

b) Contact your relatives

Take your phone and call your nearest relatives and let them know that you are safe. This will give them a piece of mind so that they do not need to worry about you.

c) Listen for updates

Take out your NOAA Weather Radio and listen for updates on the event. Only go outside if the authorities give the signal.

d) Watch out for gas leaks

Never light a match or take a smoke inside of your house (if it is still standing) just after the tornado has hit your home. There is a good chance that the wind might have broken one of your pipes connecting the stove to a gas tank.Go over all of the pipes as you do not want to cause an explosion because of a gas leak.

e) Watch out for broken power lines

There is a good chance that the wind might have broken the power lines. There is also the possibility of live power lines laying on the ground. You should also avoid water puddles as they can conduct electricity.

f) Protect yourself

Put on a dust mask, helmet, and your gloves before you inspect your house and those next to you. Avoid stepping on broken glass and sharp objects such as nails.

g) Stay out of damaged buildings

If some buildings are still standing, then they might be about to collapse. Wait for the authorities and experienced rescue teams to do their job.

f) Inspect your home

Avoid drinking tap water as it might be contaminated be broken pipes. Wait for an electrician to inspect your home before turning on the power. Make sure you have the necessary documents of your insurance claim. You should also take the pictures needed for insurance claims and inspect the damage.


I hope you found some golden nuggets in this article on how to survive a tornado. I covered the basics on what a tornado is and also how you can prepare yourself for the event.

I also covered what you should do after the event. Now it is your turn.

Have you ever been in the presence of a tornado and what did you do to survive?

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