How to Prepare for a Tornado: Essential Tips for Safety

Did you know that the United States experiences over 1,000 tornadoes each year, causing significant damage and posing serious risks to life and property? Tornadoes can strike with little warning, making it crucial to be prepared.

In this guide, we will explore how to prepare for a tornado effectively, ensuring you and your loved ones stay safe during these powerful storms. From understanding the difference between a tornado watch and warning to creating an emergency plan and kit, we’ve got you covered with essential tips on how to prepare for a tornado watch and warning.

Understanding Tornadoes

What is a Tornado?

A tornado is a rapidly rotating column of air that extends from a thunderstorm to the ground. These violent weather phenomena are capable of tremendous destruction with wind speeds that can exceed 300 miles per hour. Larger tornadoes can uproot trees, demolish buildings, and hurl vehicles through the air like missiles.

Key Characteristics of Tornadoes:

  • Formation: Tornadoes typically form in powerful thunderstorms called supercells. These storms have a well-defined rotation, which can intensify into a tornado under the right conditions.
  • Appearance: They often appear as a funnel-shaped cloud with a characteristic narrow, cylindrical base touching the ground and a wider top connected to the cloud base.
  • Size and Path: Tornadoes can vary significantly in size and shape, ranging from a few yards to over a mile in width. Their paths can be unpredictable, although they typically travel a few miles before dissipating.
  • Duration: Most tornadoes last for just a few minutes, but some can persist for over an hour.

Determining Tornado Intensity:

Tornadoes are rated on the Enhanced Fujita (EF) scale, which classifies them based on the damage they cause:

  • EF0 (65-85 mph): Light damage, such as broken tree branches and minor roof damage.
  • EF1 (86-110 mph): Moderate damage, including overturned mobile homes and broken windows.
  • EF2 (111-135 mph): Considerable damage, with roofs torn off houses and mobile homes completely destroyed.
  • EF3 (136-165 mph): Severe damage, including entire stories of well-constructed houses destroyed.
  • EF4 (166-200 mph): Devastating damage, with well-built houses leveled and cars thrown significant distances.
  • EF5 (>200 mph): Incredible damage, with strong frame houses lifted off foundations and carried considerable distances.

Tornado Warning vs. Tornado Watch

It’s critical to know the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning:

Tornado Watch: A tornado watch is issued when the weather conditions suggest that tornadoes could form in the area. It’s a preemptive alert to inform residents that they need to stay vigilant and prepare for the possibility of severe weather. During a tornado watch, you should monitor weather updates, review your emergency plan, and know where to seek shelter if a tornado warning is issued. It’s crucial to understand that a watch doesn’t guarantee a tornado will happen, but it means one could develop, so being prepared is key.

Tornado Warning: Issued when a tornado has been sighted or indicated by weather radar, signaling an immediate threat to your area. This warning means it is crucial to take immediate action to ensure your safety.

Upon hearing a tornado warning, seek shelter immediately, preferably in a basement or an interior room on the lowest floor of a sturdy building, away from windows. If you are in a vehicle, trailer, or mobile home, you should move to a substantial shelter immediately. Protect yourself from flying debris with heavy blankets or mattresses if necessary. It is also advisable to have a pre-prepared emergency kit with essentials such as water, non-perishable food, a flashlight, and a first-aid kit.

How to Prepare for a Tornado Warning or Watch

Creating a Tornado Emergency Plan

Developing a family emergency plan is crucial for tornado preparedness. Here are some steps to consider:

  • Identify Safe Locations: Choose a safe location in your home where everyone can gather during a tornado, such as a tornado shelter, basement, or an interior room on the lowest floor. Make sure you carefully map out and think about the safest and most straightforward ways to get to your designated shelter location in your plan.
  • Emergency Contacts: Compile a list of emergency contacts, including family members, neighbors, and local emergency services. Make sure all family members and care providers have the emergency contact information.
  • Use a Safe Position: When a tornado is imminent, protect your head and neck by assuming a crouched position against a wall away from windows and doors. Use your arms to shield your head and neck, or cover yourself with a mattress, sleeping bags, or heavy blankets for additional protection. This position minimizes the risk of head, neck, and flying debris injuries, which are common during tornadoes.
  • Practice Drills: Conduct regular tornado drills to ensure everyone knows what to do when a tornado warning is issued. Practice different scenarios, such as being at home, school, or work.

Building a Tornado Emergency Kit

Having a well-stocked emergency kit is crucial in case of a tornado or other natural disasters. Here are some essential items to include in your kit:

  • Water (one gallon per person per day for at least three days)
  • Non-perishable food (at least a three-day supply)
  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • First aid kit
  • Whistle to signal for help
  • Dust mask to help filter contaminated air
  • Moist towelettes, garbage bags, and plastic ties for personal sanitation
  • Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
  • Manual can opener for food
  • Local maps
  • Cell phone with chargers and a backup battery

Staying Informed

Staying updated on weather alerts is crucial for tornado preparedness. Here are some tips:

  • NOAA Weather Radio: Tune in to NOAA Weather Radio, which provides continuous updates on severe weather conditions.
  • Weather Apps: Use reliable weather apps that provide real-time alerts and updates.
  • Local News: Stay tuned to local news channels for the latest information on weather conditions.

Tornado Safety Position: How to Position Your Body

When a tornado is imminent, taking the correct safety position is crucial for your survival. Knowing how to position your body can help protect you from debris and minimize injury.


If you’re indoors, move to the lowest level of the building, such as a basement or storm cellar. If these are not available, go to a small, windowless interior room on the lowest floor, like a bathroom, closet, or hallway. Get as low to the ground as possible, and if you can, get under a sturdy piece of furniture like a table or desk to protect yourself from falling debris. Use your arms to cover your head and neck, and if available, use pillows, blankets, or mattresses to shield yourself. Lie face down with your head tucked to protect your vital organs and minimize exposure to debris.

In a Mobile Home

Mobile homes are not safe during tornadoes. If a tornado warning is issued, leave the mobile home immediately and move to the nearest sturdy building or storm shelter. If you can’t evacuate, lie flat in a nearby ditch or low-lying area, cover your head with your hands, and stay alert to the potential for flooding.

In a Vehicle

If you are in a vehicle, do not attempt to outrun a tornado. Tornadoes can change direction quickly. If possible, drive to the nearest sturdy building or storm shelter and take cover. If no shelter is available, stay in your vehicle, keep your seatbelt on, and lower your head below the windows, covering it with your hands or a blanket. Alternatively, if you can safely exit your vehicle, lie flat in a nearby ditch or low-lying area away from the car, covering your head with your hands.


If you’re caught outside and can’t find shelter, lie flat in a nearby ditch or low-lying area, covering your head with your hands. Avoid areas that could flood and stay away from trees, cars, and other objects that could become airborne or fall on you.

General Tips

Always listen for weather warnings and alerts on your phone, radio, or TV. Prepare a tornado emergency plan and know where to take cover. Understand the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning. Properly positioning your body during a tornado can significantly increase your chances of survival and minimize injuries. Always prioritize finding sturdy shelter and protecting your head and neck from debris. By staying low to the ground and covering yourself, you can better shield yourself from the dangers posed by a tornado.

Specific Situations

How to Prepare for a Tornado Without a Basement

If you don’t have a basement, you can still stay safe by identifying an interior room on the lowest floor, away from windows, such as a bathroom or closet. Use heavy furniture like a sturdy table to protect yourself from debris. Cover your body with mattresses, blankets, or cushions to protect against flying debris.

How to Prepare for a Tornado in an Apartment

For apartment dwellers, it’s important to consider several safety measures in case of a tornado. If possible, moving to a lower floor can offer more protection. It’s also crucial to stay away from windows and glass doors to avoid injury from shattered glass.

Finding shelter in an interior room or hallway can provide added safety. Additionally, coordinating with neighbors to ensure everyone is aware of the safest places to go during a tornado can improve the overall safety for all residents.

How Long Do You Have to Prepare for a Tornado Warning?

The time frame for preparation varies depending on when a tornado warning is issued. Typically, you may have only a few minutes to take shelter once a warning is announced. Therefore, it’s essential to have your emergency plan and kit ready at all times.

What to Do About Damages from a Tornado?

In the aftermath of a tornado, dealing with storm damage and water damage can be overwhelming for homeowners and businesses alike. Jenkins Restorations specializes in providing comprehensive restoration services for properties affected by severe weather events, including tornadoes. With a focus on quality and compassion, our skilled professionals are equipped to handle all aspects of tornado damage repair, from initial damage assessment to the final touches of reconstruction.

Have You Recently Experienced Tornado Damages?

After a tornado, make sure to call Jenkins Restorations to get your home – and your life – back to normal again.