Much of the United States has experienced one or more tornadoes in the last decade. Texas, with the largest number of tornadoes, sees an average of 137 tornadoes per year and according to NOAA, the United States sees an average of 1,253 tornadoes per year, and some parts of the world are much more prone to them. It is common even today to have very little if any advanced warning of a tornado, and so where to seek shelter differs greatly by the environment you find yourself in.
Did you know that tornadoes have been documented in every state in the US, and on every continent except Antarctica? So, are you ready?
Planning for a Tornado
At Home or Small Building
Storm shelters located outside the building are your safest bet, but those are uncommon outside of areas that encounter heavy tornado activity. Why outside the home? If a tornado hits the structure that is directly over the shelter it will do severe damage, possibly causing a great deal of debris damage, and while the shelter itself might be safe you might find it difficult to get outside the shelter after the storm has passed.
Imagine if your shelter were underneath this pile of debris?
Still, in the absence of a detached special purpose storm shelter, a basement is your next safest option. Avoid windows. If no basement is available, a windowless interior room or hallway on the lowest level of the building is your safest alternative. Do not seek shelter in a mobile home! If you are in a mobile home during a tornado, get out! You are better off in a vehicle or hunkered down in a ditch. If you live in a mobile home, have a plan for getting you and your family to a secure building. Even tied-down mobiles homes are not safe in a tornado.
It is important to have a family tornado plan in place. You should plan escape routes to your shelter from each bedroom and family room in the house. Practice a family tornado drill at least once a year. Of course, you need a rally point; a place where you and your family can meet after the tornado. In a tornado, flying debris is the greatest threat and you should plan accordingly when developing your storm shelter. It is a good idea to have protective coverings on hand and ready to use, along with a good NOAA weather radio, preferably one that has a hand crank charger such as the Midland ER 300. Put together a BOLT bag and have it on hand to take with you into your shelter.
In an Office Building, Church or School
Follow the drill! Most such buildings will already have tornado shelter plans in place. Get to an interior hall or windowless room on the lowest possible floor. Crouch low and keep your head down. Protect your head with your hands.
In a Vehicle
If you are in a vehicle when a tornado strikes, understand that there are no safe options. If you can drive to safety, do so. Use the vehicle to get to the nearest sturdy building or to get underground if possible. If you are caught by severe winds or debris and must shelter in the vehicle, buckle up and try to stay below the window lines. Cover your head with your hands and a blanket, coat or other cushion if possible. Avoid seeking shelter under bridges.
In the Open
If you find yourself in the open during a tornado, seek shelter in a sturdy building if possible. If none are available or you cannot reach one in time, lie flat and face down on low ground. Protect the back of your head with your hands. Get as far away from trees, vehicles, or other items that could potentially be thrown around by the tornado. Get as low as possible. Drainage ditches are your best bet.
In short, don’t panic! Get as close to the ground as possible, as far from possible debris as possible, and cover your head. In the open, there are no good options. The more you can reduce the number of possible threats to your safety, the better your odds of survival will be.
The aftermath of a tornado can be just as deadly as the tornado itself. They pull down power lines, rupture gas and sewage lines and can cause hazardous materials to enter the water. You should continue to listen to local news or a NOAA weather radio for updated information and instructions. Watch out for fallen power lines and broken gas or sewage lines and report them to the authorities immediately. Stay out of damaged buildings! Avoid the use of candles, as open flames can cause ruptured gas lines to erupt.
Let your family know that you are safe. The RedCross operates an international website for connecting with families that may have been affected by disasters.