Tornado Safety: How To Prepare And Deal With The Aftermath

Tornado in field

A product of powerful thunderstorms, a tornado is one of nature's most devastating storms. It can wipe out an entire neighborhood and cause multiple fatalities within seconds. A tornado can directly cause injuries, but people can also get hurt after the storm, when walking among debris or into damaged buildings.

A tornado appears as a rotating, funnel-shaped cloud extending from a thunderstorm to the ground, and it can strike quickly, with little or no warning. Some tornadoes are clearly visible, while others can appear almost transparent until dust and debris are picked up or a cloud forms in the funnel. The average forward speed of a tornado is around 30 miles per hour (mph), but can range from 0 to 70 mph. Funnel wind speeds can reach 300 mph, but the wind may die down and the air may become very still before a tornado hits. Tornadoes that form over water are called waterspouts and can accompany tropical storms and hurricanes as they move onto land.

Peak tornado season in the Southern states is typically from March to May, and in the Southern Plains it is from May to early June. Tornadoes usually occur on the Gulf Coast throughout the spring. In the Northern Plains, Northern states and upper Midwest, peak season is in June through August. Tornado Alley is a strip of land covering the northern region of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, East Colorado, Southwest South Dakota and Southern Minnesota. Tornadoes in this area usually occur in the late spring. Understanding tornado safety is especially important in these specific regions.

What to do before, during, and after a tornado


  • Designate a shelter and develop a family communication plan
  • Stay alert to changing weather conditions and approaching storms
  • Look for the following danger signs: a dark sky, a large low-lying cloud, large hail and a loud roar
  • Take shelter immediately if you see approaching storms
  • Research shelter location nearby if you do not already know


If you are in a structure such as a residence, small building, school, hospital or multi-level building:

  • Go to a safe room, basement, storm cellar or the lowest building level
  • Put as many walls as possible between you and the storm outside; go to the center of an interior room or hallway
  • Get under a sturdy table and protect your head
  • Wear sturdy shoes and comfortable clothing
  • Do not open windows or doors

If you are in a trailer or mobile home:

  • Get out immediately and take shelter in a nearby building or storm shelter

If you are outside with no shelter:

  • Get inside a vehicle, buckle your seat belt, and drive to the closest shelter
  • Stay aware of flying debris
  • Pull over and park if vehicle is hit by flying debris; stay in vehicle with seat belt on
  • Do not lie under an overpass or bridge
  • Never try to outrun a tornado in a vehicle in urban or congested areas


  • Check household members for injuries; do not move seriously injured people unless they are in immediate danger
  • Be careful when entering a damaged structure and look for exposed nails and broken glass
  • Shut off electrical power, natural gas and propane tanks to avoid fire, electrocution and explosions
  • Keep away from downed power lines or any objects in contact with them
  • Use flashlights or battery-powered lanterns during a power outage
  • Never use gasoline, propane, natural gas or charcoal-burning devices inside your home until area has been fully inspected for potential hazards
  • Clean up spilled drugs, flammable liquids and other potentially hazardous materials

Disaster preparedness plan

Visit our Disaster Preparedness Plan page to learn more about Hurricane Safety, Thunderstorm Safety, Fire Safety Tips and developing an Emergency Evacuation Plan. Also consider preparing a 72-hour kit to add one additional layer of safety for you and your family.