Home Preparedness Steps to Take When a Tornado Approaches Your Community

Steps to Take When a Tornado Approaches Your Community


By David E. Hubler
Contributor, EDM Digest 

The U.S. is in the midst of its annual tornado season. The area most often affected by these dangerous storms is a long stretch of America that extends from North Dakota to Texas, popularly known as “Tornado Alley.” Tornadoes in this region typically occur in late spring and throughout the summer.

The Gulf Coast area has a separate tornado nickname, "Dixie Alley." Tornadoes there frequently occur from late October through December.

As explained by LiveScience.com, tornadoes form when three different types of air converge in a specific manner:

  • A layer of warm and humid air near the ground along with strong southerly winds
  • Colder air along with strong west or southwest winds line the upper atmosphere
  • A middle layer of very warm, dry air that hovers between the warm, moist air at low levels and the cool, dry air above it

2017 Ranks Fifth in Highest Annual Number of Tornadoes

During 2017, there were several large and destructive tornadoes and severe weather outbreaks. In fact, preliminary numbers from the National Centers for Environmental Information rank 2017 as the fifth highest annual tornado count on record and the most tornadoes since 2011. In all, there were 34 tornado-related fatalities in 2017.

Twenty people were killed during a rare late-January tornado outbreak across the South. In fact, the deadliest tornado of the year occurred during that period when 11 people died in southern Georgia.

Tornadoes Typically Have Early Warning Signs

Usually, tornadoes are visible from many miles away. That visibility often allows homeowners and others in the path of the storm to quickly take shelter and avoid severe injury and possible death.

Most jurisdictions in Tornado Alley are equipped with sirens that alert residents to take shelter whenever a tornado is spotted. An underground area, such as a basement or storm cellar, provides the best protection from a tornado.

Avoiding Harm When You Cannot Reach an Underground Shelter

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) suggests several ways to mitigate the effects of a tornado if an underground shelter is unavailable:

  • Seek a small interior room or hallway on the lowest floor possible.
  • Stay away from doors, windows and outside walls.
  • Stay in the center of the room and avoid corners because they attract debris.
  • If possible, shelter in rooms constructed with reinforced concrete, brick or cinderblock. Find an area with no windows and a heavy concrete floor or roof system overhead.
  • Avoid auditoriums, cafeterias and gymnasiums that have flat, wide-span roofs.

If you have a shelter, it should be equipped with food and other essentials, such as:

  • Water – one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation
  • Food – at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food
  • Battery-powered or hand-crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert
  • Flashlight
  • First aid kit
  • Extra batteries
  • Whistle to signal for help
  • Dust mask to filter contaminated air and plastic sheeting and duct tape to create a shelter
  • 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

Also, consider adding some or all the following items to your emergency supply kit based on your individual needs:

  • Prescription medications
  • Non-prescription medications such as pain relievers, anti-diarrhea medication, antacids or laxatives
  • Glasses and contact lens solution
  • Infant formula, bottles, diapers, wipes and diaper rash cream
  • Pet food and extra water for your pet
  • Cash or traveler's checks
  • Important family documents such as copies of insurance policies, identification documents and bank account records saved electronically or in a waterproof, portable container
  • Sleeping bag or warm blanket for each person
  • Complete change of clothing appropriate for your climate and sturdy shoes
  • Household chlorine bleach and medicine dropper to disinfect water
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Matches in a waterproof container
  • Feminine supplies and personal hygiene items
  • Mess kits, paper cups, plates, paper towels and plastic utensils
  • Paper and pencil
  • Books, games, puzzles or other activities for children

In every case, however, when a tornado is sighted in your area or indicated by radar, take shelter immediately.