Is your family prepared if a tornado hits? Here's what to do when a Tornado Watch is issued

Is your family prepared if a tornado hits?

"Tornadoes can occur at any time of day or night and at any time of the year," the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website warns. "Although tornadoes are most common in the Central Plains and southeastern United States, they have been reported in all 50 states."

"Tornadoes are capable of completely destroying well-made structures, uprooting trees and hurling objects through the air like deadly missiles," NOAA states. 

NOAA and the National Weather Service put together this checklist to help you prepare:

It is also crucial to have an emergency communication plan for your family so that you know how to reach each other and where to meet up in an emergency.

The Federal Emergency Management Administration recommends taking these three steps:

For templates that you can download, print, and fill out, click here: ready.gov/make-a-plan

When trying to communicate during an emergency, FEMA says sending text message is better than making a phone call.

"If you are using a mobile phone, a text message may get through when a phone call will not. This is because a text
message requires far less bandwidth than a phone call. Text messages may also save and then send automatically as soon as capacity becomes available," the FEMA website states.

Confused about the difference between a Tornado Watch and a Tornado Warning?

NOAA defines a Tornado Watch as a cluster of counties where tornadoes and other kinds of severe weather are possible in the next several hours.

"It does not mean tornadoes are imminent, just that you need to be alert, and to be prepared to go to safe shelter if tornadoes do happen or a warning is issued," the NOAA website states. "This is the time to turn on local TV or radio, turn on and set the alarm switch on your weather radio, make sure you have ready access to safe shelter, and make your friends and family aware of the potential for tornadoes in the area."

A Tornado Warning means that a tornado has been spotted, or that Doppler radar indicates a thunderstorm circulation which can spawn a tornado, according to NOAA.

Do you know the signs of a tornado?

Here are some things to look and listen for, according to Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma:

  • Strong, persistent rotation in the cloud base.
  • Whirling dust or debris on the ground under a cloud base -- tornadoes sometimes have no funnel!
  • Hail or heavy rain followed by either dead calm or a fast, intense wind shift. Many tornadoes are wrapped in heavy precipitation and can't be seen.
  • Day or night - Loud, continuous roar or rumble, which doesn't fade in a few seconds like thunder.
  • Night - Small, bright, blue-green to white flashes at ground level near a thunderstorm (as opposed to silvery lightning up in the clouds). These mean power lines are being snapped by very strong wind, maybe a tornado.
  • Night - Persistent lowering from the cloud base, illuminated or silhouetted by lightning -- especially if it is on the ground or there is a blue-green-white power flash underneath.

You should also know where to take shelter during a tornado.

The Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma lists the following recommendations:

  • In a house with a basement: Avoid windows. Get in the basement and under some kind of sturdy protection (heavy table or work bench), or cover yourself with a mattress or sleeping bag. Know where very heavy objects rest on the floor above (pianos, refrigerators, waterbeds, etc.) and do not go under them. They may fall down through a weakened floor and crush you. Head protection, such as a helmet, can offer some protection also.
  • In a house with no basement, a dorm, or an apartment: Avoid windows. Go to the lowest floor, small center room (like a bathroom or closet), under a stairwell, or in an interior hallway with no windows. Crouch as low as possible to the floor, facing down; and cover your head with your hands. A bath tub may offer a shell of partial protection. Even in an interior room, you should cover yourself with some sort of thick padding (mattress, blankets, etc.), to protect against falling debris in case the roof and ceiling fail. A helmet can offer some protection against head injury.
  • In an office building, hospital, nursing home or skyscraper: Go directly to an enclosed, windowless area in the center of the building -- away from glass and on the lowest floor possible. Then, crouch down and cover your head. Interior stairwells are usually good places to take shelter, and if not crowded, allow you to get to a lower level quickly. Stay off the elevators; you could be trapped in them if the power is lost.
  • In a mobile home: Get out! Even if your home is tied down, it is not as safe as an underground shelter or permanent, sturdy building. Go to one of those shelters, or to a nearby permanent structure, using your tornado evacuation plan. Most tornadoes can destroy even tied-down mobile homes; and it is best not to play the low odds that yours will make it. This mobile-home safety video from the State of Missouri may be useful in developing your plan.
  • At school: Follow the drill! Go to the interior hall or windowless room in an orderly way as you are told. Crouch low, head down, and protect the back of your head with your arms. Stay away from windows and large open rooms like gyms and auditoriums.
  • In a car or truck: Vehicles are extremely risky in a tornado. There is no safe option when caught in a tornado in a car, just slightly less-dangerous ones. If the tornado is visible, far away, and the traffic is light, you may be able to drive out of its path by moving at right angles to the tornado. Seek shelter in a sturdy building, or underground if possible. If you are caught by extreme winds or flying debris, park the car as quickly and safely as possible -- out of the traffic lanes. Stay in the car with the seat belt on. Put your head down below the windows; cover your head with your hands and a blanket, coat, or other cushion if possible. If you can safely get noticeably lower than the level of the roadway,leave your car and lie in that area, covering your head with your hands. Avoid seeking shelter under bridges, which can create deadly traffic hazards while offering little protection against flying debris.
  • In the open outdoors: If possible, seek shelter in a sturdy building. If not, lie flat and face-down on low ground, protecting the back of your head with your arms. Get as far away from trees and cars as you can; they may be blown onto you in a tornado.
  • In a shopping mall or large store: Do not panic. Watch for others. Move as quickly as possible to an interior bathroom, storage room or other small enclosed area, away from windows.
  • In a church or theater: Do not panic. If possible, move quickly but orderly to an interior bathroom or hallway, away from windows. Crouch face-down and protect your head with your arms. If there is no time to do that, get under the seats or pews, protecting your head with your arms or hands.

Download the Storm Shield app for your iPhone or Android device to stay ahead of severe weather.

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