How to Survive a Tornado

If you live in Tornado Alley, violent thunderstorms and the occasional tornado are an unavoidable fact of life. If you’re forced to take shelter, you may only have a couple of minutes warning. The choices you make can be the difference between life and death.

Even the weakest (EF0 and EF1) tornadoes can cause damage and injuries from wind-borne debris. Most structures will survive but windows and glass doors can shatter, causing injuries from flying glass.

EF2 tornadoes can tear off roofs, knock down trees and small buildings, and flip cars. EF3 tornadoes will cause major structural damage to both residential and commercial buildings.

EF4 tornadoes cause catastrophic damage, levelling houses and tossing cars hundreds of feet. EF5 tornadoes cause total devastation, even stripping bark from trees and sucking pavement off of the ground.

The majority of tornado-related deaths are caused by EF3 and EF4 tornadoes.

Should You Run or Hide?

Your first impulse might be to hop in the car and run away. Bad idea. You don’t want to be caught in gridlock when a tornado hits. Your best bet is probably to shelter in place, unless you’re in a mobile home.

Some of the safest options are to hide underground, using the earth itself for protection, like the basement of a sturdy building or an in-ground shelter or an above-ground safe-room, specially constructed to withstand high winds and impact damage.

The safest place is a storm shelter that you will actually use—one which provides safe, quick and easy access.

If you don’t have a safe-room, try to put as many walls between you and the tornado as possible. Avoid rooms with windows. A first-floor closet or hallway near the center of the house may be your best bet.

Make a Plan

Deciding where to go is only the first part of your plan. You also have to consider:

  • What will you need? — Think about the things you’ll need while waiting out the storm. Perhaps your cell phone, a radio, flashlight? What will you need if a tornado strikes? Shoes, a coat, head protection (football or bike helmet)?
  • What can’t be replaced? — Cars, houses, even trees can be replaced. People, memories, photos can’t. Legal documents like insurance policies, deeds, and car titles can be hard to recover if lost.
  • What happens afterward? — If you survive, you may be returning to something like a war zone. You’ll probably need shoes, gloves, water, maybe coats and blankets. How will you get help if the cell service is out?

Think about these questions and make a plan to address them long before you need to take cover from the storm.

Prepare for the Worst

When you only have minutes or seconds to spare, you don’t have time to prepare or make hard decisions. You need to lay the groundwork well ahead of time:

  • Select your hiding place and get it ready. Make sure you can get into it quickly.
  • Prepare an emergency kit with needed supplies — radio, flashlight, etc.
  • Make copies of legal documents and photos you can’t afford to lose.
  • Photograph your house and all valuable possessions for insurance purposes.
  • Store copies of documents and photos in a safe place (like a safe-deposit box).
  • Make a list of things to grab “on the way” — phone, shoes, blankets, etc.

Also, decide on an emergency contact person to be called if and when you’re forced to take shelter. You’ll call them again when you’re safe. If the worst happens, they would notify your local first responders that you need help.

Practice Makes Perfect

Make sure that everyone knows the plan. Then, practice taking cover (at least a few times) before you need to do it for survival. This is especially important if you have young children.

The best way to survive a tornado is to have a well thought-out plan, prepare ahead of time, and make sure everyone knows exactly what to do. The effort is well worth it, because some things just can’t be replaced.

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