Tornadoes

Habitat Ready: Disaster preparedness for homeowners

A tornado is a violently rotating column of air extending from a thunderstorm to the ground, usually in the shape of a funnel.

Tornadoes are earth’s most violent storms and often form quickly, leaving little time to make life-or-death decisions. To survive a tornado, advanced planning and a quick response are essential.

Before a tornado

  • Review your family preparedness plan.
  • Establish a family communications plan.
  • Assemble a disaster supply kit.
  • Designate an area in your home as a shelter:
    • The safest place during a tornado is a storm shelter or underground room, such as a basement or cellar.
    • If going underground is not an option and you do not have access to a storm shelter, the next safest place is a small interior room (such as a bathroom, hallway or closet) on the lowest floor, away from windows and exterior walls.
  • Know the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning:
    • Tornado watch: A tornado is possible. Stay tuned to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather radio or TV for more information and be prepared to seek shelter quickly if necessary.
    • Tornado warning: A tornado is expected or occurring. Take shelter immediately.
  • Be familiar with tornado warning signs:
    • An approaching cloud of debris can mark the location of a tornado even if a funnel is not visible.
    • Dark, towering and threatening clouds.
    • Greenish sky.
    • Large hail.
    • Rotating, low-lying clouds.
    • Loud roar, similar to a train.

During a tornado

  • If in a structure (home, school, shopping center, etc.):
    • Quickly go to your predesignated shelter, such as a basement, storm shelter or interior room on the lowest level of the building.
    • Avoid windows, corners and places with wide-span roofs such as cafeterias and auditoriums.
    • Get under a sturdy table or similar piece of furniture, and cover your head with your arms.
    • If in a mobile home, get out immediately and find shelter in a nearby building.
    • If time permits, put on sturdy shoes.
  • If outside:
    • Get inside a building, if possible.
    • If a shelter is not available or there is no time to get indoors, lie in a ditch or crouch near a strong building and cover your head with your arms.
  • If in a vehicle:
    • Never try to outdrive a tornado; tornadoes can change direction quickly and lift up a vehicle.
    • Get out of the car immediately and take shelter in a nearby building, or look for a ditch to lie down in.
    • Avoid bridges and overpasses.

After a tornado

  • Stay tuned to a NOAA weather radio or TV for updated information.
  • Help injured or trapped people. Don’t try to move seriously injured people unless they are in immediate danger of death or further injury. Call for help.
  • Stay out of damaged buildings. Do not return home until authorities declare it is safe.
  • Be aware of hazards from broken glass, exposed nails and downed power lines.
  • Inspect your home:
    • Leave the house if you smell gas or chemical fumes.
    • Check for damage to walls, roof, foundation, electrical system and water lines.
    • Clean up spilled medicines, bleaches or other flammable liquids immediately.
    • Notify your insurance company if your home is damaged.
  • Wear sturdy shoes, long sleeves and gloves to minimize risks.
  • Avoid making phone calls except in serious emergencies.

Additional resources

Emergency/preparedness information

Current storm information

Other information

Family communications plan

When a disaster strikes, your family might not be together, and communication channels might be down. It is important to plan how you will contact one another and discuss how you will communicate in different disaster situations.

Read more

You can help a family rebuild after a disaster

Families who partner with us rebuild their homes alongside volunteers, pay an affordable mortgage and are grateful for your help.