A tornado can happen anywhere; they’ve touched down on every state in the country.

Hail is falling with an evening thunderstorm, and a billowing howl is heard overhead. The skies are slowly turning black or dark green. Clouds are moving quickly and rotating, converging toward one part of the sky. They look like a funnel and debris is being pulled upward. This is beginning of a tornado.

Tornadoes are most likely to strike east of the Rocky Mountains during the spring and summer months. They’re most common in the middle strip of the United States, a region known as “Tornado Alley,” which is comprised of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, South Dakota, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, New Mexico, Colorado, North Dakota and Minnesota.

Fast Facts:

  • The average twister has wind speeds that range from 40 to 100 mph, but the strongest and rarest F5 tornadoes can reach speeds up to 300 mph.
  • A tornado can reach widths over a mile wide and stay on the ground for over an hour.
  • Some tornadoes can travel over 100 miles.
  • Some tornadoes don’t have funnels.
  • A waterspout is a tornado that occurs over water.

How to Prepare for a Tornado

If you are in the process of building a home and live in a tornado prone area, look to build a shelter, basement, or safe room for protection. Tornado shelters are fitted with concrete, metal, or steel (no windows) and usually sit inside the home or outside near the property.

The best tornado preparation starts with knowing and acknowledging the dangers of a storm. Like other storms or natural disasters, you’ll need to cover the basics.

1. Gather Storm Safety Necessities

  • First aid kit
  • Food, water, non-perishable goods
  • Can opener for canned items
  • Additional clothing
  • Radio with backup batteries
  • Flashlight
  • Phone
  • Personal documents and identification

2. Get an NOAA Weather Radio

This is a national weather network that broadcasts all relevant information about your area that you’ll need to know. This will be useful if you lose power, but make sure you have backup batteries for the radio.

3. Have a Place to Meet if Your Family is Separated

Have your disaster plan and have a place for the family to meet once the tornado is over.

4. Know the Plan for Events Outside of the Home

If a tornado occurs when you or your children are at work, school, or any other place that you frequent, it’s important to know the safety procedure for that location, or if there is one. Check in with each location and make sure a plan is set in place.

5. Store Documents in an Accessible Location

Store all your important documents in a safe and weatherproof location (ID’s, medical information, social security cards, etc), so you can grab them quickly if a tornado is about to occur.

6. Look Out for Severe Weather

Be aware of severe weather in your area. If you know that severe weather is happening, or pending, then follow the news to keep up with any potential tornadoes. Additionally, look up at the sky. Is it unusually dark? Black, green, or gray? Do clouds seem to be forming in unusual ways? If you see these signs, then check the weather! Severe weather alerts for tornadoes will come in two forms: Watch: This means a tornado is possible. Warning: This means a tornado has been spotted or the weather radar picked one up.

How to Stay Safe During a Tornado

Most tornado deaths are caused by flying debris, so take shelter. Don’t remain outside during the storm. If you live in a mobile home, get out and take shelter immediately. Mobile homes are easily swept up and destroyed by tornadoes. Don’t take the unnecessary risk of your life.

1. Get to the Lowest Level

If a tornado has touched down, it’s imperative that you take shelter immediately. Get underground to a basement or the lowest level available in the home. If these aren’t options, go to a room without windows, the innermost room available in the center of the home, under a stairwell, interior closet, and crouch as low to the floor as possible with your hands over your head.

2. Take Shelter in a Bathtub

Taking shelter in a bathtub can offer protection. It’s shape will provide a half-shell, and covering in the tub with blankets, pillows, mattress, or a sleeping bag over you can provide protection. Potentially only one family member will be able to fit in a the tub, so give the space to children or older adults first.

3. Never Try to Outrun a Tornado

Don’t try to outrun it in a car. Get out of the car and into a building. If a building is not available, then get in a low lying ditch (but be aware of flood waters).

Recovery After the Storm

Once the storm has passed, not all of the physical dangers have completely dissipated. Be Careful after a tornado as you maneuver through your neighborhood to find family and friends.

1. Meet With Family at Designated Location

Go to your family’s designated meeting location after the storm has subsided. If anyone is missing or unaccounted for, reach out rescue and search teams.

2. Look Out for Physical Hazards

Like other natural disasters, stay away from power lines or sitting water. They could be electrified or contaminated. Watch out for debris, broken glass, bricks, or any hazardous material and rubble that may be left in the wake of the tornado. Most tornado deaths are caused by flying debris, and winds may persist after the storm.

3. Avoid Flammable Materials

Don’t use matches or lighters in case of gas leaks.

4. Avoid Collapsible Structure

Homes, buildings, and other structures that were hit by the storm may be susceptible to collapse. Avoid any building that were in the direct path of the tornado and exercise extreme caution when entering buildings.

5. Reach Out to Disaster Relief Groups

If your home was destroyed, you’ve lost a family member, or have been left stranded following the storm, reach out to emergency and disaster relief groups for aid. These teams will be standing by or already deployed following a storm.