Knowing the signs of a tornado can drastically increase your chances of surviving unharmed and allow you the maximum amount of time to seek proper shelter. Not all locations make ideal shelters, but it is possible to be prepared, and make wise decisions when you recognize that a tornado is on its way.
Signs of A Tornado – If You See These Three Things, Get Shelter!
An impending tornado can be a scary thought for anyone and being prepared can help prevent injury to both you and those in your household. Knowing the signs of a tornado, and what you should do immediately after recognizing them, could save your own life, and those around you as well.
Preparing for a Tornado
There is no fail-proof plan when it comes to finding the right structure to protect yourself from a tornado, but there are many things that you can prepare for in advance. Having a proper plan for what your household should do during a tornado is the first step to keeping everyone safe.
The best preparation for a tornado is to practice the plan you have in place for what needs to happen:
- Have a predetermined location to meet
- Have a stock of protective coverings in your shelter
- Keep food, water, and first aid supplies stocked and on hand
- Turn on a TV or radio for NOAA Weather warnings and information
Having a safety plan in place will allow you the most amount of time possible when signs of a tornado become apparent. Most tornadoes will not last very long but having the necessary survival supplies on hand for afterward will ensure that you are prepared with essential food and water until emergency services arrive.
Keep in mind that even if you are very prepared, tornadoes can strike at any moment. Be sure to know the locations of a few local shelters near where you spend most of your time away from home, and make note of dedicated shelters at stores, schools, or other locations that you frequent.
No shelter is perfect, but having protective coverings such as thick blankets, mattresses, and sleeping bags can help prevent injury from flying debris and other things the tornado is throwing around. Contrary to popular advice, there is no benefit to be gained from opening the windows of your home to equalize the pressure, as a tornado will easily be able to break them.
Having a radio, TV, or other electronic device that can receive NOAA weather alerts and updates is useful for before, during, and after a tornado so you can keep up with the latest information and know when it’s safe to leave your shelter.
It’s a good idea to also have a predetermined place for your household to meet to shelter from a tornado in case you are unable to communicate directly before a storm. Even if you are all on the same property, high winds, loud rumbling, and other signs of a tornado can make efficient communication more difficult.
Signs of a Tornado
While some tornadoes will pick up suddenly, others can take quite a while to touch the ground. The signs of a tornado may seem visually different during the night and day, but the symptoms are the same.
It’s important to note that while many tornadoes take on a funnel shape, not all of them will, and that is a key reason to know the other signs of a tornado. Once you witness one of these signs, you should aim to take shelter as soon as possible.
Changes in the Clouds and Sky Color
During the day you may notice that the sky will turn a blue or green color, and the clouds may start to move or swirl. Changes in how the clouds are moving are a good indicator of an incoming tornado and a strong rotation in the clouds is almost always present.
You may also notice a swirling amount of dust or small debris in the sky even before the tornado appears to have touched down. Not all tornadoes will have a funnel-like shape, and the wind picking up dust and debris might be one of the few indicators.
Before a tornado reaches its funnel shape, you may notice the cloud base twisting itself into a rotating pattern, similar to water circling the drain of a tub. This swirling is one of the most classic signs of a tornado, and a reliable indicator that you should take shelter immediately.
Swirling Debris or Dust
If you have noticed changes in the clouds, you may have also noticed the swirling of dust or other debris that appears in the sky. The debris you see may be large or small depending on the wind speed, but it may form into what looks like a wispy dust devil.
This swirling wisp may be a sign of a tornado is on its way but has yet to move downwards from the clouds. It’s also during this time that there may randomly be a profound shift in the winds that you can see move the debris around, followed by an eerily dead calmness.
This shift and eerie calm is another sign that a tornado is coming and you should be well on your way to finding the nearest shelter. It is not possible to predict how bad a tornado will be based on the swirl of debris or the wind alone.
Hail, Rain, and Rumbling
Hail is another tell-tale sign of an impending tornado, particularly if the hail is golf-ball sized or even larger. The storm conditions that lead to a tornado frequently create an updraft that can make conditions ideal for hail to form.
These conditions are most robust directly above the tornado, and the resulting hail will be most significant where the conditions are most favorable. It is possible to have a tornado without hail, and it is also possible for hail of any size to form before a tornado strikes.
Some have described the rumbling that precedes a tornado to be similar to that of a loud freight train, while others have described it as more like thunder that doesn’t fade away. Either way, a consistent rumbling that doesn’t fade away is one of the signs of a tornado.
There may also be louder than usual sounds from the wind velocity created and the debris that the tornado is moving around at high speeds. Debris may smash into other debris, and various items on the ground, so it’s advisable to take shelter when you hear these kinds of sounds.
Tips for Taking Shelter
When finding a place to take shelter, it’s a good idea to follow these tips:
- Avoid windows whenever possible and look for interior rooms
- Shelter on the lowest floor possible, but not underneath very heavy objects on the levels above
- Do not seek refuge in mobile homes, vehicles, or trees
- If outside, lie flat on your stomach and use your hands and arms to protect your head
If you are at school, work, or a place where a tornado drill procedure is already in place, be sure to follow the drill precisely, remain calm, and be aware of those around you. It’s important to move quickly to a sheltered area, however, maintaining order will ensure the process moves swiftly and keeps everyone safer.
Vehicles, mobile homes, and trees are easily swept up by tornadoes and make poor shelters in general. Even mobile homes that are tied down are no match for the high winds typical of a tornado. Being outside is also less than ideal, so make every effort you safely can to move indoors.
If you are in a building with multiple floors, but no designated shelters, you’ll want to move to the lowest level and find an interior room without windows. Shards of glass from breaking windows during a tornado can easily cause injury and will likely be blown around with other debris.
Do your best not to shelter under very heavy items on floors of a building above you as a tornado can cause the upper levels to collapse, and these bulky items can end up crushing you. A bathtub can provide limited protection, but a storage room or other enclosed area is best.
Bridges are also a poor choice of shelter because they offer little protection from debris and are often close to deadly traffic and vehicle hazards. If you are near a roadway, do your best to get to a location lower than the level of the road and use your hands and arms to protect your head.
After the Tornado has Passed
After a tornado has concluded, you can expect to hear more information via news and emergency channels such as the NOAA. Keeping a TV or radio on hand can help you get this information sooner.
It’s best to keep your family or group together and wait for emergency services to arrive and assess the situation at hand. If those in your immediate area need first aid, carefully tend to them while staying aware of your surroundings.
Do not attempt to enter buildings that have been battered by the tornado, even if they don’t appear damaged. It’s also a good idea to avoid power lines and be mindful of dangerous debris scattered around the area.
Lastly, you should avoid using open flames such as a lighter or matches in case there are fuel tanks or gas leaks in the area.
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