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Tornado

A tornado is a violently rotating column of air extending from the base of a thunderstorm down to the ground.  Tornadoes are capable of completely destroying well-made structures, uprooting trees, and hurling objects through the air like deadly missiles.  Tornadoes can occur at any time of day or night and at any time of the year.  Preparation is the key to minimizing impacts and staying safe both during and after a tornado.  

FEMA tornado graphic with clock icon indicating they can happen anytime, intense wind icon, USA icon indicating they can happen anywhere, and tornado icon shoring they look like funnels
Graphic heading says Prepare Now surrounded by a Blue Circle

Before

  • The best way for you to protect yourself from a tornado is to avoid the threat.

  • Keep your home "storm-ready."  Trim trees and branches near your house.  Ideally, no part of a tree should touch your home, and branches that hang over your roofline should be cut regularly.

  • Check the forecast regularly.  Listen to local news or a NOAA Weather Radio to stay informed about tornado weather.  

  • Sign up for the National Weather Service's Tornado Watches and Warnings through the AlertNassau notification system. 

  • A Tornado Watch is issued when current weather conditions are capable of producing a tornado.  A Tornado Warning is issued when one has been sighted or indicated by weather radar.

  • Pick a safe room in your home as your tornado shelter - an interior room (with no windows) on the lowest floor where people and pets can go when a tornado warning is issued.  

  • Know the signs of a tornado, including a rotating funnel-shaped cloud, an approaching cloud of debris, or a loud roar similar to a freight train.

  • Encourage your loved ones and neighbors to prepare for tornadoes. 

  • Take free First Aid and CPR training from the Medical Reserve Corps so you can help if someone is hurt during a tornado.

National Weather Service image with text saying a Tornado Watch is issued when a tornado is possible, prepare now!
National Weather Service graphic stating that a Tornado Warning is issued when a tornado is happening nearby, take action!
Graphic heading says Survive During the Hazard surrounded by Orange Circle

During

  • Take shelter immediately if there is a tornado warning or if you see signs of a tornado, such as:

    • Rotating funnel-shaped cloud

    • Approaching cloud of debris

    • Dark or green-colored sky

    • Large, dark, low-lying cloud

    • Large hail

    • Loud roar that sounds like a train

  • Shelter in an interior room (without windows) on the lowest floor of a sturdy, site-built building.  This could be a center hallway, bathroom, or closet where you are protected from flying debris.

    • Avoid taking shelter where there are heavy objects on the floor directly above you.  

    • For added protection, get under something sturdy like a heavy table or workbench.  Cover your body with a blanket, sleeping bag, or mattress, and protect your head with anything available:  a bicycle helmet, a pillow, or even your hands.  Put infants into car seats and pets on leashes for protection.

  • Long-span buildings, such as malls, theaters, and gyms, are especially dangerous because the roof is usually supported only by the outside walls.  Most buildings like this cannot withstand the pressure from a tornado, they simply collapse.

  • Don’t stay in a mobile home during a tornado.  Mobile homes can turn over during strong winds.  Even mobile homes with a tie-down system cannot withstand the force of tornado winds.

    • If you are in a mobile home, go to a nearby sturdy building.

    • If there is no shelter nearby, lie flat in the nearest ditch, ravine, or culvert and shield your head with your hands.

  • If you are in a vehicle, do not try to outrun a tornado. 

    • The least desirable place to be during a tornado is in a motor vehicle.  Cars, buses, and trucks are easily tossed by tornado winds.

    • Stay away from highway overpasses and bridges.  Wind speeds increase under these structures.  

    • If you’re unable to make it to a safe shelter, either get down in your vehicle and cover your head and neck, or leave your vehicle and seek shelter in a low-lying area such as a ditch or ravine.

Graphic heading says Be Safe After the Hazard surrounded by Green Circle

After

  • If you are trapped, try to attract attention to yourself.  Send a text, bang on a wall or pipe, or use a whistle to help rescuers find you.

  • Use a cloth or mask to protect your mouth, nose, and eyes from dust.

  • Let your family and close friends know that you're okay.  Text messages are  more reliable than phone calls.

  • Leave your shelter if you hear shifting or unusual noises.  Strange noises could mean the building is about to fall.

  • After the tornado has passed, check your property for damage.  Be aware of hazards from exposed nails and broken glass.  Stay out of damaged buildings.  Wear long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, and sturdy shoes to walk through damage and debris.  Don't let pets walk around in debris.

  • Contact local authorities if you see power lines down. 

  • If your home is damaged, take photographs and contact your insurance agent.  Beware of people who drive up and offer to repair your property.

  • Check on your neighbors.  If you come across someone who is injured, provide first aid (if you are trained and able) and call 9-1-1 to alert emergency responders.

  • A tornado is not confirmed until the National Weather Service has surveyed the pattern of damage to vegetation, residences, businesses, and other structures.  Observed damage is matched to an estimated wind speed on the EF-Scale.

Image with a table of tornado ratings on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, EF0 through EF5 their corresponding wind speeds in miles per hour, and likely damage.  EF0 = 65 to 85 minor damage to roofs and trees, EF1 = 86 to 110 broken windows, EF2 = 111 to 135 roofs off, EF3 = 136 to 165 structure damage, EF4 = 166 to 200 homes leveled, and EF5 = 200+ incredible destruction
Graphic illustrating 3 actions to take when a tornado warning is issued:  Get Inside, Get Down as low as possible, Cover Up to protect from flying debris.
National Weather Service Graphic with image of a cross section of a house with green checkmarks on safest places to shelter and red X on places that are not safe during a tornado
Tornado Shelter
National Weather Service Graphic showing what to do when driving during a tornado: get off the road and drive to the closest safe shelter, do not get under an overpass or tree
After a Tornado
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