Tornado Checklist and Prep: What you need to know before, during and after a tornado

Written by Sarrah Pelorus

Last updated 4/10/2020, 8:24:02 AM

Tornadoes most frequently occur in the spring and summer months; however, tornadoes can strike in any season. Therefore, It's preferable to always be prepared. Preparedness involves a continuous process of learning, planning, and equipping. Planning for tornadoes can often cause stress and anxiety. Because of this, we have put together this guide to help you best plan what to do when tornadoes are about.

Where Do I Start?

Well, It’s never a good idea to wait for severe weather to arrive before planning to keep your family and yourself safe. Let the following tips help you create a tornado-safety plan that works for you.

Let's start with the basics: 

A tornado is a violently rotating column of air extending from the base of a thunderstorm down to the ground. Tornado intensities are classified on the Fujita Scale with ratings between F0 (weakest) to F5 (strongest). They are capable of completely destroying well made structures, uprooting trees and hurling objects through the air like deadly missiles. Although severe tornadoes are more common in the Plains States, tornadoes have been reported in every state.

Tornado Watch vs Warning:

Tornado Watch : Tornadoes are possible in and near the watch area. This means you should review and discuss your emergency plans, check supplies and consider your safe room. Most importantly, you should be ready to act quickly if a warning is issued or you suspect a tornado is approaching. Acting early helps to save lives. 

Tornado Warning : This means that a tornado has been sighted or confirmed by weather radar. Tornado warnings indicate danger to life and property. Go immediately underground to a basement should your area be issued a tornado warning. 

So, Where Do I Go?

First things first if you are under a tornado warning, you need to find safe shelter right away and do NOT wait until you see the tornado to seek shelter.

Here are some key tips in locating your safe shelter. 

  • The safest place to be is an underground shelter, basement or safe room.
  • If you are in a building with no basement, then get to a small interior room on the lowest level.
  • Stay away from windows, doors, and outside walls.
  • Do not get under an overpass or bridge. You’re safer in a low, flat location.
  • Watch out for flying debris that can cause injury or death.
  • Use your arms to protect your head and neck.

If an underground shelter or safe room is unavailable, a small, windowless interior room or hallway on the lowest level of a sturdy building is the safest alternative.

Remember: Mobile homes are not safe during tornadoes or other severe winds.

  • Do not seek shelter in a hallway or bathroom of a mobile home.
  •  If you have access to a sturdy shelter or a vehicle, abandon your mobile home immediately and go to the nearest sturdy building or shelter immediately, using your seat belt if driving.
  •  If you are caught outdoors, seek shelter in a basement, shelter or sturdy building. 
  • If you cannot quickly walk to a shelter:

Immediately get into a vehicle, buckle your seat belt and try to drive to the closest sturdy shelter. If flying debris occurs while you are driving, pull over and park.

Important: Do not try to outrun a tornado in a vehicle.

Okay, I located my safe space. Now what?

  1. Know your area’s tornado risk. In the U.S. The Midwest and the Southeast have a greater risk for tornadoes.
  2. 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.
  3. Sign up for your community’s warning system. The Emergency Alert System (EAS) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio also provide emergency alerts. If your community has sirens, then become familiar with the warning tone.
  4. Pay attention to weather reports. Meteorologists can predict when conditions might be right for a tornado.
  5. Identify and practice going to a safe shelter, while following the latest social and physical-distancing and other health safety guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and your local health authorities, in the event of high winds, such as a safe room built using FEMA criteria or a storm shelter built to ICC 500 standards. The next best protection is a small, interior, windowless room on the lowest level of a sturdy building.
  6. If you must go to a community or group shelter during severe weather, take hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes to clean, disinfect, deodorize and remove allergens from surfaces.
  7. Try to keep a safe distance away from others in the shelter if at all possible.
  8. Practice periodic tornado drills so that everyone knows what to do if a tornado is approaching.
  9. Prepare for high winds by removing diseased and damaged limbs from trees.
  10. Move or secure lawn furniture, trash cans, hanging plants or anything else that can be picked up by the wind and become a projectile.

What Do I Need?

Emergency Kit

Keep the following items in a container that can be easily carried.

  • Water and canned or dried food – families should set aside one gallon of water per person per day, to last three days, and a three-day supply of food per person. The food should be nonperishable items that don’t need to be cooked, such as tuna and crackers. Remember to include a manual can opener. If there’s an infant in the house, include formula and baby food. Should you have pets, we recommend taking similar precautions, setting aside extra water and a supply of pet food.
  • Battery powered radio
  • Flashlight
  • Extra batteries for the radio and flashlight
  • Prescription medications
  • First-aid kit
  • Disinfectant Spray
  • Sanitary Mask 

Storing Important Documents

Store the following documents in a fire- and water-proof safe:

  • Birth certificates
  • Ownership certificates (autos, boats, etc.)
  • Social security cards
  • Insurance policies
  • Will

Household inventory:

  1. List of contents of household; include serial numbers, if applicable
  2. Photographs or videotape of contents of every room
  3. Photographs of items of high values, such as jewelry, paintings, collection items

What should I expect?

  • During any storm, listen to local news (or your favorite storm tracking service) to stay informed about watches and warnings.
  • Know your community’s warning system. Communities have different ways of warning residents about tornadoes, with many having sirens intended for outdoor warning purposes.
  • To have your safe room ready and accessible where household members and pets may gather during a tornado. Again, this should be a basement, storm cellar or an interior room on the lowest floor with no windows.

 Watch for tornado danger signs:

  • Dark, often greenish clouds—a phenomenon caused by hail
  • Wall cloud—an isolated lowering of the base of a thunderstorm
  • Cloud of debris
  • Large hail
  • Funnel cloud—a visible rotation, extension of the cloud base
  • Roaring noise

I Survived! Now What?

  • Keep listening to EAS, NOAA Weather Radio, and local authorities for updated information.
  • If you are trapped, cover your mouth with a cloth or mask to avoid breathing dust. Try to send a text, bang on a pipe or wall, or use a whistle instead of shouting.
  • Stay clear of fallen power lines or broken utility lines.
  • Do not enter damaged buildings until you are told that they are safe.
  • Save your phone calls for emergencies. Phone systems are often down or busy after a disaster. Use text messaging or social media to communicate with family and friends.
  • Be careful during clean-up. Wear thick-soled shoes, long pants, and work gloves.


Most important step: Let Your Family and loved ones Know You’re Safe!