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Tornadoes are violently rotating columns of air that extend from a thunderstorm to the ground. Tornadoes can destroy buildings, flip cars, and create deadly flying debris. Tornadoes can occur at any time of day or night and at any time of the year. Although tornadoes are most common in the Central Plains and the southeastern United States, they have been reported in all 50 states.

A tornado can:

  • Happen anytime and anywhere.
  • Bring intense winds, over 200 miles per hour.
  • Look like funnels.

alert - warning If you are under a tornado or severe weather warning:

  • Go to NOAA Weather Radio and your local news or official social media accounts for updated emergency information. Follow the instructions of state, local and tribal officials. 
  • Go to a safe shelter immediately, such as a safe room, basement, storm cellar or a small interior room on the lowest level of a sturdy building.
  • Stay away from windows, doors, and outside walls.
  • Do not go 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 you can’t stay at home, make plans to go to a public shelter.

Preparing for a Tornado

  • To begin preparing, you should build an emergency kit and make a family communications plan.
  • Know your area’s tornado risk. In the U.S., the Midwest and the Southeast have a greater risk for tornadoes.
  • Know the signs of a tornado, including a rotating, funnel-shaped cloud, an approaching cloud of debris, or a loud roar like a freight train.
  • Sign up for your community’s warning system. The Emergency Alert System (EAS) and NOAA Weather Radio also provide emergency alertsIn any emergency, always listen to the instructions given by local emergency management officials.

Staying Safe During a Tornado

  • Immediately go to a safe location that you have identified. Go to a pre-designated shelter area such as a safe room, basement, or storm cellar. If there is no basement, go to the center of an interior room on the lowest level (closet, interior hallway) away from corners, windows, doors, and outside walls.
  • If you are in a trailer home, get out immediately and go to the lowest floor of a sturdy, nearby building or a storm shelter.
  • Pay attention to the NOAA Weather Radio or local alerting systems for current emergency information and instructions.
  • Protect yourself by covering your head or neck with your arms and putting materials such as furniture and blankets around or on top of you.
  • Do not try to outrun a tornado in a vehicle if you are in a car. If you are in a car or outdoors and cannot get to a building, cover your head and neck with your arms and cover your body with a coat or blanket, if possible.

Staying Safe After a Tornado

Injury may result from the direct impact of a tornado or it may occur afterward when people walk among debris and enter damaged buildings. A study of injuries after a tornado in Marion, Illinois, showed that 50 percent of the tornado-related injuries were suffered during rescue attempts, cleanup and other post-tornado activities.

Nearly a third of the injuries resulted from stepping on nails. Because tornadoes often damage power lines, gas lines or electrical systems, there is a risk of fire, electrocution or an explosion. Protecting yourself and your family requires promptly treating any injuries suffered during the storm and using extreme care to avoid further hazards.

Check for injuries. Do not attempt to move seriously injured people unless they are in immediate danger of further injury. Get medical assistance immediately. If someone has stopped breathing, begin CPR if you are trained to do so. Stop a bleeding injury by applying direct pressure to the wound. Have any puncture wound evaluated by a physician. If you are trapped, try to attract attention to your location.

General Safety Precautions

  • Pay attention to the NOAA Weather Radio and local authorities for updated information.
  • Stay clear of fallen power lines or broken utility lines.
  • Contact your healthcare provider if you are sick and need medical attention. Wait for further care instructions and continue to shelter in place.
  • Wear appropriate gear during clean-up such as thick-soled shoes, long pants, and work gloves, use appropriate face coverings or masks if cleaning mold or other debris.