What to Do Before, During and After a Tornado

When a tornado is coming, you have only a short amount of time to make a life‐or‐death decision. Advance planning, quick response, and a diligent recovery effort are the keys to survival.


  • Conduct tornado drills each tornado season
  • Designate an area in the home as a shelter and practice having everyone in the household go there is a threat of a tornado
  • Have disaster supplies on hand:
    • Flashlight and extra batteries
    • Portable, battery‐operated radio and extra batteries
    • First‐aid kit and manual
    • Emergency food and water
    • Non‐electric can opener
    • Essential medicines
    • Cash and credit cards
    • Sturdy shoes
    • Cellular phone
  • If household members are separated during a tornado, have a meeting place for getting back together
  • Designate one or two out‐of‐state relatives and friends as emergency contacts; after a disaster, it’s often easier to call long distance
  • Contact your local emergency management office or American Red Cross chapter for more information on tornadoes

Know the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning. The National Weather Service issues a tornado watch when tornadoes are likely to develop. If a watch is issued, remind household members of where to go, and listen to the radio or TV for further developments. A tornado warning is issued when a tornado has been sighted or indicated by radar; everyone should go to a safe place, turn on a battery‐ operated radio, and wait for further instructions.


At Home:

  • Go at once to the basement or storm cellar
  • If there is no basement, go to an inner hallway or a smaller inner room without windows, such as a bathroom or a closet
  • Stay away from windows
  • Go to the center of the room; stay away from corners because they tend to attract debris
  • Get under a piece of sturdy furniture, such as a workbench or heavy table, and hold on to it if possible
  • Use your arms, a heavy blanket or pillow to help protect your head and neck
  • If you are in a mobile home, get out and try to find shelter elsewhere

At Work or School:

  • Go to the basement or to an inside hallway at the lowest level of the building
  • Avoid places with wide‐span roofs such as auditoriums, cafeterias and large
  • hallways
  • Get under a piece of sturdy furniture, such as a heavy table or desk, and hold on to it
  • Use your arms to protect your head and neck


  • If possible, get inside a building
  • If shelter isn’t available and there is no time to get indoors, lie in a ditch or low‐lying area or crouch near a sturdy building
  • Use your arms to protect your head and neck

In a Car:

  • Leave the car immediately and take shelter in a nearby building
  • If shelter isn’t available and there is no time to get indoors, lie in a ditch or low‐ lying area or crouch near a sturdy building
  • Never try to out‐drive a tornado in a car or truck; tornadoes can change direction quickly and can lift and toss your vehicle through the air


  • Help injured or trapped persons
  • Give first aid when appropriate; don’t move the seriously injured unless they are in immediate danger of further injury; call for help
  • Turn on the radio or television to get the latest information
  • Stay out of damaged buildings; return home only when authorities say it’s safe
  • Use the telephone only for emergency calls
  • Clean up spilled medicines, bleach, gasoline or other flammable liquids immediately
  • Leave a building if you smell gas or chemical fumes
  • Take pictures of damage to the house and its contents for insurance purposes
  • Help neighbors who may require special assistance like people with infants, the elderly, and people with disabilities

Additional Resources:

  • www.cdc.gov/disasters/tornadoes
  • weather.com/safety/tornado
  • www.redcross.org/aet-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/types-of-emergencies/tornado

Source: Adapted by Dr. Sarah Kirby and Dr. Wilma Hammett, Department of Family and Consumer Sciences, North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service Specialists, NC State University, from University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

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