Long-time residents of Texas know that severe weather is a part of life. California has earthquakes, the Mid-Atlantic has nor’easters, and the list goes on. The key to lowering the potential impacts from hazardous weather is to be prepared. For severe weather that means having a severe weather safety plan in advance of an event. A tornado warning is not an appropriate time to formulate a safety or shelter plan. Being prepared means taking the time now to develop and practice your tornado safety plan.

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The first thing to understand is the difference between a WATCH and a WARNING.

  • Tornado Watch: Be Prepared! Tornadoes are possible in and near the watch area. Review and discuss your emergency plans and check supplies and your safe room. Be ready to act quickly if a warning is issued or you suspect a tornado is approaching. Acting early helps to save lives! The watch area is typically large, covering numerous counties or even states.
  • Tornado Warning: Take Action! A tornado has been sighted or indicated by weather radar. There is imminent danger to life and property. Move to an interior room on the lowest floor of a sturdy building. Avoid windows. If in a mobile home, a vehicle, or outdoors, move to the closest substantial shelter and protect yourself from flying debris.Warnings typically encompass a much smaller area (around the size of a city or small county) that may be impacted by a tornado identified by a forecaster on weather radar or by a trained spotter who is watching the storm.
  • Severe Thunderstorm Watch: Be Prepared! Severe thunderstorms are possible in and near the watch area. Stay informed and be ready to act if a severe thunderstorm warning is issued. The watch area is typically large, covering numerous counties or even states.
  • Severe Thunderstorm Warning: Take Action! Severe weather has been reported by spotters or indicated by radar. Warnings indicate imminent danger to life and property. Take shelter in a substantial building. Get out of mobile homes that can blow over in high winds. Warnings typically encompass a much smaller area (around the size of a city or county) that may be impacted by an on-going severe thunderstorm.

The appropriate action to take during a tornado varies drastically based on the type of structure. Below are safety tips for a couple different scenarios.

Typical Single-Family Home

  • Move to the lowest floor (ground floor).
  • Shelter in a small room near the center of your home. Put as many walls between you and the outdoors as possible.
    • Examples: Bathroom, closet, under a stairwell, or an interior hallway with no windows. 
  • Crouch as low as possible to the floor, facing down; and cover your head with your hands.
  • Cover yourself with protection (mattress, blankets, etc).
  • Pants, long-sleeve shirts, sturdy shoes, and an athletic or motorcycle helmet are recommended for personal protection.
    • Many tornado-related injuries are due to blunt force trauma. A sturdy helmet can greatly improve protection to the head.

Multi-Story Apartment Building

  • Move to the lowest floor if at all possible.
    • Tip: Get to know your neighbors. Invite those on floors above to shelter with you if you have a ground-floor unit.
  • Shelter in a small room near the center of your home. Put as many walls between you and the outdoors as possible.
    • Examples: Bathroom, closet, or an interior hallway with no windows. 
  • Crouch as low as possible to the floor, facing down; and cover your head with your hands.
  • Cover yourself with protection (mattress, blankets, etc).
  • Pants, long-sleeve shirts, sturdy shoes, and an athletic or motorcycle helmet are recommended for personal protection.
    • Many tornado-related injuries are due to blunt force trauma. A sturdy helmet can greatly improve protection to the head.

Mobile Home

  • Under no circumstance should you shelter in a mobile home during a tornado warning. Even the weakest tornadoes can destroy mobile homes. Stronger storms will obliterate mobile homes with the wreckage almost unrecognizable.
  • Find a suitable shelter well in advance of any potential severe weather threat.
    • Site-built, sturdy structure such as a gas station, residential home, commercial property, etc. Some areas have shelters. Know how long it will take you to reach this shelter.
  • Extra attention must be paid to weather forecasts. If severe weather is forecast plan on having to move to your designated shelter. Moving to your shelter may be needed well in advance of a storm if driving is required.
  • A last resort would be to take shelter in a ditch or low-lying area away from the trailer/mobile home. You would be better off taking shelter in a ditch outdoors than remaining in a mobile home. Extra attention to weather forecasts and situational awareness will hopefully prevent this step from becoming necessary.
    • Get down! Cover your head with your hands.

Vehicle

  • IF the tornado is visible, far away, and traffic is light you may be able to drive out of its path. Move at right angles of the tornado. Do not participate in risky driving behavior.
  • Seek shelter in a sturdy building.
  • IF you’re caught by extreme winds or flying debris…
    • Exit traffic lanes and park the car as quickly and safely as possible. You have two options and neither are particularly good.
      1. Stay in the vehicle with your seat belt on. Put your head down below the windows; cover your head with your hands. Use a blanket, coat, cushion, or other items if possible.
      2. If you can get noticeably lower than the level of the road, leave your car and lie in that area. Bridges are DEATH TRAPS. Do NOT seek shelter under bridges under any circumstance!

Commercial Properties

  • Don’t panic! Follow the severe weather safety plan as directed. Use safety tips from above to dictate your response.

Methods to receive severe weather warnings

NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards (NWR) is a nationwide network of radio stations broadcasting continuous weather information directly from the nearest National Weather Service office. NWR broadcasts official Weather Service warnings, watches, forecasts and other hazard information 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Specialized receivers are available to receive these radio signals. Most specialized receives also have the ability to warn you if a severe weather watch or warning is issued for your county. Radios with the needed ability to sound weather warning alarms range between $18 and $50. Some counties do offer programs to provide weather radios at a reduced price for higher risk locations during severe weather– such as mobile home communities . Click here or on the image above to learn more about NOAA All-Hazards Weather Radio.

Weather Decision Technologies Weather Radio is a smart-phone app that provides visual and audible alerts based on your GPS and/or pre-set location(s). Unlike NOAA Weather Radio which sounds alarm based on counties, this app uses the polygon warnings issued by your local National Weather Service office. Polygon warnings replaced county-based warnings many years ago – only warning for communities in the path of a storm. You can select which watches/warnings you want to be alerted to and also set predefined locations such as your home or workplace. WDT’s WeatherRadio is available on Android and iOS platforms for $4.99. Click here or on the image above to visit their website. Likewise you can also search in your respective app store.