5 must-do tips for tornado preparation

Tornado preparation focuses on being prepared, from your outside structure to your emergency supplies inside


Tornado season generally runs from March to June. Image: Unsplash

Tornadoes are one of the most deadly natural disasters that can wreak havoc in their path. It’s impossible to know where a tornado will track once its on the ground, causing extreme danger for those who are unprepared. But, tornado preparation will take some of the guesswork out of an emergency situation, and allow you to weather the storm with as much peace of mind as possible.

What is a Tornado Watch?

A tornado watch is issued for a county when the National Weather Service (NWS) determines that conditions are ripe for tornadoes to form. A watch does not mean a tornado has been located or even formed, just that the conditions are favorable for tornadoes, and those affected by the watch should stay alert.

What is a Tornado Warning?

A tornado warning means a tornado has been spotted, either forming out of the clouds, or according to radar. When a warning is issued for your area, this is when you need to evacuate to your chosen safe spot. Do not leave this area until the warning for your county has expired.

Before a Storm Approaches

Tornado season generally runs from March to June, however, tornadoes are capable of being produced year-round, as well as part of other natural disasters, such as hurricanes, due to the severe thunderstorms they bring. This unpredictability means that tornado preparation must occur before a storm or threat emerges.

# 1 Find the Safest Place in Your Home

It’s important to know the best place to go when a tornado is bearing down. This is a space where there are no or few windows, away from breakables. If you have a basement, cellar or storm shelter, head there immediately. In one-floor structures, go to a small, interior space, such as a closet or under a stairwell. If possible, an interior bathroom in the tub could provide extra protection.

You should discuss where the safe place is with every member of your family, so they know where to go in the event of an emergency.

#2 Gather Supplies

When tornadoes strike, they could be part of a storm that is producing multiple tornadoes -- called a tornado outbreak -- or could cause such devastation that rescue workers are unable to rescue people right away, all of which means your emergency kit should be well stocked to weather a few days in your safe spot.

An emergency kit should include:

  • One gallon of water per person, per day, for at least three days
  • Enough non-perishable food to last each person for three days
  • A battery-powered weather radio
  • Several flashlights
  • Extra batteries
  • Prescription medications
  • First Aid kit
  • Clothes and closed-toed shoes for every person

Remember, this step should be completed well before a storm is about to hit, or is even forecast. You don’t want to be searching your local grocery store for water bottles when an emergency warning has been released, so it’s important to have your supplies stocked and ready to go as part of your tornado preparation well in advance.

#3 Tornado Prep Your Home

Tornadoes occur far more often in certain areas of the country, known as Tornado Alley, the core of which runs from northern Texas through Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska. In these areas which tend to see several tornado watches and warnings throughout the year, it might make sense to invest in technology that will protect the outside structure of your home, as well as enhance the safety of the occupants inside during a storm.

  • Storm windows. While traditionally thought to be used during hurricanes, storm windows can help prevent the intense winds from shattering glass panes which is dangerous for anyone sheltering inside.
  • Heavy-duty doors. Thicker doors designed to withstand tornado-force winds are typically used on storm shelters, but can also be used at the entrance to a home, giving added protection.
  • Foundation and structure protection. If you’re about to build a home or are planning to add on to your existing structure, consider technology that offers extra protection for your foundations and your internal structure. Internal Concrete Forms (ICF) are being used in place of traditional timber construction to fortify internal walls, and Cable-Tite protects your foundation in a way similar to that of a Chinese finger lock. The more the tornado pulls up on your home, the harder the Cable-Tite pushes down on the foundation.

#4 Be Aware of the Changing Situation

Tornadoes can occur at any time of the year, and any time of the day. Be sure you have a way to find out the latest weather updates, like a battery-operated weather radio, or a local news application for your phone that will alert you to any emergency updates. This is especially true during a storm.

Thunderstorms can form and dissipate rapidly, prompting weather officials to issue several watches or warnings over the course of only a few hours. It’s important to understand the lingo associated with tornadoes, and be prepared to take action.

#5 Replenish Supplies and Assess Damage

After the storm, you may only need to stay in your safe space for 15 minutes, or you may be hunkered down for several hours or days. Regardless, only leave the safe space in your home after you’ve been given the all-clear by local authorities.

Immediately after a storm has passed, you should take stock of what supplies were used and replace them as part of your ongoing tornado preparation.

What else did you learn from this event? Do you need to purchase extra phone/laptop/tablet chargers to keep in your safe room? Did you have enough food for everyone? Adjust and restock your tornado preparation emergency kit accordingly.

Rachel Engel is an award-winning journalist and the senior editor of FireRescue1.com and EMS1.com. In addition to her regular editing duties, Engel seeks to tell the heroic, human stories of first responders and the importance of their work. She earned her bachelor’s degree in communications from Cameron University in Lawton, Oklahoma, and began her career as a freelance writer, focusing on government and military issues. Engel joined Lexipol in 2015 and has since reported on issues related to public safety. Engel lives in Wichita, Kansas. She can be reached via email.