Safety Guidelines: During a Tornado

Key points

  • During a tornado, people face hazards from extremely high winds and risk being struck by flying and falling objects.
  • Learn what steps you can take to keep yourself and your loved ones safe during a tornado.

Know when to take shelter

Tornado in a field
Take shelter if you see signs of a tornado.

Take shelter immediately during a tornado warning.

A tornado warning is issued when a tornado is sighted or indicated by weather radar.

Take shelter if you see signs of a tornado.

Sometimes tornadoes strike quickly, without time for a tornado warning. Signs that a tornado may be approaching include:

  • Rotating funnel-shaped cloud
  • Approaching cloud of debris
  • Dark or green-colored sky
  • Large, dark, low-lying cloud
  • Large hail
  • Loud roar that sounds like a freight train

If you spot a tornado that is far away, seek shelter and help alert others to the tornado by immediately reporting it to the newsroom of a local radio or TV station. Use common sense and exercise caution.

Stay tuned‎

Keep tuned to local radio and TV stations, a NOAA weather radio, or your mobile phone.

Know where to take shelter

If you’re at home, go to your basement or an inside room, without windows, on the lowest floor.

  • The safest place in the home is the interior part of a basement.
  • If you don't have a basement, go to an inside room, without windows, on the lowest floor. This could be a center hallway, bathroom, or closet.
  • Avoid taking shelter where there are heavy objects on the floor directly above you. Heavy objects, such as refrigerators or pianos, could fall though the floor if the tornado strikes your house.
  • For added protection, get under something sturdy such as a heavy table or workbench. If possible, cover your body with a blanket, sleeping bag, or mattress, and protect your head with anything available—even your hands.

Stay away from windows!‎

Pick a place in the home where family members can gather if a tornado is headed your way. One basic rule is AVOID WINDOWS. An exploding window can injure or kill.

If you live in a mobile home, go to a nearby building.

  • Don't stay in a mobile home during a tornado. Mobile homes can turn over during strong winds. Even mobile homes with a tie-down system cannot withstand the force of tornado winds.
  • If you live in a mobile home, go to a nearby building, preferably one with a basement.
  • If there is no shelter nearby, lie flat in the nearest ditch, ravine, or culvert and shield your head with your hands.

If you're at work or school, follow your tornado drill.

  • Follow your tornado drill and proceed to your tornado shelter location quickly and calmly.
  • Stay away from windows and don't go to large open rooms such as cafeterias, gyms, or auditoriums.

If you're in a mall, theater, or gym, get to the lowest level of the building and stay away from the windows.

  • Long-span buildings, such as malls, theaters, and gyms, are especially dangerous because the roof is usually supported only by the outside walls. Most buildings like this cannot withstand the pressure from a tornado—they simply collapse.
  • Get to the lowest level of the building (the basement if possible).
  • Stay away from windows.
  • If there isn't time to get to a tornado shelter or to a lower level, try to get under a door frame or get up against something that will support or deflect falling debris. For instance, in a department store, get up against heavy shelving or counters. In a theater, get under the seats. Remember to protect your head.

If you're in a vehicle, Do NOT try to outrun a tornado.

  • Don't try to outrun a tornado. Drive to the closest shelter. The least desirable place to be during a tornado is in a motor vehicle. Cars, buses, and trucks are easily tossed by tornado winds.
  • If you're unable to make it to a safe shelter, either get down in your vehicle and cover your head and neck or leave your vehicle and seek shelter in a low-lying area such as a ditch or ravine.
  • Stay away from highway overpasses and bridges.

If you're outside when a tornado approaches, find shelter quickly.

  • If there is no shelter nearby, go to a low-lying area such as a ditch or ravine and lie flat. Protect your head and neck with an object or with your arms. Avoid areas with many trees.

Know what to do if you have functional needs.

  • If you are in a wheelchair, get away from windows and go to an interior room of the house. If possible, seek shelter under a sturdy table or desk. Cover your head with anything available, even your hands.
  • If you're unable to move from a bed or a chair and assistance is not available, protect yourself from falling objects by covering up with blankets and pillows.
  • If you're outside and a tornado is approaching, get into a ditch or gully. If possible, lie flat and cover your head with your arms.

Helmet and Tornado Statement

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to recommend, as its first recommendation, that people in the path of a tornado find a shelter or a tornado-safe room. The safest place in the home is the interior part of a basement. If possible, get under something sturdy such as a heavy table or workbench. If outdoors, lie down in a gully or ditch.

We understand that people are looking for any useful and effective ways to protect themselves. We don't have research on the effectiveness of helmet use to prevent head injuries during a tornado, but we do know that head injuries are common causes of death during tornadoes. CDC has long made the recommendation that people try to protect their heads. Because the time to react may be very short, if people choose to use helmets they should know where they are and have them readily accessible. Looking for a helmet in the few seconds before a tornado hits may delay you getting safely to shelter. If people choose to use helmets, these helmets should not be considered an alternative to seeking appropriate shelter. Rather, helmets should be considered just one part of their overall home tornado preparedness kit to avoid any delay.

CDC continues to promote protective measures for use during natural disasters including tornadoes.