About a thousand occur in the U.S. every year, and every year 70 Americans are killed and scores of others are injured.

These storms are the most violent on earth. Winds, usually exceeding 100 mph and possibly reaching 300 mph, spiral through a community leaving nothing but what looks like kindling.

Tornadoes are commonly associated in the Central U.S., including the entire states of South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana; and parts of the states of Texas, North Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee.

But don’t let this lull you into thinking you are safe from the ravages of tornadoes if you don’t live in Tornado Alley. These destructive storms have occurred in all 50 states, and, believe it or not, they are more common in Florida than Oklahoma … but they are generally weaker.

Although the greatest threat for tornadoes occur in April, they can occur any time of the year, so it is a smart move to keep your safety plan fresh in your mind at all times.

Since tornadoes strike with little or no warning, you need to be prepared before a tornadic system moves into your area:

  • Plan what you will do in the event a tornado watch or tornado warning is issued
  • Purchase a weather radio
  • Select the safest place in your home

Should a tornado warning be issued take the following steps to protect you and your family:

  • Quickly go to the basement, storm cellar, or lowest level of the building. If there is no basement, go to an inner hallway or a smaller inner room without windows, such as a bathroom or closet.
  • Stay away from windows.
  • Go to the center of the room as debris can sometimes come through walls.
  • Get under a piece of sturdy furniture, such as a workbench or heavy table or desk…and hold on to it.
  • If you have time, get a mattress or blankets to protect your head. If you don’t have time, use your arms.
  • If you live in a mobile home, get out and find shelter elsewhere in a permanent building.

While it seems tornadoes strike only at night, that is not the case; however, there could be times when you are not home….but at work, school, outdoor, or in your car.

If you are at work or school:

  • Go to the basement or to an inside hallway at the lowest level.
  • Avoid places with wide-span roofs, such as auditoriums, cafeterias, large hallways, or shopping malls.
  • Get under a piece of sturdy furniture and hold on.
  • Protect your head and neck.

If you find yourself outdoors when a tornado warning is sounded:

  • If possible, get inside a building.
  • If shelter is not available or there is no time to get indoors, lie in a ditch or other low- lying area or crouch near a strong building. But, be aware of the potential for flooding.
  • Use your arms to protect your head and neck. Should you be in your car when a tornado is imminent:
  • Never try to out drive a tornado in a car or truck. Tornadoes can change direction quickly and can lift a car or truck and toss it through the area. Many people have died this way.
  • Get out of the car immediately and take shelter in a nearby building.
  • If there is no time to get indoors, get out of the car and lie in a ditch or low-lying area away from the vehicle; but, be aware of the potential for flooding.

If in a car:

  • Never try to out drive a tornado in a car or truck. Tornadoes can change direction quickly and can lift up a car or truck and toss it through the air.
  • Get out of the car immediately and take shelter in a nearby building.
  • If there is no time to get indoors, get out of the car and lie in a ditch or low-lying area away from the vehicle. Be aware of the potential for flooding.

After the tornado

The aftermath of a tornado can be devastating, but knowing what to do after a tornado strikes will make the recovery effort easier, quicker and safer.

  • Listen to local officials, and emergency management personnel.
  • Stay away from downed power lines and other harmful debris.
  • Remain calm, especially around children.
  • Check on the elderly and your pets.
  • Use a flashlight and not candles to inspect damage.
  • Check for any gas leaks and turn the valves off if there’s a leak
  • Turn off electricity if there are signs of sparks.
  • Watch for any loose debris that could fall.
  • Take pictures of your damaged property for insurance claims.

Tornado alerts

  • Tornado watch: Atmospheric conditions are favorable for severe thunderstorms to produce tornadoes. Listen for updated forecasts and possible warnings. Tornado watches are issued by the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla. Forecasters at SPC evaluate many atmospheric conditions – including wind speed and direction at different levels of the atmosphere – to determine where tornadoes may form.
  • Tornado warning: A tornado has been spotted on the ground or is indicated by radar. Take cover immediately! Warnings are issued by the National Weather Service. If a tornado approaches your area, forecasters are able to track the storm using advanced weather radar. Trained storm spotters and local officials report tornadoes on the ground to the NWS office. The NWS will issue a tornado warning if either of these indicate a tornado.

NOTE: Although rare, warnings for tornadoes may be issued even when a tornado watch is not in effect.

When all the conditions are present, humid air will rise high into the sky and cool and condense into towering clouds, forming thunderstorms. This air rising into a thunderstorm is called an updraft. Tornadoes form in within a thunderstorm’s updraft.

The strongest tornadoes are often near the edge of the updraft, not far from where air is descending in a downdraft caused by the thunderstorms with falling rain or hail. This is why a burst of heavy rain or hail sometimes announces a tornado’s arrival.

Tornadoes are ranked by the damage they do using the six-tiered Fujita Scale. F0 and F1 tornadoes on the scale are considered “weak” and cause minimal to moderate damage with winds from 40-112 mph. F2 and F3 tornadoes are considered strong, packing winds of 113-206 mph that can cause major to severe damage. Violent tornadoes are those classified F4 and F5 with winds exceeding 206 mph. Damage is extreme to catastrophic.

Most weak tornadoes last 10 minutes or less, traveling short distances. Violent tornadoes have been known to last for hours and a few have traveled more than 100 miles.