Tornado Before and After: How to Stay Safe and What to Do in the Aftermath

Tornado season? Watch vs. warning? What are you supposed to do? This guide will explain how to stay safe during and after a tornado.

By Tom Scalisi | Published Apr 27, 2023 4:26 PM

We may earn revenue from the products available on this page and participate in affiliate programs.

Home destroyed by a tornado


Tornados are among the most terrifying natural disasters. While they’re more localized than a hurricane or earthquake, their incredible wind force can destroy homes, roads, bridges, farms, and more in a very short amount of time (or over a distance of several miles). They may not last as long, but for those in or around the path of a tornado, they’re no less dangerous. With these tornado safety tips, families can improve their odds of weathering these funnel-clouds storms.

RELATED: When Is Tornado Season? What to Know and How to Prepare

1. Know the Season

tornado season sign in front of clouds


Tornadoes themselves literally pop out of the sky, but knowing when they’re most likely to occur can be a benefit. According to the National Severe Storms Laboratory, peak tornado season in the southeastern United States is during the cooler months. However, in the southern and central Plains, it shifts to May and June. In the northern Plains and Midwest, peak season is early summer.

But, it’s important to note that tornadoes can occur in all fifty states, so this is more a guideline than a rule. Year-round tornado preparedness is best.

2. Tornado Watches vs Tornado Warnings

severe weather alert on a map


Most folks have heard of tornado watches and tornado warnings, but knowing the difference is critical. A tornado watch means that the current weather conditions can support a tornado developing for the next few hours. Watches are issued for large areas at a time, alerting everyone in the area that there is potential for a funnel cloud.

A tornado warning is a different story. Tornado warnings are issued when a tornado has been sighted or the weather radar indicates one has developed. With a tornado warning, there is imminent danger to people, livestock, and property. As one might surmise, warnings are more critical than watches. However, it’s important to take a tornado watch seriously, as well.

RELATED: 7 Smartphone Apps for Emergencies That You Need to Download Right Now

3. Stock Up On Emergency Essentials

Emergency preparedness, natural disaster supplies


When there is a tornado threat, it’s best to shelter in place, but this requires certain supplies. The following items should be part of any family’s emergency essentials kit:

  • A battery-operated TV, radio, or internet device, and fresh batteries.
  • A portable power station.
  • One gallon of water for each person for about a week, and non-perishable foods.
  • Toilet paper and paper towels, as well as a bucket and garbage bags to serve as a temporary toilet.
  • A list of important phone numbers, contact information, and medications.
  • A few changes of clothes (including footwear) tied up in garbage bags so they stay dry.

RELATED: Be Prepared for Natural Disasters

4. Know the Signs

Outdoor warning siren in western Nebraska


Some American cities in tornado-prone areas have tornado sirens to alert residents to the potential of a funnel cloud. These alerts signify the potential for tornados or other threats and that residents should head inside. However, it’s still important to know the signs of tornado-friendly conditions. Some things to keep an eye out for:

  • Strong thunderstorms
  • Dark or green-colored sky
  • Large, dark, low-lying clouds
  • Large, damaging hail
  • A roaring noise that sounds similar to a freight train

If these conditions exist, it’s best to gather everyone and head inside to safety.

RELATED: The Worst Storms on Record Ever to Have Hit the United States

5. Get Inside

tornado touching down over a field.


If you see a funnel cloud or notice the conditions are primed for a tornado, get inside. Don’t try to outrun the storm in a vehicle, and don’t try to take cover under bridges or other similar structures. Get to the closest structure, whether it be your own home or storm shelter, a store, neighbor’s home, garage, barn, or similar enclosed building to take cover until the storm passes.

RELATED: The Strangest Weather Events in US History

6. Know Where to Shelter Indoors

open doors to a storm cellar


Certain areas of a building or structure will be safer than others during a tornado. Areas like basements, interior rooms without windows, and hallways are better than those with windows and doors. It’s also a smart idea to choose a room to shelter in that doesn’t contain heavy objects like refrigerators, washing machines, and large furniture. If a tornado should cause these items to move or fall, they could hurt those inside.

Common wisdom suggests a bathtub can be a good place to ride out a tornado, and this is true if the bathroom is not on an exterior wall and there are no windows.

Basements are best for sheltering, but there are a few things to consider. If you can, shut off the gas line that comes into the house. Do the same for the water line. Note that when you turn the gas back on, you will have to light the pilots in your gas appliances again.

RELATED: Never Do These 11 Things During a Thunderstorm

7. Aftermath: Stay Informed

young woman holding smartphone


Staying up to date about the conditions after the storm are just as important as before. Use weather apps, radios, TVs, and other information sources to check on the damage in the area. Tornadoes can be very brief and localized, or they travel long distances while touching down. Your street might be untouched while the rest of the town experiences significant damage like lifted roadways and fallen bridges.

It’s also important to check for information from the local municipality. Any boil-water alerts or updates about emergency services might be available on the town’s website or Facebook page, so check there often after a tornado.

8. Aftermath: Assess the Damage

two men looking through debris after a tornado.


After the tornado warning lifts and the storm appears to have passed, head outside and assess the damage. Look for fallen branches, trees, telephone poles, broken windows, and other signs of damage around your property. Be sure to look for overhead hazards and, if the tornado was accompanied by flooding, stay out of any standing water as it could be hiding debris.

This is also a good time to check on your neighbors and call your friends and family to make sure they’re safe and sound, as well.

RELATED: Solved! Does Homeowners Insurance Cover Tornado Damage?

9. Aftermath: Avoid Hazards

Electricity poles fall because of storms. damaged car


If you’re able to stay put, avoid leaving the property after a tornado until reports in the area appear to be clear. If you’re driving, avoid any damaged roadways, downed power lines, or bridges that might’ve been along the tornado’s route. Unnecessarily putting yourself in danger could divert the attention of emergency services from another call where they could be helping someone else.