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ANPAC® Disaster Information Series:

Disaster Preparation: Tornados

Don't Taunt Tornados

  1. Before Severe Weather Strikes
  2. When Severe Weather is Imminent
  3. After Severe Weather Occurs

For years, TV shows and movies have been fraught with plotlines involving one of nature's most fascinating mysteries - the tornado. Screenwriters seem to have quite a knack for making tornadoes appeal to a wide variety of personalities, from the thrill-loving adventure seeker to the imaginative dreamer.

Through the camera lens of a trained storm chaser, tornadoes can seem nothing short of exhilarating. From tearing down the highway in search of rotation to the heart-pounding moments when a funnel is barreling down, it's the stuff reality TV dreams are made of. Like they always say, there's nothing like the thrill of the chase.

For the fantasy-loving crowd, there's that classic flick about the pretty girl and her dog. Though a land teeming with yellow brick roads and color-changing horses (sans the creepy flying monkeys and wicked witches) certainly sparks the imagination, it's far from reality.

In reality, tornadoes are a force (of nature) to be reckoned with. While they may be portrayed as exciting and almost mystical in the world of cinema, in truth, they're extremely dangerous. In mere minutes, tornadic winds can decimate entire towns and forever change lives. Though you certainly can't prevent a tornado from striking your city, there are several steps you can take to stay safe if you ever find yourself in the path of one of these ruthless storms:

Before Severe Weather Strikes... Back to top

Here are a few tips that may help you mitigate hail damage and remain safe if you find yourself in the midst of a hail storm:

  • Invest in a weather radio. Sirens won't always sound in the event of severe weather, since it can happen without warning. A weather radio will keep you informed of all NWS alerts that are issued in your area, and its alert tones can help wake you up if a storm pops up in the middle of the night.
  • Invest in a storm shelter, even if you have a basement. Even though a basement is underground, which is the safest place to be during a tornado, severe injuries can still be sustained if a house caves in on itself. The only way to be sure you are protected during a tornado is to construct or purchase a safe room that has been tested to withstand tornadic winds. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) offers several brochures and tips for building your own safe room, and you can read the industry standards a shelter should meet on the National Storm Shelter Association's website.
  • If you're building a new home or replacing an existing roof, consider using impact-resistant materials. Quite obviously, no roof is able to withstand winds from an EF-5 tornado. However, there are many new roofing materials on the market that can withstand high winds much better than their older counterparts. IBHS offers a wealth of tips about how to maintain your existing roof and which impact-resistant materials to purchase for a new build or roof replacement.
  • Remain aware of weather conditions in your area when a "Tornado Watch" is issued. Since you probably can't be glued to your TV all day, there are plenty of ways to get weather alerts and monitor conditions while you're on the go.
    • The Weather Channel offers SMS and email alerts, as well as free apps to help you stay informed about impending severe weather.
    • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), home to the National Weather Service (NWS), also issues weather alerts through its website, with extremely detailed and up-to-date forecast information.
    • Check your local news station's website. Many stations now offer email and text weather alerts as well.

When Severe Weather is Imminent... Back to top

  • If there's time, move your car or truck to the garage. If your house is destroyed in a tornado, it's likely your vehicle will be as well. However, you can help mitigate damage from the hail and high winds that often accompany tornado-producing storms by keeping your car or truck out of the elements.
  • Immediately heed each and every "Tornado Warning," whether it's indicated by sirens or strictly on TV. Today's weather radar can pinpoint rotation all the way down to a specific street, so many people don't bother to heed warnings if the potential threat is several miles away. Not a good idea. For one thing, technology isn't foolproof. There may well be rotation in a storm that isn't detected by Doppler radar. In addition, storms are completely unpredictable. Tornadoes can easily form without warning, and they don't travel in a straight line - their paths are often erratic and inconsistent.
  • If you're in the path of a tornado, seek shelter. If you hear sirens, don't head outside with your video camera in an attempt to capture the tornado on tape. Find a safer way to earn your 15 minutes of fame. Get to shelter immediately. Here where to seek shelter when you find yourself in one of the following locations during a tornado-producing storm:
    • Home or Office. The recommended place to be if you're in the path of a tornado is a storm shelter or a basement. If neither of those options is available, seek shelter in an interior room or closet with no windows, on the lowest floor of the building. To help shield yourself from debris, consider wearing a bicycle helmet and covering yourself with pillows and blankets. If you have time, it's advisable to put on substantial shoes (that means no flip-flops), in case you have to wade through debris.
    • Mobile Home. Do not, in any instance, stay in a mobile home if you're in the path of a tornado. Find a nearby storm shelter or sturdy structure where you can take refuge.
    • Car. First of all, you shouldn't try to outrun a tornado, especially in urban areas. So, the best thing to do is stop your car. Unlike advice of old, if you're in your car when a tornado is approaching, FEMA recommends that you park somewhere and stay in the car with your seatbelt buckled. To protect yourself from debris, it is recommended you keep your head below all windows and cover up with a coat, blanket or cushion. If you notice a ditch or low-lying area that is significantly lower than the roadway you are on, you can also seek shelter there. Don't try hunkering under an overpass or bridge.

After Severe Weather Occurs... Back to top

  • Don't immediately try to make repairs, unless they are necessary to prevent further damage to your property. For insurance purposes, it's best if you let a claims adjuster survey the damage before repairs are made. That way, you can receive an accurate claim payment. If you do need to make emergency repairs, you'll want to document the damage and keep receipts for all charges related to the repairs.
  • If someone has sustained a severe injury, do not try to move them. If the person's surroundings are relatively safe (no fires, gas leaks or downed electrical lines, for example), keep them conscious and still. If you attempt to move an injured person yourself, you may run the risk of increasing the severity of their injuries. Call 911 to dispatch first responders or an ambulance to the scene.
  • Don't try to clear or rummage through debris. If you are impacted by a tornado, you're obviously going to want to get your life, and the lives of those around you, back to normal as soon as possible. However, you need to let rescuers and government officials survey the damage and officially declare it safe for you to return to the area. Your attempts at trying to clean up your neighborhood may actually hinder rescue efforts or cause undue work for officials if you end up trapped or with an injury.

For more information about what to do in the aftermath of a tornado, read FEMA's list of tips.

If you unfortunately find yourself impacted by a tornado, a wand-wielding witch isn't going to instruct you to click a pair of ruby-encrusted pumps together three times to magically fix everything. However, heeding these safety tips can help you protect yourself and the home you love. After all, there's no place like it.

American National Property And Casualty Company (ANPAC®) does not guarantee these tips will help you avoid all weather-related dangers that may arise. ANPAC does not hold itself out to be an expert in this area and does not assume any liability for any claim arising from your following these tips or for not providing additional tips. There may be other valuable tips available to follow. This list is not intended to be all-inclusive. Please consult the experts for additional information.