Tornadoes are one of nature’s most violent storms. They are common in Texas, especially during the spring. Learn how to protect yourself before, during, and after a tornado strikes.

What is a tornado?

A tornado is a rotating funnel-shaped cloud that drops out of a storm cloud to the ground. Whirling winds range from 75 to 300 miles an hour. Tornadoes can measure one mile in width and travel for 50 miles, often changing direction erratically.

Mobile homes are particularly vulnerable, but even sturdy, brick buildings on concrete slabs are at risk. The power of tornadoes can be great enough to hurl objects as large as cars over long distances and to destroy homes, neighborhoods, and communities.

Each year tornadoes are responsible for about 70 deaths and 1,500 injuries nationwide. To learn more about tornadoes, go to NOAA’s Tornado FAQ.

What to Do Before a Tornado

Before a tornado strikes:

Find out about public warning systems in your area. Most communities at risk from tornadoes use sirens to warn their residents.

Understand the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning:

  • A watch means the formation of tornadoes is possible.
  • A warning means a tornado has been sighted or detected by radar; seek shelter immediately.

Prepare for a tornado:

  • Inspect your home, paying close attention to the walls and roof. You may need to make some improvements such as bolting the walls to the foundation or attaching “hurricane clips” between wall studs and roof rafters.
  • If your home does not have a basement or storm cellar, locate the safest room in your house and designate it as your storm shelter. An interior room on the lowest level without windows, such as a closet, bathroom, or the crawl space under a staircase, may be the safest place.
  • Mobile homes—even those with tie-downs—are not safe during tornadoes. If you live in a mobile home, plan to shelter in a nearby sturdy building. If one does not exist, find a low spot outside, such as a ditch, and plan to go there during tornado warnings. Lie flat on the ground and cover your head with your hands.
  • Building a safe room is another option. Safe rooms are above-ground shelters built to withstand tornado-force winds and flying debris. An existing room, such as an interior bathroom, can be reinforced to function as a safe room while remaining functional as a bathroom.
  • Create your Disaster Supply Kit and keep it in an easily accessible place.

What to Do During a Tornado

When severe weather is approaching, you may not be able to see funnel clouds, so learn how to look for other weather conditions that may indicate tornadic activity:

  • A dark or green-colored sky
  • Large, dark, low-lying clouds
  • Large hail
  • A loud roar that sounds like a freight train

If you see any of these signs:

  • Go to your shelter immediately and tune in to local radio and television news.
  • Help alert others by reporting tornado sightings to the media.

In your car:

If you see a tornado while you are driving, stop your car and get out. Find the lowest spot, such as a ditch, and lie flat on the ground. Cover your head with your hands.

Do not seek shelter beneath overpasses as wind speeds can be higher in narrow passages. Never try to out-drive a tornado.

At school, the office or shopping centers:

In schools and office buildings, go to a designated shelter. If there is not one, the safest place is the basement or an interior hallway on the lowest floor.

In shopping centers, move as far away from glass doors and windows as possible. If you are in a building with a large-span roof, such as a gymnasium or auditorium, seek shelter elsewhere.

What to Do After a Tornado

Once a tornado has passed, the danger is not over. In fact, half of all tornado-related injuries occur following the storm. Before you leave your shelter, look outside to assess potential hazards.

Once at home, follow these precautions:

  • Use extreme caution when entering damaged homes or structures.
  • Beware of unstable trees and limbs. Falling tree limbs are a major cause of injury and death following tornadoes.
  • Downed power lines are a serious electrocution hazard. Never touch downed power lines or any objects in contact with them, including water.
  • Do not enter flooded homes if the electricity may still be on. Report electrical hazards to authorities.
  • If you smell gas in your home, leave the area and call the gas company. If you can safely turn off the main gas valve, do so. Open windows and doors. Do not smoke, light candles, use cell or landline phones, or use matches.
  • Wear sturdy shoes or boots, long pants, long sleeves, and gloves when cleaning up.
  • Help avoid injuries when using chain saws and power tools by learning how to operate them properly, and always follow recommended safety procedures.
  • Whenever possible, use battery-powered flashlights and lanterns instead of candles.

Take the following precautions to avoid illness:

  • If you lose power for an extended period of time, discard food from your refrigerator if it has reached room temperature. If in doubt, throw it out.
  • Drink bottled or purified water until authorities say your tap water is safe.

    • You can disinfect water with chlorine or iodine (follow package directions) or with ordinary household bleach—one-eighth teaspoon (about eight drops) per gallon of water.
    • Sterilize water containers and drinking cups with a solution of household bleach.
  • Poisoning from carbon monoxide is an avoidable hazard during power outages. Never use generators, camp stoves, or charcoal grills inside your home, garage, or near open windows, doors or vents.

    • Carbon monoxide is a colorless and odorless gas that can build up and cause sudden illness and death.
    • If you feel dizzy, light-headed, or nauseous, seek immediate medical attention.
  • Weather conditions following tornadoes are usually very hot and humid. You may not have air conditioning for a prolonged period of time.

    • Avoid heat-related complications by drinking plenty of fluids and taking care to not overexert yourself when cleaning up and repairing damage.
  • When cleaning up debris, watch for broken glass and exposed nails. Seek medical attention if injured, particularly for puncture wounds.
  • After a tornado, it’s normal to experience emotional distress. Allow yourself and family members time to grieve.