3 Things You Must Do During a Tornado

When a tornado warning is issued by the National Weather Service office you could have just minutes to react. Here's what you need to do to survive a tornado.


Tornadoes can come quickly, even without a tornado watch being issued first. According to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) the deadliest tornadoes occurred on March 18, 1925. The “Tri-State Tornado” blew through at over 60 miles per hour, creating mass devastation in Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana. It killed 695 people and injured 2,027. According to Missouri Storm Aware, tornadoes cause an average of 70 fatalities and 1,500 injuries in America each year.

Knowing what to do in a tornado can literally be the difference between life and death. This is what hurricane categories really mean. 

How to survive a tornado: Get low and stay in the middletornado_warning_issued_what_nextiStock/sshepard

NOAA’s National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center offers some helpful guidelines in the event of a tornado warning:

  • Go to the basement or lowest level of your house.
  • Choose an area that is in the middle where you can get the most walls between you and the tornado conditions outside. Think interior hall ways, under staircases, or closets. If those aren’t an option, go under a table, desk, or sturdy piece of furniture.
  • Stay away from windows. Don’t waste precious time opening windows to equalize pressure. That’s a myth that it will create a tornado-proof house. If a tornado is bearing down on your house, opened windows will not lessen the damage.
  • Put on a helmet or a hat and cover yourself with a blanket, mattress, or sleeping bag to shield debris.
  • Take note of where heavy furniture on any higher floors above your head. A heavy refrigerator, piece of furniture, or piano that is positioned on the floor above you could fall through a weakened floor and hurt or crush you.
  • Contrary to what you may have heard, the southwest corner is not the safest place to seek shelter. Previous theories stated debris only flew to the northeast side but debris from a tornado can blow in any direction. Here are the emergency items to always have in your house. 

How to survive a tornado in a mobile hometornado_warning_issued_what_nextiStock/sshepard

If you live in a mobile home, the NOAA recommends getting out and seeking shelter. Even mobile homes that are tied down are no match for a tornado. Have an evacuation plan ahead of time to head to an underground shelter or permanent structure. Public places such as an office building, hospital, skyscraper, or shopping center will have areas to seek shelter. These are the skills you need to survive any emergency. 

How to survive a tornado in a public placetornado_warning_issued_what_nextiStock/sshepard

  • If you don’t can’t find the tornado shelter area once inside, don’t panic. Head to the stairwell on the lowest level and avoid the elevator.
  • If a stairwell is not available, head to the windowless area in the center of the building on the lowest floor possible. Crouch down and cover your head with purse, briefcase, or coat. Here are everyday fixes to survive basically anything. 

Tornado preparation saves lives


According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), two-thirds of American households lack adequate plans for natural disasters, including what to do in a tornado. It’s essential to have a plan for your family and pets and especially those family members with special needs. FEMA offers a free app that features weather alerts from the National Weather Service for up to five locations, push notifications, and reminders of preparedness tips like building an emergency kit and making a family communications plan, real-time shelter information, and the ability to upload and share disaster photos with first responders.

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Lisa Marie Conklin
Lisa Marie Conklin is a Baltimore-based writer who writes regularly about pets and home improvement for Reader's Digest. Her work has also been published in The Healthy, HealthiNation, The Family Handyman, Taste of Home, and Realtor.com., among other outlets. She's also a certified personal trainer and walking coach for a local senior center. Follow her on Instagram @lisamariewrites4food and Twitter @cornish_conklin.