Tornadoes are nature’s most violent storms. Spawned from
powerful thunderstorms, tornadoes can cause fatalities and
devastate a neighborhood in seconds. A tornado appears as a
rotating, funnel-shaped cloud that extends from a thunderstorm
to the ground with whirling winds that can reach 300 miles per
hour. Damage paths can be in excess of one mile wide and 50
miles long. Every state is at some risk from this hazard.
Some tornadoes are clearly visible, while rain or nearby
low-hanging clouds obscure others. Occasionally, tornadoes
develop so rapidly that little, if any, advance warning is
Before a tornado hits, the wind may die down and the air may
become very still. A cloud of debris can mark the location of a
tornado even if a funnel is not visible. Tornadoes generally
occur near the trailing edge of a thunderstorm. It is not
uncommon to see clear, sunlit skies behind a tornado.
The following are facts about tornadoes:
- They may strike quickly, with little or no
- They may appear nearly transparent until dust and
debris are picked up or a cloud forms in the funnel.
- The average tornado moves Southwest to Northeast, but
tornadoes have been known to move in any direction.
- The average forward speed of a tornado is 30 MPH, but
may vary from stationary to 70 MPH.
- Tornadoes can accompany tropical storms and hurricanes
as they move onto land.
Waterspouts are tornadoes that form over water.
- Tornadoes are most frequently reported east of the
Rocky Mountains during spring and summer months.
- Peak tornado season in the southern states is March
through May; in the northern states, it is late spring
through early summer.
- Tornadoes are most likely to occur between 3 p.m. and 9
p.m., but can occur at any time.
Know Your Tornado
Familiarize yourself with these terms to help identify a
Watch - Tornadoes are possible. Remain
alert for approaching storms. Watch the sky and stay tuned
to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio, or television for
Warning - A tornado has been sighted or
indicated by weather radar. Take shelter immediately.
What to do Before a
- Be alert to changing weather conditions.
- Listen to NOAA Weather Radio or to commercial radio or
television newscasts for the latest information.
- Look for approaching storms
- Look for the following danger signs:
- Dark, often greenish sky
- Large hail
- A large, dark, low-lying cloud (particularly if
- Loud roar, similar to a freight train.
If you see approaching storms or any of the danger signs, be
prepared to take shelter immediately.
What to Do During a
If you are under a tornado WARNING, seek shelter
If you are in a structure (e.g. residence, small
building, school, nursing home, hospital, factory, shopping
center, high-rise building):
- Go to a pre-designated shelter area such as a safe
room, basement, storm cellar, or the lowest building level.
If there is no basement, go to the center of an interior
room on the lowest level (closet, interior hallway) away
from corners, windows, doors, and outside walls. Put as
many walls as possible between you and the outside. Get
under a sturdy table and use your arms to protect your head
and neck. Do not open windows.
If you are in a vehicle, trailer, or mobile home:
- Get out immediately and go to the lowest floor of a
sturdy, nearby building or a storm shelter. Mobile homes,
even if tied down, offer little protection from
If you are outside with no shelter:
- Lie flat in a nearby ditch or depression and cover your
head with your hands. Be aware of the potential for
- Do not get under an overpass or bridge. You are safer
in a low, flat location.
- Never try to outrun a tornado in urban or congested
areas in a car or truck. Instead, leave the vehicle
immediately for safe shelter.
- Watch out for flying debris. Flying debris from
tornadoes causes most fatalities and injuries.
Much of the info on this page was taken from FEMA's web site
which can be referenced at: