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Friday, December 1, 2023

What to do before, during and after a tornado

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Tornadoes are nature’s most violent storms. They form from powerful thunderstorms. Tornadoes appear as rotating funnel clouds that stretch from a storm to the ground with swirling winds that can reach 300 miles per hour. Damage paths can be more than a mile wide and 50 miles long.

In North Carolina, tornadoes can strike with little or no warning at any time of the year. The high season, however, is from March to May.

Sometimes tornadoes develop so quickly that there may be little or no advance warning. Before a tornado strikes, the wind may die down and the air may become very still. A cloud of debris can mark the site of a tornado even if a funnel is not visible. Tornadoes occur near the trailing edge of a thunderstorm. It’s not uncommon to see clear, sunlit skies behind a tornado.

If you see a tornado coming, you only have a short time to make life and death decisions. Learn the basics of tornado safety. Plan ahead. Hold an annual tornado drill. Doing this will reduce the chance of injury or death if a tornado hits your area.

Know the Terms and Warning Signs

  • Caution : Conditions are right for tornadoes to form.
  • Warning : a tornado has been sighted.

danger signs

  • If there is a watch or warning, hail fall should be thought of as a real danger signal.
  • A cloud of debris can mark the site of a tornado, even if you can’t see a funnel.
  • Before a tornado strikes, the wind may die down and the air may become very still.
  • Tornadoes occur near the trailing edge of a thunderstorm. It’s not uncommon to see clear, sunlit skies behind a tornado.

before a tornado

  • Listen to NOAA Weather Radio or TV or radio news for the latest updates. In any emergency, always listen to the orders given by local emergency management officials.
  • Be alert to weather changes. Look for approaching storms.
  • Look for the following danger signs:
    • Dark sky, often greenish.
    • Big hail.
    • A large, dark, low-lying cloud (particularly if it spins).
    • Loud roar, much like a freight train.
    • If you see approaching storms or any of these danger signs, prepare to take shelter quickly.
  • Know where to go. The safest place to be during a tornado is a basement. If you don’t have a basement, go to an interior hallway or a smaller interior room without windows, such as a bathroom or closet. Go to the center of the room. Try to find something sturdy underneath that you can reach in and hold onto to protect yourself from flying debris and/or a collapsed roof. Use your arms to protect your head and neck.
  • Mobile homes, even those with tie-downs, are particularly exposed to damage from high winds. Go to a prearranged shelter when the weather turns bad.
  • If no shelter is available, get out and lie on the ground, if possible in a ditch or depression. Use your arms to protect your head and neck and wait for the storm to pass. While you wait, keep an eye out for flash flooding that sometimes comes with tornadoes.
  • Never try to outrun a tornado in a car. A tornado can launch cars and trucks like toys. If you see a funnel cloud or hear a tornado warning, get out of your vehicle and find a safe shelter. If no shelter is available, lie down in a low area using your arms to cover the back of your head and neck. Be sure to stay alert for flooding.

during a tornado
at home

  • Seek shelter on the lowest floor possible or in the basement. Under the stairs or in a bathroom or closet are good places to take refuge. Do not open or close the windows. Stay away from windows. Bend down on the floor in an egg position.

at work

  • Seek shelter on the lowest floor possible or in a basement, if there is a basement. Stairs, bathrooms, and closets are good places. Stay away from windows. As a last resort, get under your desk.

at school

  • Seek shelter in interior hallways, small closets, and bathrooms. Stay away from windows. Get out of mobile classrooms. Stay away from gyms, auditoriums, and other rooms with large ceiling extensions. Bus drivers must be aware of bad weather on their routes.

In the mall/store

  • Seek shelter against an interior wall. An enclosed hallway or fire escape away from the main lobby of the mall is a good spot. Stay away from skylights and large open areas.


  • Find the nearest sturdy shelter. If no shelter is available, try to find a ditch or low area. Cover your head with your hands. Do not go under an overpass or bridge. It is safer in a low and flat place. Watch out for flying debris. Flying debris from tornadoes causes most deaths and injuries.

after a tornado
Injuries can result from the tornado or after a tornado when people walk through debris and clean it up. Be careful around sharp objects, especially nails and glass. Watch for damaged power lines, gas lines, or electrical systems. There may be a risk of fire, electrocution or explosion.

Immediately after a tornado:
Check for injuries. Do not attempt to move seriously injured persons unless they are in immediate danger of further injury. Get medical help quickly. If someone has stopped breathing, start CPR if you are trained to do so. Stop a bleeding injury by putting direct pressure on the wound. Have a doctor check any puncture wound. If you are stuck, try to draw attention to where you are.

General safety precautions
To avoid injuries after a tornado:

  • Continue to use your battery-powered radio or television for emergency information.
  • Be careful when entering any structure that has been damaged.
  • Wear sturdy shoes/boots, long sleeves and gloves when walking or working near debris.
  • Be aware of the dangers of exposed nails and broken glass.
  • Do not touch downed power lines or objects that are in contact with downed lines. Report electrical hazards to the police and the utility company.
  • Use battery-powered flashlights, if possible, instead of candles to light homes without electricity. If you use candles, make sure they are in secure holders away from curtains, paper, wood, or other flammable items. Never leave a candle burning when you are out of the room.
  • Never use generators, pressure washers, grills, camp stoves, or other devices that burn gasoline, propane, natural gas, or charcoal inside your home, basement, garage, or RV, even outside near a window, door, or vent. open. Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that can cause sudden illness and death if you breathe it. These fumes can build up in your home, garage, or mobile home and poison people and animals inside. Seek immediate medical help if you feel dizzy, lightheaded, or nauseated.
  • Respond to requests for volunteer help from police, fire, emergency management, and relief groups. Simply DO NOT GO to damaged areas unless help has been called. Being there could slow down relief efforts.

inspect the damage

  • Be aware of potential structural, electrical, or gas leak hazards in your home. Call your local building inspectors for information on structural safety codes and standards. They can also offer advice on how to find a qualified contractor to do the work for you.
  • If you think your home could be damaged, turn off the electric power, natural gas and propane tanks to stop any fire, electrocution or explosion.
  • If it’s dark when you’re checking out your house, use a flashlight instead of a candle or torch so you don’t risk a fire or explosion in a damaged house.
  • If you see frayed wiring or sparks, or if there is a burning smell, quickly turn off the electrical system at the main switch.
  • If you smell gas or suspect a leak, turn off the main gas valve, open all windows, and get out of the house quickly. Tell the gas company, the police or the fire department. DO NOT: Turn on lights, strike matches, smoke, or do anything that could cause a spark. Do not go home until you are told it is safe to do so.

Visit ReadyNC.gov for additional information.


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