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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato

Tornado Safety

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Tornado Safety

A tornado is a violent windstorm characterized by a twisting, funnel-shaped cloud. It is spawned by a thunderstorm (or sometimes as a result of a hurricane) and produced when cool air overrides a layer of warm air, forcing the warm air to rise rapidly. The damage from a tornado is a result of the high wind velocity and wind-blown debris. Tornado season is generally March through August, although tornadoes can occur at any time of year. They tend to occur in the afternoons and evenings: over 80 percent of all tornadoes strike between noon and midnight.

Tornado Danger Signs:

  • An approaching cloud of debris can mark the location of a tornado even if a funnel is not visible
  • Before a tornado hits, the wind may die down and the air may become very still
  • Tornadoes generally occur near the trailing edge of a thunderstorm. It is not uncommon to see clear, sunlit skies behind a tornado

What to do during a tornado:

If at home:

  • If you have a tornado safe room or engineered shelter, go there immediately
  • Go at once to a windowless, interior room; storm cellar; basement; or lowest level of the building
  • If there is no basement, go to an inner hallway or a smaller inner room without windows, such as a bathroom or closet
  • Get away from the windows
  • Get under a piece of sturdy furniture such as a workbench or heavy table or desk and hold on to it
  • Use arms to protect head and neck
  • If in a mobile home, get out and find shelter elsewhere

If at school or work:

  • Go to the area designated in your tornado plan
  • Avoid places with wide-span roofs such as auditoriums, cafeterias, large hallways, or shopping malls
  • Get under a piece of sturdy furniture such as a workbench or heavy table or desk and hold on to it
  • Use arms to protect head and neck

If outdoors:

  • If possible, get inside a building
  • If shelter is not available or there is no time to get indoors, lie in a ditch or low-lying area or crouch near a strong building. Be aware of the potential for flooding
  • Use arms to protect head and neck

If in the car:

  • Never try to out-drive a tornado in a car or truck
  • Get out of the car immediately and take shelter in a nearby building
  • If there is no time to get indoors, get out of the car and lie in a ditch or low-lying area away from the vehicle. Be aware of the potential for flooding

General Safety Precautions that could help you avoid injury after a tornado:

  • Continue to monitor your battery-powered radio or television for emergency information
  • Be careful when entering any structure that has been damaged
  • Wear sturdy shoes or boots, long sleeves, and gloves when handling or walking on or near debris.
  • Be aware of hazards from exposed nails and broken glass
  • Do not touch downed power lines or objects in contact with downed lines. Report electrical hazards to the police and the utility company
  • Use battery-powered lanterns, if possible, rather than candles to light homes without electrical power. If you use candles, make sure they are in safe holders away from curtains, paper, wood, or other flammable items. Never leave a candle burning when you are out of the room
  • Hang up displaced telephone receivers that may have been knocked off by the tornado, but stay off the telephone, except to report an emergency
  • Cooperate fully with public safety officials
  • Respond to requests for volunteer assistance by police, fire fighters, emergency management, and relief organizations, but do not go into damaged areas unless assistance has been requested. Your presence could hamper relief efforts, and you could endanger yourself

If a tornado "watch" is issued for your area, it means that a tornado is "possible."
If a tornado "warning" is issued, it means that a tornado has actually been spotted, or is strongly indicated on radar, and it is time to go to a safe shelter immediately.


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