Tornadoes: What You Need To Know and How to Prepare


I’m not sure about you, but I was up most of the night. My mama gut was on high alert for tornadoes. Between trying to catch Steve Raleigh through the pixelated “No Satellite Signal” and tracking multiple weather app radars, I finally laid down about 4AM and fell asleep after 5.

If you have lived here any amount of time you know that tornadoes are a serious threat and (sadly) an occasional reality. This part of the country is among the highest in the nation for tornado frequency and thus, we are wise to be prepared.

I lived in a neighborhood where many homes were destroyed by the 1990 tornadoes and knew friends who lost everything they owned. I have a vivid memory of my parents carrying us from our beds to the basement. Our family of five huddled under the couch in the basement of our bi-level (the cat even crawled in, because she knew something was up) and I remember that it sounded like a freight train going through our house as it passed over us. And then, in spring of 1999 another significant tornado ripped through the Montgomery area and along interstate 71. My school sustained heavy damage and the middle schoolers met in the high school gym for a few months after as a result. Needless to say, I have lived through enough to know that the question is not IF, but WHEN.

So, what do you need to know?
1. Weather Advisory Descriptions
2. Warning Signs
3. How to Prepare
4. When to Take Cover Watch

Weather Advisory Descriptions

It’s important to note the difference between a watch and a warning. Watches are when our level of alert should increase and when we should be sure that we are ready and have the supplies we need in place. Warnings are when a tornado is “imminent”, and when most folks move to their safe place.

Warning Signs

  • Greenish/yellow sky
  • Heavy winds
  • Walls of clouds or dust and debris
  • Lightning
  • Hail
  • Eerie calm after rain

When there IS a tornado, you’ll hear it. It sounds like a train whose horn is not stopping. It’s also accompanied by a loud, constant rumble (some even say a “growl”).  Any one of the above things on their own don’t typically indicate a tornado, but many together mean you’d be wise to keep your eyes and ears open.

How to Prepare

Have a plan: This looks like figuring out the safest place in your home to relocate and preparing what you need in advance. Discuss this plan BEFORE severe weather for the greatest success. Having a plan helps remove some of the unknowns and empowers you and your family to act in an uncertain and scary time, especially as you often have to act quickly.

Know where to go: If you live in a multi-level home, the basement is best, typically under the stairs or near inside walls and always away from windows. If you live in an apartment or single story home, the same rules apply: low and inside. Closets, hallways, or bathrooms with no windows are ideal, and bathtubs and around toilets are a great spot to take cover because the plumbing runs deep underground and those things are less likely to be caught up in a tornado should one actually come through your house.Tornado Kit

Know what you’ll need: A tornado kit is a good idea. This should include things like flashlights, a battery powered weather radio, bottled water, a first aid kit, granola bars, shoes, socks, cell phone chargers, diapers and wipes, any daily medicine and even an extra change of clothes. On your way to your safe place, put on your shoes and clothes. Some families will also keep important documents in an element-proof storage container like a fire safe or a flood safe. Be sure that there are extra old pillows and blankets wherever you huddle – this will make everyone more comfortable.

Know when to take cover: Download the local news app of your choice so you can watch the radar and have up to the minute information from the weather resources that have prediction tools and can tell you “when”. If you happen to be disconnected, be sure you have an awareness of the signs above and go with your mama gut.  Once you have taken cover, if you do hear a tornado coming, take a position of protection. Huddling together with pillows and blankets, cover kids under yourself and protect your head with your arms.

How to comfort your kids: Being woken from sleep to aggressive relocation will likely be scary, so be sure to tell your kids what’s happening. “There’s some bad weather, so we’re moving to a place where we’ll be safer” is typically enough for littles, but bigger kids may require more info. You know your kids best and will know how much to share. Once you are safe, if you aren’t comfortable enough to rest, flashlights make all kinds of fun while the storm passes.

My sincere prayer is that you never need to use this information, but being prepared will calm your nerves and hopefully protect you should a tornado occur.

For more information and resources, check out the following:


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