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 possible.
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 warning.
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.
What to do Before a Tornado
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
A large, dark, low-lying cloud (particularly if rotating)
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 Tornado
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 tornadoes.
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 flooding.
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.
Recovering from Disaster
Recovering from a disaster is usually a gradual process. Safety is a primary issue, as are mental and physical well-being. If assistance is available, knowing how to access it makes the process faster and less stressful. This section offers some general advice on steps to take after disaster strikes in order to begin getting your home, your community, and your life back to normal.
What health and safety guidelines should I follow?
How do I clean my damaged home or repair and rebuild it safely for the future?
What precautions should I take when returning home?
Where can I get assistance?
- Phone: (800) 621-FEMA (3362)
- TTY: (800) 462-7585
FEMA CONTACT INFORMATION
Assistance to Firefighters Grants Program
Community Assistance Program – State Support Services Element
Flood Mapping Questions
Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Requests
National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program
National Incident Management System
Office of Equal Rights
Private Sector Engagement