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How to prepare for a tornado

Dark clouds and a tornado sweep across wide open corn fields

Tornadoes are one of the most jaw-dropping natural disasters. In Wizard of Oz, Dorothy faced a 35-foot long muslin sock twirling mass of wind that was described as a muslin sock tornado — visually the most stunning and terrifying tornado found in North America. While Dorothy’s tornado was little more than special effects, a real tornado poses impossible and potentially lethal damage. So, how can you prepare for a tornado?

After all, the sheer power of a wind tornado is capable of flipping entire houses and barns; a tornado can rip trees right from the ground, roots and all, and toss vehicles hundreds of feet.

Given the destruction a tornado causes, it’s good to know there’s now technology that helps us predict when and where tornados will hit. Armed with this information, authorities can issue evacuation or shelter-in-place orders, depending on the power, strength and trajectory of the storm.

Turns out, the best defence against a tornado is to hide underground or in a concrete bunker, just like in the movies. Before you start to let anxiety creep in consider being proactive by taking these four easy steps to prepare for this common North American natural disaster.

Your guide to emergency preparedness

Step 1: How can you take preventative measures against a tornado?

prepare for a tornado

Your first line of defence, when it comes to tornado storms, is the public service announcements provided by government weather agencies and local authorities. But to know what and when to listen, you first need to realize the differences between each type of announcement.

Tornado watch: When a local authority announces a tornado watch, it means there is a possibility a storm could occur.

Tornado warning: If authorities announce a tornado warning, then a storm is certain and it’s time to seek shelter in a safe place.

To prepare for a tornado, you first need to consider how at risk your city, province or state is for severe wind storms and tornadoes. In Canada, there are about 62 confirmed tornadoes each year. In America, severe thunderstorms and tornados are tracked and mapped by Tornado HQ. As of June 2020, there was only a 2% chance of a tornado throughout the U.S.

Once you know the risk, you can get to know your community’s response plans for natural disasters, such as a tornado. Then you can determine your own emergency preparedness plans, in relation to severe storms and tornados.

Step 2: How can you prepare for a tornado?

The first step is to talk to your family about tornadoes in your household to ensure everyone is aware of the dangers. Then, it’s time to put together an emergency plan.

A tornado emergency plan should include where your family will shelter-in-place during the storm. Ideally, this would be an underground shelter location. If that’s not an option, here are the next best locations:

  1. Go to the basement or take shelter in a small interior ground floor room such as a bathroom, closet or hallway.
  2. If you have no basement, protect yourself by taking shelter under a heavy table or desk.
  3. In all cases, stay away from windows, outside walls and doors.

Next, discuss the steps each family member should take once a tornado warning is issued. A good way to do this is to create an emergency preparedness kit and a checklist.

Your checklist should include:

  • Putting essential items and emergency kit into safe shelter;
  • Moving any outdoor items indoors;
  • Reinforcing your home by covering windows and doors (preferably with plywood).

Make sure your emergency kit includes contact information of family members and medical staff, as well as:

  • water (about 1 litre per person);
  • non-perishable food;
  • a battery-powered light source;
  • a first aid kit with medical supplies
  • a way to signal for help (flare gun, candle, air horn or whistle);
  • face masks and blankets;
  • books, pen & paper, toys and games (to help keep you occupied).

Although planning for an emergency can be done in advance, some of the final preparations can only be done when the warning hits. That includes boarding up windows, removing patio chairs and other loose items in the yard and boarding up windows.

Finally, if you plan to head to a local emergency shelter, check road reports to determine the safest route of travel.

Step 3: What should you do during a tornado?

But what if you can’t get to a safe place? What if you are in transit or elsewhere when the storm hits?

Here are some life-saving tips:

  • If indoors, move away from windows, doors and outside walls;
  • If you are in a vehicle, buckle your seatbelt, keep your engine running and stay away from bridges or overpasses;
  • Listen to the radio for up to date weather reports and stay alert;
  • If out in the open, attempt to shield yourself with a cover made from a hard material;
  • Protect your head and neck if debris is falling around you;
  • Stay away from torn power lines and broken trees;
  • Do not enter damaged buildings until you’re confident they are safe.

Step 4: How to recover after a tornado

After a severe storm or tornado passes, it’s time to start re-establishing contact with loved ones. Find out if neighbours and family members, not currently with you, are safe. Check yourself and friends or family members for any injuries, and if you have proper first-aid, do your best to help them. If you cannot help, contact emergency services to let them know your location and injuries.

Once you’ve confirmed everyone is safe and healthy, continue to listen to emergency alerts and local news outlets for updated information on where to go and what to do. Do not return to your property if it is damaged or was evacuated until authorities allow you to do so.

Upon returning to your home, be aware of broken gas lines or fallen power poles; report this damage to the appropriate utility companies. This is also the time to call your insurance provider before taking photos of your home as part of your insurance claim. If you need to walk through the damaged property, make sure you wear the proper protective equipment, such as rugged footwear, rubber gloves and face mask.  If your home has seen significant damage, contact your insurance provider and start the process of contacting a professional to assess what your options are moving forward.

It can be challenging to prepare for a tornado, but finding a way to rebuild your home and your life is essential. In the future, don’t be afraid to reinforce your home to ensure that it can withstand strong winds, and also create a shelter that will protect your family from future disasters.

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Alyssa Davies

Alyssa is an award-winning personal finance blogger and founder of She writes about being a mom, overcoming personal debts, and how to get away with affording your ridiculously expensive latte habit. A new homeowner, Alyssa brings her real-life knowledge of the Canadian real estate market and smart money matters to this growing brand.