8 Tornado Survival Skills to Practice Before You Need Them

Tornadoes are incredibly destructive storms, and are capable of producing the most powerful winds on the planet. If a tornado hits your area, you’ll experience a surreal before and after; tornadoes are capable of leveling entire swaths of a town or city.

tornado ravaging a city

Of course, you’ll only experience the grim aftermath if you survive the passage of the twister. Tornadoes take dozens to hundreds of lives every single year in the U.S., and you’ll need to know what to do if you don’t want to fall victim to their scouring winds.

Luckily, no matter how big and powerful a tornado is, there is always something you can do. We will share seven tornado survival skills that will make the difference as tornado season approaches.

What are We Facing?

It’s bad enough to be caught in such a circumstance, but it’s far worse if you and your loved ones are killed during the event. There isn’t much you can do to combat a tornado, though there is a lot you can do to enhance your chances of surviving when the roaring dies down.

The following section contains seven proven tornado survival skills that will help you survive a tornado, but first it’s important to understand the threat of what we’re dealing with.

Tornadoes are the most powerful of all the many different storms that occur on Earth. The mightiest tornadoes may develop wind speeds of more than 200 mph and are devastating to any person, animal or structure caught in their path.

Only the sturdiest and most hardened buildings can withstand a twister without fear of damage or destruction. Tornadoes of all levels routinely create strong, sustained winds capable of damaging and destroying common residential homes and commercial structures.

The dangers you face as a tornado grows stronger become more hazardous. Tornadoes are rated on the Enhanced Fujita scale, with an EF1 being the weakest genuine tornado, relatively, all the way up to apocalyptic EF5’s, storms that will become infamously legendary should they strike a settlement.

An EF1 will damage or topple trees and send shingles or even whole roofing panels hurtling, but an EF5 can scour buildings right down to their foundations and lift vehicles and smaller structures to be carried and tossed about like toys in the hands of some deranged giant.

Before the storm, you’ll be facing an eerie, dark and imposing sky descending on your area but in the aftermath, emerging from your shelter, you will likely be confronted with a landscape that is nothing but a tangled and twisted ruin where not even one building will be left unscathed, assuming you live.

But live you shall if you follow these eight tips religiously!

8 Tornado Survival Skills to Practice Before You Need Them

1. Learn to Take Shelter Rapidly

You will have little to no warning when a tornado is barreling down on your location. Additionally, tornadoes can form quickly when conditions are ideal and even change direction significantly without much notice.

This is why it’s important to know how to take shelter rapidly. Practice this skill with your family so that everyone knows what to do when the time comes.

Though it is true that our modern weather radar systems and other tornado detection capability often gives us significant early warning of developing tornadoes, or at the very least storms that are likely to produce them, but they are not infallible.

Human error, system malfunction and dodgy readings can all decrease your reactionary Gap from 30 minutes or more to mere minutes or even seconds.

It is imperative that you are able to gather your loved ones and hopefully grab any vital supplies before taking cover in an appropriate shelter.

If you rely upon a tornado shelter in or near your workplace or elsewhere in your community, you must know how quickly you can reliably reach it and under what conditions.

When a tornado is very close you might not have time to reach the best shelter, but you could safely reach one that is good enough.

In addition, you should also practice getting to your safe room quickly. When a tornado warning is issued, you will only have a few minutes to take shelter. If you’re not already in your safe room, you’ll need to hustle!

2. Assess Shelters for Protective Value

The very best measure you have for protecting yourself and your loved ones from a tornado is to be securely inside adequate shelter before the storm arrives.

Only adequate shelter will protect you from the immensely powerful wind, airborne debris and the risk of being swept away entirely. It follows, then, that one of the best skills you can learn as part of a tornado preparedness plan is assessment and identification of adequate shelter wherever you happen to be.

Any tornado poses a significant risk to typical residential buildings, and the strongest storms can obliterate them and far heavier structures entirely.

No matter where you are and what kind of tornado you are facing, certain structures are entirely inadequate and offer no protective value, including mobile homes, RVs in certain modular homes. Being inside any of them is to court certain death.

The first thing you need to do is identify a safe room in your home. This should be a windowless room on the lowest level of your home, such as a basement or storm cellar.

If you don’t have access to a basement, look for an interior room on the ground floor, away from any windows. Once you’ve identified a safe room, make sure everyone in the family knows where it is and how to get there quickly.

In addition to taking shelter in your home, you should also be aware of other potential shelters in your area. These could be inside office buildings, shopping centers, or even public restrooms.

Note that most large commercial structures, despite their size and seeming formidableness, are not capable of withstanding a tornado and are likely to collapse once their roofs are damaged.

However, most structures of this kind will have dedicated and designated tornado shelters somewhere inside. You definitely want to familiarize yourself with their locations in the places that you frequent most.

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 If you’re caught outside when a tornado is approaching, you’ll need to determine where the closest, best shelter is, and if it isn’t a building you should lie down on your stomach in a ditch or other low-lying area while covering your head.

Note that you should never, ever take shelter beneath an overpass as is sometimes still recommended. Overpasses function to capture the wind from a tornado and direct airborne debris through them, potentially killing anyone hiding beneath.

3. Develop Tornado Awareness

One of the best ways to survive a tornado is to know when they are likely to occur. Tornadoes can occur anywhere in the world, so it’s important to be aware of the danger they pose. In addition, you should know how to spot a tornado before it’s too late.

The best way to develop tornado awareness is to watch the weather forecast regularly. This will give you a good idea of the conditions that are conducive to tornadoes.

In addition, you should keep an eye out for tornado warnings issued by local authorities. These warnings will provide information on where the tornado is located and how strong it is.

If the power goes out ahead of a tornado, or before the issuance of a tornado warning, you’ll need a backup plan. A battery or crank operated emergency weather radio is perfect for this, as are various apps that you can install on your cell phone assuming it still has a data connection.

When you are under a tornado watch, make a point to check in on the forecast regularly to see how the situation is developing. You want to start increasing your defensive posture as storm systems intensify or get closer to your location.

In addition, you should also familiarize yourself with the warning signs of an impending tornado that you can detect with your own senses.  These include dark, stormy skies, a loud roar or whistle, and debris being lifted into the air. 

You should also be aware of any visible rotation in the clouds above you, or the sudden halting of rainfall during an intense storm. Any roaring sound that grows louder means that a tornado is likely on the ground and heading for you and you should take shelter immediately.

Also, stay alert for any strange or eerie tint to the sky. A yellow or green cast is a sure warning sign of a serious storm and likely a tornado. This color is caused by solid particles of dirt and other material being lifted high into the sky.

Stay keenly aware of these tornado warning signs during any serious storm and you should have enough notice to take shelter in time.

Storm chasing dashcam: Tornado crossing the highway! Laramie, Wyoming

4. Determine a Tornado’s Heading

Once you’ve spotted a tornado, it’s important to determine which way it’s heading. This will help you know where to take shelter. The best way to do this is to watch the tornado closely and look for any changes in its direction.

Now, tornadoes are very often cloaked by darkness, dust or copious curtains of rainfall so you won’t always be able to see the funnel itself. As always, when in doubt just get to shelter as quick as you can and stay there until the storm passes.

That being said, if you are able to determine a tornado’s heading it can better inform your decisions in several situations. If you spot the telltale funnel cloud in the air or on the ground at a distance, keep calm and observe it for a few moments.

If you notice that it does not seem to be growing larger and is moving to the left or to the right, it is not coming directly towards you. If it seems to be getting smaller and moving slightly to the left or slightly to the right, it is heading away from you.

However, if you notice it growing larger and larger it is heading right towards you! Obviously, if that is happening you’ll need to react quickly depending on the circumstances. More on that in the next two skill suggestions.

Tornadoes can change course quickly, so it’s important to stay alert. In addition, you should always err on the side of caution and assume that the tornado is heading in your direction.

crushed car after tornado

5. Bail Out of Your Vehicle in Time

If you’re caught in your car when a tornado approaches, you need to know what to do. The best thing to do is bail out of your car and take shelter in a nearby building. If there’s no building nearby, take shelter in a ditch or low-lying area.

You generally don’t want to try and outrun a tornado in your car. Tornadoes can travel over land at more than 60 miles per hour, so you won’t be able to outrun them. In addition, your car will provide very little protection from the high winds and flying debris.

If by your own observations or weather warnings you determine that a tornado is getting dangerously close while you are in a vehicle, you must quickly locate the best possible shelter that is nearby, stop the vehicle safely and get to the shelter as quickly as you can.

6. Dodge an Oncoming Tornado

Sometimes if you are caught in your vehicle with no adequate cover around and plenty of room to maneuver it is possible to gain safety by putting as much distance between you and the tornado as possible.  This should only be done as a last resort and if you know the tornado is not following you along a path.

When observing the tornado as described above to determine its path, if you determine that the tornado is heading right for you you need to move away from it to the left or right at a 90° angle.

This ensures that you are getting off the line of destruction and will suffer correspondingly less wind and airborne debris as the distance between you and the epicenter of the storm increases.

Naturally, there will be quite a few challenges to accomplishing this, namely the fact that roads could be clogged, you’re unable to see due to torrential rain or some other hazards.

But assuming you have a clear route ahead and have positively determined the tornado’s path or heading and your vehicle is functional, you can floor it to increase distance and increase safety at the same time.

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7. Stay Physically Fit

In order to take shelter quickly, you need to be in good physical condition. This means being able to move fast and carry heavy objects. If you’re not in good shape, now is the time to start getting in better shape.

Strong people are always more useful and more difficult to kill in any given set of circumstances, including natural disasters.

Being actually caught in a tornado will be a severe test of your strength, particularly the aftermath when you might have to work for hours and hours on end with no tools and no help in order to rescue yourself or someone you love. The harder you work now in the gym the easier it will be to work in the aftermath of a tornado.

In addition, you should have a good supply of food and water on hand. This will help you stay hydrated and energized during a tornado emergency.

8. Be Ready to Extract Other Survivors

You should be thankful if you survive the passage of a tornado, but just because it has gone past and you are still counted among the living does not mean your trial is over. Far from it.

Now the real work is likely to begin. You might have to dig yourself and your family out of the rubble that used to be your shelter, or you might have to help neighbors in the same situation.

Even before the cleanup has begun properly there will be many pieces of debris and obstacles that need to be cleared away in order to facilitate search and rescue efforts and the cleanup to follow.

Even if you are fortunate enough to be sheltering in an underground tornado shelter or some other modular habitat debris could fall or be piled in such a way during the storm that you cannot open the hatch and get out.

Dealing with these situations means you’re going to need plenty of physical strength, but also the know-how to attempt a rescue without making a bad situation worse, either collapsing an already unstable damaged structure or further injuring people who are already hurt and trapped.

In order to be ready to do this, you need to be strong and have good stamina. You should also be familiar with common rescue techniques.

Surviving a Twister is Possible with the Right Skills

Tornadoes are all inspiring, dreadfully powerful storms that can spell total destruction for anyone and anything caught in their path. There really isn’t anything we can do to prevent tornadoes, but it is possible to improve your chances of survival if you are caught in one so long as you have the right skills.

If you practice the eight skills we have shared with you above you will increase your chances of a good outcome the next time tornado season rolls around. It will be too late once you hear the sirens go off!

2 thoughts on “8 Tornado Survival Skills to Practice Before You Need Them”

  1. Thank you for this informative and timely article. My husband is going to Arkansas next week to visit his elderly mother and it’s of course Tornado season in the southern US.

  2. “Strong people are always more useful and more difficult to kill in any given set of circumstances, including natural disasters.” I suggest replacing the word always with usually. And they are especially more useful and more difficult to kill if they have common sense also.
    Not everyone has common sense. That’s why you see the video on the news ” Fire Fighters rescue family in SUV from raging river!”
    I don’t get it. Looking at the road sign posts you see the water is at least two or more feet deep over the road yet someone decides that their SUV will make it to the other side. There is a lack of common sense that caused them to be in the river in the first place

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