Ways to Stay Safe in Various Locations During a Tornado Warning

To stay safe during a tornado warning, it’s important to know what to do and where to go. The National Weather Service always recommends getting on the first floor of a building, away from windows.

by Jesus Jimenez, The Dallas Morning News / May 20, 2019

(TNS) — Although they’re most common during the spring, tornadoes can happen any time of the year, and anywhere — not just in rural areas.

To stay safe during a tornado warning, it’s important to know what to do and where to go. The National Weather Service always recommends getting on the first floor of a building, away from windows.

But what if your office is in a skyscraper, or you live in a high-rise? What if you’re driving? Here’s what you need to know.

First, it’s important to distinguish the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning. When the weather service issues a tornado watch, it means conditions are favorable for tornadoes to develop, but it does not mean that any tornadoes have formed or been spotted. You don’t necessarily have to take shelter during a tornado watch, but you should be aware of the weather and know that the situation could change quickly.

When the weather service issues a tornado warning, that’s when you need to get to safe place. A tornado warning means that a tornado has been spotted or that weather radars are indicating signs of a tornado.

If a tornado warning has been issued for your area, you need to seek shelter. Following are the best places to do that.

In a house

If you’re in a house, the safest place to be is on the lowest floor, away from windows and with as many walls as possible between you and the outside, according to KXAS-TV (NBC5) chief meteorologist Rick Mitchell.

If the house doesn’t have a basement, the safest spot may be a bathroom or closet. A closet underneath the stairs would be ideal if it’s cleaned out and has enough space to fit your household, Mitchell said.

In an apartment

Getting low and away from windows can be tough if you live in an apartment, especially if you live on an upper floor.

“At least find an interior room,” Mitchell said. “Protect yourself with pillows, blankets and cushions. It’s not the best, but it’s better than being outside.”

Flying and falling debris is the main danger in a tornado, according to Mitchell, which is why bringing extra protection like pillows is helpful.

In an office or mall 

If you work in a multi-story building, and getting down to the first floor during a storm is difficult, there are still options. It's especially important to get away from windows. This could mean going into a copy room, supply closet, a conference room or a bathroom — anything away from exterior walls.

A stairwell is also a structurally safe place to be during a tornado, according to Mitchell.

In a car

The first thing you’ll want to do if you find yourself in your car during a tornado is to seek shelter inside a building.

If getting out of your car isn’t an option and a tornado is visible, the next best thing to do is to drive away from the storm at a right angle, according to Mitchell.

You should never try to protect yourself by driving under a bridge or an overpass, Mitchell said.

“Seeking shelter under a bridge is dangerous because the wind is funneled and accelerated as it passes under the bridge,” he said.

When an EF-5 tornado hit Moore, Okla., on May 3, 1999, Mitchell said three people died because they sought shelter under a bridge in the tornado's path.

It's also not wise to take shelter under a bridge or overpass during a hailstorm. Winds could cause hail to fall at an angle rather than straight down, and stopping there could create dangerous traffic on roadways.

What should you have during a tornado warning?

The Dallas Office of Emergency Management recommends having the following items during an emergency: Water, first aid kit, flashlight, fire extinguisher, manual can opener, a radio and cell phone chargers.

Other items to consider having handy include prescriptions, personal documents, cash, nonperishable food and personal hygiene items.

Mitchell also said it's important to have shoes after a tornado to avoid stepping barefoot onto debris.

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