What to do in a tornado warning

Tornado Warning – What To Do

Here’s what to do when you’re in a Tornado Warning. I’ve been there a number of times during my travels. To make matters worse, many of those several encounters were while in our 5th-wheel camper! (That’s a bit scary). Anyway, lets get to it…

What To Do When There Is A Tornado Warning

You need to act quickly. At least at first. Lets say your phone (or NOAA weather radio) alerts that there is a tornado warning. This means that you are likely within a geographical area where you might be impacted. It doesn’t mean that it’s going to hit you. But then again, it might. So, how do you know?

Important Side note: Awareness. Prior to the warning, you should have already been aware of the tornado risk in your area. A tornado watch was likely issued prior. Be aware that a severe thunderstorm may also spin up a tornado. Know your daily weather forecast – especially during tornado season!

The standard answer: “Take Shelter Immediately”. Particularly if imminent, this is the best advice (more specifics below).

The following is my opinion. Given your own situation, use common sense. Respect the tornado. It’s no joke.

Tornado Location Information

Radar App

This is what I do first. Immediately, I bring up one of several weather radar apps on my phone. Find the tornado signature within the radar – with relation to your current location (your GPS location overlay on the radar map). Put the radar in motion. Is it heading anywhere in your general direction? If yes, be quick with your subsequent “what to do” list for a tornado warning. If no, well, don’t let your guard down. Don’t panic.

Most tornado warnings are initiated automatically by National Weather Service computers (radar indicated). That’s prior to eyewitness reports. Sometimes the tornado rotation remains up in the clouds. While other times it may descend down to the ground. Regardless, plan as though it’s on the ground…

TV Weather News

If you’re at home, turn on the TV. Your local network TV stations will be broadcasting the threat and will provide greater insight as to where the tornado is, and where it’s going. Likely referencing local streets, routes, and geographical clues so that you know where it is.

Bigger Tornadoes Have Wider Swaths Of Destruction

The tornado leaves behind a path / swath of damage and destruction as it cuts across the earth for several minutes, or even a half-hour or more! Mostly in a generally uniform direction with some zigs and zags. The width of the tornado may vary from say a few hundred feet, to as much as a mile wide! A tornado can grow in size and intensity very quickly. If you hear higher ‘F’ numbers, well, keep reading…

Incredible Video Footage Up Close F2 Tornado

Reed Timmer. Storm Chaser. I encourage you to watch the following 5 minute clip. The tornado reaches it’s max while approaching the 3 minute mark. Stunning power to behold. The lesson from this… a tornado warning is to be respected.

Reed Timmer tornado video

Tornado Warning – Take Shelter

Underground Tornado Shelter

The best place to shelter from a tornado is underground – with adequate protection overhead. In other words, a tornado storm shelter. If I was building a home in a tornado region, I would absolutely look into some sort of underground shelter. Most people don’t have an underground tornado shelter. So what’s the next best thing?

Note: Wherever you go, bring your cell phone for communications, radar, and news & information. In addition to a radar app, you might also keep a local TV station app for live streaming information.

Sheltering Inside Your Home Or Any Building During A Tornado Warning

  • Basement location with maximum support overhead. Pre-emptively keep some supplies there too.
  • Shelter in a ‘small’ interior room or hallway on the lowest floor possible. There’s more framing around you in a smaller room.
  • Stay in the center of the room, and avoid corners because they attract debris.
  • Avoid rooms with wide-span roofs (especially flat roofs), or auditoriums, cafeterias and gymnasiums.
  • Better to be in rooms constructed with reinforced concrete, brick or block with no windows.
  • Stay away from doors, windows, and outside walls.

Tornado Warning When You’re Outside

Regardless of where you are, it’s always about taking shelter. And the interior of a vehicle is not adequate shelter. In fact, it could be deadly – tossed around like a tin can. To make matters worse, a tornado may be rain-wrapped. In that case, you will not see it while driving.

If flying debris is hitting the vehicle, pull over (seat belt on), keep your head below the windows and cover it with your hands or a blanket.

You are not safer under an overpass or bridge. You are safer in a low, flat location.

Flying debris from tornadoes causes most fatalities and injuries.

My Experiences During A Tornado Warning

What I did during a tornado warning. I’ll just mention two experiences. Both while in our 5th-wheel camper.

Florida. Storms (and likelihood of tornadoes) were forecast a day ahead of time. Sure enough, the following morning my NOAA weather alert radio started blaring and my cell phone app began blurting a tornado warning. Being in a trailer, my heartrate went up a bit… Turned on TV. Discovered radar location of tornado #1. We were out of its path. Not long afterwards, another radar-indicated tornado warning. Tornado #2. Another miss. At this point the TV meteorologist made it clear that tornadoes could spin up at any time over the next several hours. I made the decision to take shelter at one of the community center buildings at the park. Mrs. J and I (and the dog) took the short rain-soaked drive over there, where others had already arrived. TV was on. People were anxious. Stayed almost 2 hours while 6 tornado warnings kept the heartrate up in the county that morning.

North Carolina. Again, in our camper, overnighting while on a trip back home. That evening, my phone bleated a ‘tornado watch’. Uh-oh, Don’t like this at night… Sure enough, here they come. Two rounds. One of them about 10 PM. The only shelter was fortunately right next to us. A relatively small bathroom building – but all concrete!. So I had a plan, just in case. This is where the phone’s radar app was great. When the first tornado warning came, I could clearly see where it was and where it was going. Although about 5 miles away, it was not heading in our direction. Later, around midnight, another alert. Here we go again… I checked my radar app. Decided we were okay.

A radar app (there are lots of them available) is an excellent tool in this regard, so long as you can interpret it properly.

Midland WR400 (one of the best NOAA weather alert radios)

Midland WR400

[ Read: 10 Ways To Know A Tornado Is Coming ]

[ Read: What A Tornado Sounds Like ]


  1. The only tornado warning I’ve ever been in was in SE Id. Everyone was freaking out. My Daughter couldn’t find me, so went lookin. I was standing in the back of my truck with field glasses lookin for the tornado.

    “What the hell are you doing” she yelled at me. I said I’m lookin for the twister, never seen one before. She just started laughing, “That’s my Dad”.

    No, I never saw it as it never materialized. I wasn’t a bit scared, maybe I should have been, but I wasn’t. Shelter was less than 10yr away.

    Kinda goes against all the info out there as what you’re suppose to do. Oh well, You Can’t Fix Stupid!!!

  2. I’m in the market for five 1950’s era elementary school desks…you know, the ones with tubular steel legs, a hinged top that could be lifted to expose a compartment for crayons, pencils, scissors, etc. I’m looking to get one for each member of my tribe.

    These desks are the ultimate civil disaster protective devices. Nuclear detonation? Tornado? No problem. Just crawl underneath that amazing invention…tuck your body into the fetal position with your head to your knees and your hands over your head.

    Leastwise, that’s what us boomers were taught as kids.

    1. @ Dennis – yup, I remember those drills and those desks. That training paid off though, when I was working at a gas station during college that had the old style huge plate glass window in front of a steel desk that must have been WWII surplus. A tornado touched down right across the street from the station and destroyed the billboard there. I watched it head toward us for about a nano second and then dropped under that desk in record time!! LOL although it was not funny then!

  3. My homeplace seems to find itself inside the projected path of tornados at least 3-4 times a year. I’ve seen actual tornados form up and watched them travel cross country from my back door. Most times, in my area they travel from southwest to northeast. I’ve heard meteorologists say that changes in elevation doesn’t affect their path but time after time I’ve watched as one approaches our place only to follow a path to the north or the south of us. Maybe just luck, I don’t know.

    Watched one approaching our home from the southwest change its path to south east, then back to a more northeasterly path…hitting the small-town county seat some 20 miles away. Wiped out several homes and businesses.

    1. Dennis
      When you first bought that place, had you taken into account tornadoes destroying everything you have?

      1. Stand,

        I was born and raised on the black land prairie of northeast Texas. The threat of tornadoes has always been part of life for me. In my 73 years and probably hundreds of times being in a warning area, I’ve never took a direct hit from one. That may change tomorrow, who knows. I definitely know their raw power and destructive capabilities…seen the aftermath of several.

        One thing no one has mentioned. Several years back, well before I retired. A smaller city south of Dallas had one come through. I was dispatched to help their police and fire departments with recovery. Every city owned first responder vehicle…every single one, had their tires flattened from driving over nail filled boards as they attempted to enter the devastated neighborhoods almost immediately.

        1. Better knock on some wood brother,
          Tornados are pretty terrifying, the way they just completely obliterate everything. Quite awe inspiring really, the raw power. Almost moved out to Ne back in the early 90s but after watching twisters and t storms run across the countryside i decided not to, mountains offered more protection.

        2. In Florida, the tires are flattened by the trillions of roofing nails blown around as composition tile roofs are shredded by the wind. Each tile blown off takes two, or three, nails with it…and they cannot be seen…and are everywhere.

  4. Something to think about if your hiding in the basement is whats in the room above you. Don’t want something like a piano or maybe a cook stove or wood stove washer dryer ECT coming through the floor and landing on ya

    1. Guy i know from Nebraska had his neighbors tractor come through his roof after the tornado decided it didnt want it anymore

  5. I’ll never forget (must have been ~20 years ago) while visiting my sister in central Florida during one of my business trips…

    Tornado Warning that evening. We sat out on the covered / enclosed back porch watching the lightning / storms go by, while enjoying a few cold one’s and catching up…

    The next morning we discovered that a tornado had torn through a neighborhood just a few miles away. Being inquisitive, I drove over there – and was stunned to witness the destruction (first and only time I’ve seen it in person). I got out and walked into the area. It was eerily quiet and surreal. The trees snapped off and shredded – with debris clinging in what remained. The houses in various stages of destruction – with roofs torn off and debris everywhere. I was stunned. What really left a mark was looking at all those big trees that were snapped like toothpicks.

    Since then, I’ve had an instilled ‘fear’ whenever a Tornado Warning is issued…

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