What is a Tornado?
Know the Terms
A Tornado Watch is issued when conditions are favorable for the development of tornadoes.
A Tornado Warning is issued when a tornado has been sighted or indicated by weather radar. There is imminent danger to life and property. Move to an interior room on the lowest floor of a sturdy building.
Tornadoes strike with little or no warning. Each family should develop a tornado plan and designate a safety shelter. Practice the plan you and your family developed. The best thing to do if a tornado is in your area is to seek shelter in an interior room, on the lowest floor of your home, school, or office.
Before a Tornado
Before a Tornado, you should identify a safe place to go in your home, school, work, or place of worship. This should be an interior room, such as a bathroom, closet, or hallway that has few doors and no windows.
Make sure you:
- Have an emergency kit and family communication plan
- Have a way to stay informed, like a mobile phone, and NOAA Weather Radio
- Look for the following danger signs:
- Dark, often greenish sky
- Large hail
- 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.
During a Tornado
Adapted from information from FEMA.
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 area such as a safe room, basement, storm cellar, or the lowest building level. If there is no basement, go to the center of a small 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.
- In a high-rise building, go to a small interior room or hallway on the lowest floor possible.
- Put on sturdy shoes.
- Do not open windows.
If you are in a manufactured home or office
- Get out immediately and go to a pre-identified location such as 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
If you are not in a sturdy building, there is no single research-based recommendation for what last-resort action to take because many factors can affect your decision. Possible actions include:
- Immediately get into a vehicle, buckle your seat belt and try to drive to the closest sturdy shelter. If your vehicle is hit by flying debris while you are driving, pull over and park.
- Take cover in a stationary vehicle. Put the seat belt on and cover your head with your arms and a blanket, coat or other cushion if possible.
- Lie in an area noticeably lower than the level of the roadway and cover your head with your arms and a blanket, coat or other cushion if possible.
In all situations:
- 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.
After a Tornado
- If there is a life-threatening emergency, such as arching power lines, fire, or medical emergencies, call 9-1-1
- Listen to local officials for updates and instructions.
- Check-in with family and friends by texting or using social media.
- If your home or business has sustained damage, report it to Houston 311 by calling 3-1-1 (713.837.0311), online at houston311.org, or on the Houston 311 App.
- Watch out for debris and downed power lines.
- If you are trapped, do not move about or kick up dust. Tap on a pipe or wall or use a whistle, if you have one, so that rescuers can locate you.
- Stay out of damaged buildings and homes until local authorities indicate it is safe.
- Photograph the damage to your property in order to assist in filing an insurance claim.
- Do what you can to prevent further damage to your property, (e.g., putting a tarp on a damaged roof), as insurance may not cover additional damage that occurs after the storm.
- If your home is without power, use flashlights or battery-powered lanterns rather than candles to prevent accidental fires.