According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) tornadoes are the most violent of storms. A tornado's winds can reach 300 miles per hour and create a damage path more than a mile wide. Tornadoes can develop rapidly and strike without warning, so having a tornado emergency plan in place for your home is important, especially if you live in an area prone to tornadic activity. Tornadoes can spin off from hurricanes or tropical storms, so if you live in a coastal area, keep a close watch during severe weather.
Pay Attention to the Weather
Turn your television or radio to a station broadcasting the local weather, preferably one that is specifically tracking the storm. Check the sky for a greenish-black or greenish-gray color and any rotation of clouds. Rain bands and hail sometimes precede a tornado, so keep watch for either of those. Listen for the sound of a tornado. Tornadoes make a roaring sound, often compared to that of a railroad train. A funnel is an obvious indication of a tornado, but even if you can't see a funnel, the tornado may still be in the clouds above you. Look for debris moving upward toward the clouds.
Prepare Your Home and Supplies
Secure outdoor furniture and other outdoor items inside. Park your car in the garage. Change into sturdy clothes, such as jeans, sweatshirt and tennis shoes. Prepare a tornado supply bag that contains flashlights, portable radio, spare batteries, cell phone, first aid kit, work gloves, bottled water and nonperishable food. Collect blankets and pillows, and place them next to your supply bag. Locate pets and contain them in pet taxis, if possible, so they can be quickly transported to a safe area. Secure large pets with a harness and lead.
Relocate to Safety
It is best to relocate your family and pets to safety as soon as you are aware of tornadic activity moving in your direction. If you have a storm shelter, that is the best option for safety. If you have a basement, get your family and pets into the basement with the supply bag, blankets and pillows. Tornadoes usually move from southwest to northeast, so place your family away from the south and west walls of the home. Hiding under heavy furniture or the stairwell provides additional safety from possible structural crumbling above. According to the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma, the biggest threat during a tornado is flying debris. If the storm hits your home, use the blankets to protect from debris. If you have an old mattress, leave it in the basement to use as a shield.
If you do not have a basement, place your family in the most central room in your home. A bathroom or interior closet is a good choice because of the amount of wall bracing for a small area. Bathrooms also have the added benefit of additional bracing from the plumbing fixtures. If you use a bathroom, get in the bathtub and use cushions from your couch to cover with. (ref 1)