A tornado is a violently rotating column of air that extends from a thunderstorm and comes into contact with the ground. In an average year about 1,000 tornadoes are reported nationwide. Tornado intensity is measured by the enhanced Fujita (EF) scale. The scale rates tornadoes on a scale of 0 through 5, based on the amount and type of wind damage.
Tornadoes occur most frequently from March until June and, while they are more common in the central United States, they can occur almost anywhere in North America, including in large cities.
Tornadoes can strike with little warning, though meteorologists are now better able to predict the signs a twister is coming. Even a few minutes warning provides an opportunity for those in harm’s way to seek shelter. In communities with a history of tornado activity, there may be a warning siren and/or a digital messaging system to alert residents that they should seek proper shelter immediately.
Other signs of tornadoes are:
- Dark greenish skies
- Large Hail
- Dark, rotating, low-altitude cloud
- Loud roar, like a train
Know the Difference Between a Tornado Watch and a Tornado Warning
A tornado watch means that conditions are favorable for tornadoes to develop. Be alert to changes in the weather, account for all family members, and listen to local radio and TV stations for updated storm information. Move cars inside and keep car and house keys with you. If time permits, move lawn furniture and equipment inside to minimize flying debris. If a tornado siren sounds, stay inside and take cover.
A tornado warning means a tornado has actually been spotted or is indicated on weather radar in your area. This means anger is imminent and you may only have seconds to take cover.
Seek Shelter When a Tornado Has Been Sighted
Do not try to outrun a tornado. Stay calm but move quickly to the safest place possible. Here are some suggestions:
The safest place to be is underground. Basements are usually the most protected area, but if this is not an option take cover in central part of the house away from windows: a bathroom, closet, interior hallway, or under a heavy piece of furniture.
In an Office Building or Skyscraper:
Go directly to an enclosed, windowless area in the center of the building—away from glass and on the lowest floor possible—and crouch down and cover your head. Interior stairwells are usually good places to take shelter and, if they are not crowded, allow you to get to a lower level quickly. Stay off elevators, you could get trapped if the power is lost. If you are in a tall building you may not have enough time to evacuate to the lowest floor.
Follow the staff instructions and go to an interior hall or room in an orderly way as directed. Crouch low, head down, and protect the back of your head with your arms. Stay away from windows and large open rooms like gyms and auditoriums.
In a Car or Truck:
Abandon the vehicle and seek shelter in sturdy structure. If you are in open country, seek shelter in the nearest ditch. Lie flat, face-down on low ground, protecting the back of your head with your arms. Get as far away from trees and cars as you can.
Get out! Even if the home is tied down, you are probably safer outside.
- Stay in your shelter until after the storm is over or emergency personnel have arrived.
- Check the people around you for injuries. Carefully begin first aid or seek help if necessary.
- When you go outside, watch out for downed power lines and stay away from any puddle with wires in them.
- Do not use matches or lighters—there may be leaking gas pipes or fuel tanks nearby.
Insurance Coverage for Tornado Damage
Damage caused by tornadoes is covered under standard homeowners and business insurance policies, as well as the optional comprehensive portion of an auto insurance policy. If you sustain tornado damage contact your insurance agent or company representative as soon as possible. Let your insurance company know the extent of the damage. After tornadoes and other disasters, insurance companies will reach out to those with the worst losses first. If you have vacated the premises, make sure your insurance representative knows where and how to contact you.
Standard homeowners and renters insurance policies also provide coverage for additional living expenses (ALE) in the event your home is destroyed or made unlivable because of the tornado. ALE covers hotel bills, restaurant meals and other expenses, over and above your customary living expenses, incurred while your home is being rebuilt, so keep receipts and talk to your insurance professional if you have any questions about this or any other part of your insurance policy.