How to Survive a Tornado

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Author of The Blackout Book and the online course Bloom Where You’re Planted

Anyone who lives in certain parts of the country knows the signs of an approaching tornado. The wind is whipping things around and the sky turns an indescribably dark yellow-green color.

Sometimes there’s hail and heavy rain that suddenly stops. The wind changes. And there’s nearly always a loud, persistent roar that becomes more deafening the closer the tornado gets.

When you see signs like that, you know it’s time to take shelter immediately. These days, we have more advanced warning systems that dispatch warnings to cell phones in a local area, TV stations interrupt programming, and warning sirens begin blaring.

Tornadoes can appear quickly and without any warning, so your goal should be to have a shelter with supplies already set up well before the wind starts to blow. Once you can see the twister, you won’t have time for anything but getting to the shelter. It’s also important to note that in the past few years, tornadoes seem to occur in groups, making them a far more widespread threat.

The following is an excerpt from my book: Be Ready for Anything

Where to shelter if you’re at home

First things first. Mobile homes are absolutely not safe in a tornado, no matter how well they are secured. If you live in a mobile home, you should have a secondary underground shelter or seek shelter in a nearby building.

Creating a tornado shelter is something everyone in tornado-prone areas should do. Because we all have different settings, here are the best places to shelter at home.

The best bet is a storm cellar that has been dug outside the home. These are superior because there is less risk of being trapped in there by the debris of the house above it. It should be in a location that allows quick access but isn’t so close that the house can collapse upon it. For this reason, you’ll see that many storm shelters have doors set at an angle. Keep supplies like food, water, sanitation, and first aid kits in the shelter in case you are stuck in there for a while.

The next safest place is the basement of your home. Find a spot in the basement that isn’t directly under something heavy on the main floor, like a piano or a refrigerator. Make sure you are as far away from any windows as possible. In that area, place some kind of sturdy protection like a heavy table, desk, or workbench. Keep the area underneath it clear so that you and your family can take shelter in it immediately. Keep mattresses or sleeping bags nearby to pull over everyone to protect them from flying glass and debris. For extra protection, keep helmets in the area too. (Bicycle, football, etc.)

If you don’t have a basement, find the most protected spot. Go to the lowest floor possible and find a place that is close to the center, without any exterior doors or windows. Get in a bathtub and pull a mattress or something sturdy over your family. Alternatively, seek shelter in a windowless hallway, under the stairs, or in a closet. Always try to pull something over yourself and your family, like a twin sized mattress or blankets to help protect you from debris or flying glass.

What to do if you’re driving

If you happen to be in your car or truck when there is a tornado headed your way, you’re stuck with the slightly-less-deadly option over the definitely-deadly option. If it’s far enough away, you may be able to get out of the path of the storm by turning at right angles, but keep in mind that tornadoes are prone to change directions quickly.

If you can find a low place like a ditch to get to, exit your vehicle and lay face down at the lowest possible point. Cover your head with your hands and if possible, bring a blanket or coat from the car to put over yourself.

If there are no low points, pull off the road, turn off your car, and remain seat belted. Cover yourself with a coat or blanket and tuck your head below the level of the windows. DO NOT PARK UNDER A BRIDGE OR OVERPASS.

What to do if you’re not at home

I’ll never forget when a tornado hit our school when I was in 9th grade. The noise was deafening and when it hit, I could no longer hear the kids who were crying and screaming. We crouched in the hallway and stuck our heads in our lockers as directed.

Fortunately, no one was seriously injured but it left an indelible impression of the power of Mother Nature.

If you are not at home, but you are indoors, go to the lowest level of the building you can get to. Stay in the center of the building if possible – stairwells are a good option. Stay as far away from windows, doors, and potentially deadly flying glass, as possible. Stay out of large, open spaces like gyms and auditoriums. DO NOT take an elevator to try to get to a lower floor faster.

What to do if you’re outside

If you are outdoors, try to get to a sturdy building. If you are not able to get to a sturdy building, find the lowest point possible, like a ditch, to lay down, and cover your head with your arms.

If there is no low point where you can seek shelter, lay down flat on your stomach and cover your head with your arms. Stay as far away as you can from trees, cars, and other large objects that could fall or be blown onto you.

What to do after the tornado

Just like an earthquake, the aftermath of a tornado can be just as deadly as the twister itself. The level of destruction may be shocking.

Keep family members close together and warn children not to touch ANYTHING. If anyone is injured, provide first aid. Watch out for

  • Downed power lines
  • Puddles with wires in them
  • Broken glass
  • Nails
  • Sharp debris
  • Raw sewage

Do not go into any damaged buildings – they could collapse. Do not use matches or cigarette lighters. If a natural gas pipe or fuel tank is leaking, the could explode with the introduction of a flame.

If you have vulnerable neighbors, check to see if they need help.

Before you touch anything or try to set it to rights, take pictures of everything with your phone. You’ll need this for insurance purposes.

Check your phone, radio, or television for news. Emergency crews will most likely be out soon to render assistance and provide further information. If not, you need to check for hazards.

  • Electrical Issues: Be on the alert for sparks, frayed wires, or burning smells. If you detect any of those, turn off the main breaker to the house as long as you can get to it without stepping in water. Call an electrician.
  • Gas Leaks: If you smell gas or hear a hissing noise, open the window and get everyone out of the building immediately. Turn off the gas at the exterior valve and contact the gas company.
  • Chemical spills: If substances like medicines, bleaches, or gasoline or other flammable liquids have spilled, clean them up as quickly as possible.

If you live in a tornado-prone area, make sure your children know what to do in the event of a tornado. It could save their lives if they are home alone or at school when one strikes.

Here’s some more information about tornadoes and their aftermath.

Have you ever been through a tornado?

Have you been through a tornado? Do you have a good shelter set up? Share your advice in the comments section.

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Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther is a coffee-swigging, globe-trotting blogger. She is the founder and publisher of three websites.  1) The Organic Prepper, which is about current events, preparedness, self-reliance, and the pursuit of liberty on her website, 2)  The Frugalite, a website with thrifty tips and solutions to help people get a handle on their personal finances without feeling deprived, and 3), an aggregate site where you can find links to all the most important news for those who wish to be prepared. She is widely republished across alternative media and  Daisy is the best-selling author of 5 traditionally published books and runs a small digital publishing company with PDF guides, printables, and courses. You can find her on FacebookPinterest, Gab, MeWe, Parler, Instagram, and Twitter.

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  • On the long-gone farm in the middle of Tornado Alley where I grew up, every farm had a combination root cellar & tornado shelter. Today in areas where those farmsteads have been replaced by housing developments, the builders couldn’t wait to tear out and bury those old cellars — in a frenzy of STOOPID.

    One of my favorite stories is about one of my cousins, from whose farm a tornado picked up a couple of his round cone-roofed tin grain bins and deposited them a half mile away onto a neighbor’s land. When I wisecracked to him about his “intercontinental ballistic grain bins,” he seemed less than amused.

    Years after I moved away from the family farm, a tornado grabbed a large cottonwood tree (too big around for me to reach around) and twisted and broke its trunk like a pretzel. That tree was only a half mile north of our old farmhouse.

    The recommendation to climb into a bathtub (if you have no better shelter handy) has some surprising merit — as this incredible survival story from East Texas a couple of years ago describes:


  • I used to live in northwest Indiana where the tornados would come from the south west direction, so we were advised to go to the southwest wall of the basement so the wall would be at our backs so to speak. Ti matters where you are and what direction it comes from.

    Somehow it is difficult to post a comment because when I click on the comment space it doesn’t always respond.

  • We live in Kansas where there has been a LOT of rain and flooding. Our outdoor root cellar/storm shelter is flooded and so we can’t use it. Another seven days of rain and storms is in the forecast. I’m ready for winter! We will run to our basement and have bike helmets and backpacks with clothes and meds just in case. Often the ditches are flooded and not a good option if you are out and about. Thanks for your great articles.

  • It’s also important to be on the lookout for displaced animals. Even our own animals who know us and love us might become extremely stressed during a tornado and that stress could show up in ways such as biting, scratching, clawing, etc. Now, think of your neighbor’s dog down the street. He’s normally playful and seems friendly, but his house is now damaged or gone, his people aren’t where he can find them and he’s majorly stressed out. I know for many of us, our first reaction is to help our animals, any animals, but we need to make sure we can do this safely.

  • A hurricane of the century barreled toward us and I needed to drive inland or find a shelter close by for my daughters and me. I called the ‘experts’ at the local military base where my ex worked. They offered to let us stay on base in a fortified building. When I got there it was wonderfully fortified yet it would have been inundated by a storm surge. My angst was rejoined with “Don’t worry! We rescue people for a living!”

    Lesson I never forgot: think for myself. I need to assume responsibility and always determine the verity of what experts say in matters of life and death ESPECIALLY if my kids are involved. Those who exited the second Twin Tower would agree…

  • I grew up in Nebraska on a dairy farm. When I was about 8 or 9 my mother and I were coming back from shopping in a nearby town. The sky turned greenish and the radio said tornado warnings. My mother stopped in at the barn to tell my father about the storms and told me to walk back to the house. As I was walking the 1/8 mile everything got completely silent – it was incredibly eerie. Then a roar and unbelievable wind. I ran as fast as I could, jumped the fence and ran through the garage towards the basement stairs. As I rounded the corner I glanced to the patio and saw our cast iron lawn furniture just disappear. I remember running to a closet and putting a pillow over my head with intense terror. The tornado just missed our house and barn but decimated a few other structures on the farm.

    I believe it was the same year that a tornado nearly leveled the town of Grand Island.

    I now live in Arizona where tornadoes are rare but not unheard of. I realized I had childhood PTSD from that incident when we had a short but terrifying 5 minutes of tornado warning one summer. I burst into tears and had an anxiety attack. (basements and storm shelters are very uncommon here)

    I think tornadoes are mysterious and fascinating but you couldn’t pay me enough to live where they are common again.

  • This storm this day will be over my house 30 minutes from now. I put on my sturdy shoes in case of broken glass and am watching the radar. Flashlight at hand. Every year spring is tornado weather for us. Perhaps not same old stuff, but been through this every year since I was a kid.

    • This weather has caused tornados in my state. I’m 70 and never seen a tornado although I have seen tornado damage several times. This front is past me now and I am standing down.

  • Thankfully, I have never been in one, but my sister was on two ends of the same tornado. It started in her neighborhood. The house across the street and down one took a direct hit. It then went about one-and-a-half to two miles and ended across the street from the store my sister went into for cover. She said everyone in the store stood there staring at the ceiling waiting for it to fly off. It didn’t. When she got home, it took her and her then husband 4 hours to pick up all the shingles from other people’s houses that landed in their yard. The only damage she had was 2 strips of siding flew off the back of her house and the end of a 2×4 hit beside her front door. It slightly damaged the bricks there.

  • This brings up something I’ve been thinking a lot about. We live in East Texas and have experienced a few tornadoes. I’ve wanted a basement/root cellar but I’ve been told we can’t do that here because of the water table.
    Does anyone know how to successfully have at least a root cellar here?

  • I have several things: for the lady in Texas you can buy small buildings that are above ground that survive tornadoes. they are exactly for what you describe ,problems with water table . They are bolted to cement pad and from what I hear highly effective. This second part I am afraid you will not want to hear. Three deadly tornadoes have been prophesied by the modern day prophets for Georgia. They are part of the signs that have come on America to bring the evil to an end and bring a huge revival for the Lord in the nation and abroad. The Lord is going to bring justice for evil and prosperity to the believers. If you are afraid call on the Lord and you and yours will be saved. The odd snows in New York ,Texas, earthquakes and volcanoes active everywhere. shakings and tremoring and earthquakes being recorded everywhere have all been prophesied. The tornadoes I heard about 2 weeks ago and were to come within 30 days .Looks like they are here. If you want to know more Timothy Dixon has prophesied this and much more. I have to admit I was shocked to see they were on their way. The Lord will not tolerate the evil being done in and to this nation anymore and his almighty hand will be putting a stop to it. Politicians will be held accountable, New York comes to mind. Don’t be afraid, the Lord is restoring our nation and wants people to see they have been misled. The Lord put his mighty hand of protection over you my friends! JR

  • Oh no. These recent tornados are definitely weather manipulation. I have lived for 68 years in California where tornados are rare, but weather manipulation is not. For the last 10 years or so, our weather has been absolutely nutty. Heat waves in January so often that the poor trees mistook it for spring and start flowering, hot dry winds within a couple days after any rain, storm clouds that just go away and of course, the eternal chemtrails.
    I finally started to muscle test the phenomena. Every time something was on the way or present, the energy of the test points became very low. When the weather straightened out, the energy of the test points normalized. The past two weeks has seen two sudden rain storms and all of a sudden the energy of the test points went high, like more than five times normal. I knew it meant something and now I know. I tested the energy in the tornado videos, and it was the same level as our last two rain storms. Then I found photos of a 1967 tornado and the energy of that was only two times normal. Then I looked at a video of hurricane Katrina and that energy was more than five times normal. Looking at the 1992 Hawaii hurricane, I discovered that energy was only two times normal.
    So now I know. Whoever is doing this weather manipulation undoubtedly did the Texas freeze (energy only 1 1/3 higher than normal) last month and will do the SE hurricanes this month. Surely more Midwest floods will be soon……….all coupled with similar energetic anomalies.

  • When I was in my early 20s, I went and stayed with my parents for a while in Iowa. One day there was a tornado to the west, clearly visible from my parents’ house. It was over a half mile wide, looked like the cloud just reached to the ground. The corn was only about two inches high, all taken out of the ground for that over half mile wide. A couple of other twisters were spotted (though I didn’t see them, I was looking the wrong direction).

    But what spooks me to this day is that after the all clear was sounded, I had an uneasy feeling that it wasn’t over. I was ready to tell my family to take refuge in the basement, but had no logical reason for it. They wouldn’t believe me anyways. We retired to our rooms, but I couldn’t sleep well. At four AM with a roar, the house shook, that funnel fortunately didn’t touch ground. I found my younger brother in the kitchen doing high school homework, but then saucer-eyed “Did you hear that?” After that, the uneasy feeling went away. After that, if that uneasy feeling ever returns, I plan to act on it.

  • I recently lived thru a tornado that hit my town in Kentucky. 12 people died.
    ​ Deadly Tornado Outbreak Leaves Bowling Green, Kentucky Unrecognizable

    It was like living in the aftermath of a war zone. Here is what I learned from this.

    Power: We have become so dependent on our little devices for news, communications, entertainment, etc.. My power was out for 3 days. 1 block over from me was out for 2-3 weeks. Cell towers were out for 1 ½ days. Internet out for 3 days. Charging my cell phone was a real challenge. Plugging it in to charge anywhere I was. Friends and Family homes, restaurants, anywhere… You will burn up your battery fast calling family, friends, etc. to check on them to see if they are alive or even still have a roof or a home.

    Since then, I have bought a Power Station. SmartTech 9in1 JSL-950 Power Station with Jump Starter and 150 PSI Air Compressor, one 120V power inventer outlet with USB outlets AC/DC outlets from Home Depot. I can now charge my phone and run small appliances (like nebulizer) for a short time if needed. Plus, I can take it camping, on road trips and it does not take up much space.

    Also, a Solar Power Bank Portable Charger for USB devices. This charges my phone much faster then my 12v car charger. It can re-charge via solar power but it takes all day. I like the concept. Will it last? Only time will tell.

    Lighting: I already had a dozen 80 hour religious candles, tea candles, battery flashlights stocked. Flashlights go fast. Candles are the way to go for any long term power outage! Tea candles last about 4 hours so they burn out by the time I’m ready for bed anyway.

    Staying Warm in General: Layer your clothing your wearing. I wear a quarintine cap lol! Extra blankets/sleeping bag on the bed. Cover your head with a blanket or beach towel to prevent heatloss at night. Old people use to call them Night Caps.

    Heat: A tornado in winter? Who knew! It got cold in the house. Fortunately, I had already prepped for that with 2 flower pot heaters w/tea candles due to the rising cost of natural gas to heat my home and to offset the thermostat running all the time. They wont heat your home to 75 degrees, but they will take the chill out of the air. Indoor temp gauge said it was 61 degrees so yes they did their job.

    The areas were the tornado hit had a funny weird smell to me.. I was telling my friend about the smell when I was driving thru and he was told by gas workers that lines all over the town were leaking natural gas either thru the damaged houses or up rooted.

    Food: I have plenty of dried and canned foods in my preps. Had to show my GF how to cook with Sterno. Had instant coffee ready in 20 minutes with powdered milk and sugar with a cigarette. It’s all about the little pleasures in life. Canned beef stew ready in 40 minutes. Some items in the fridge went bad after 3 days of of no power. If I had to go threw this power outage for 4 days? Every thing in the freezer would have been lost.

    If you have a large family and a lot of food in your freezer, I would suggest a small tailgater continuous output of 700watts gas generator. They use it sell them at Harbor Freight for less than $100 but they do not sell them anymore. I have found similar generators at Home Depot for a fair price. Every store we visited had larger generators for sale at nearly double the price a month ago.

    Shelter: My home was not damaged (thank god) but my neighbors were not as lucky. Always remember, Life can change on a dime.

    When the power did finally come back on. I filled up my indoor jacuzzi with HOT water and soaked for 45 minutes lol!

  • You Need More Than Food to Survive

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