A tornado is a funnel-shaped cloud with powerful, swirling winds. It is formed when moist, warm air meets colder, drier air during a thunderstorm. Tornadoes can form anywhere if the conditions are right. In fact, at least 1,000 tornadoes are reported each year in the United States. One area of the country that experiences many tornadoes is known as "Tornado Alley." Tornado Alley stretches from North and South Dakota south to Texas. While tornadoes can occur any time of day, most form between 3 and 9 p.m. They also may form any time of year, but the majority form during spring and summer ("tornado season").
Tornadoes can be a mile wide and can reach 60,000 feet above the ground. They can move at a speed of 35 miles per hour and may not be seen until they pick up debris. The swirling winds of tornadoes can reach more than 250 miles per hour. These winds are very destructive. The winds can damage buildings and trees. They also make objects fly through the air, which causes more damage and can injure or kill people. Damage from a tornado can also lead to more injuries and disease from water and food contamination and unsanitary conditions resulting from fires and flooding.
Tornadoes can form suddenly and without warning. You must act fast. It is important to be prepared for a tornado and know what to do if one forms!
- Find out how often tornadoes form in your area.
- Create a Family Disaster Plan with your family. You should talk about how to prepare for a tornado and how to act if one forms. It is important to review the plan often so that all family members know what to do.
- Help your family put together a Disaster Supplies Kit for your home and a smaller one for your car.
- Learn the telephone number of your emergency contact, the person you will call if you get separated from your family during an emergency.
- Learn how and when to call for help. You may have to call 911 or the local emergency telephone number.
- Make sure you have smoke alarms on every level of your home, especially near the bedrooms. Remind an adult in your family to test the smoke alarm at least once a month and to change the batteries at least once a year.
- The National Weather Service issues watches and warnings when tornadoes are possible. You should understand what these mean. Warnings and watches are issued for a particular area so it is important to know the name of your county or parish.
- A tornado watch is issued when tornado formation is possible.
- A tornado warning is issued when a tornado has been seen or has been detected on radar.
- Recognize the signs that a tornado is approaching. These include:
- Dark, greenish sky
- Large hail
- A strange stillness
- A loud roar (that has been described as the sound of a freight train)
- A cloud of debris
- Pick a safe place in your home where your family will go during a tornado.
- The safest place to be during a tornado is underground.
- If you do not have a basement or a storm cellar, the safest place is low to the ground and away from windows.
- An interior room, with many walls between you and the outside, is also safe.
- If you live in a mobile home, choose a place in a nearby building.
- If you live in a high-rise building and cannot get to a low level, pick a safe place in a hallway away from windows.
- Know how your community warns its citizens of a tornado. Some communities have sirens to warn people when a tornado is coming.
- Know the disaster plan in your school.
- Listen to the updated weather information on a NOAA Weather Radio or battery-operated radio or television.
- Be on the lookout for tornado warning signs.
- Be ready to move to your safe place.
When a Tornado Warning Has Been Issued or If You See a Tornado
- Get inside and go to your safe place.
- Try to get under a sturdy piece of furniture to shield yourself from flying debris.
- Protect your head and neck with your arms.
- Stay away from windows. Some people think that houses explode during tornadoes because of a build-up of air pressure. Some people say that you should open windows during a tornado. This is not true. In fact, damage can be worse if the windows are opened; therefore, it is not recommended that windows be opened during a tornado.
- Listen to updated weather information on a NOAA Weather Radio or battery-powered radio or television.
- Avoid places with spanning roofs such as malls, auditoriums and cafeterias. They are more likely to be damaged during a tornado.
- If you are in a car:
- Stop, get out and try to get inside a building.
- If you cannot get inside a building, lie flat in a low spot away from trees and power lines that can fall on you.
- Protect your head and neck with your arms.
- Move if flooding is occurring.
- Check yourself for injuries. Help others who may be injured (only move those who may be further injured).
- Listen to emergency information and instructions on a NOAA Weather Radio or battery-powered radio or television.
- Wear sturdy shoes.
- Watch for broken glass, debris, spills and downed power lines.
- Stay out of damaged buildings.
- Drink only water that you know is safe. Damage to water systems and flooding can contaminate water. Drinking contaminated water can make you sick.
- Stay away from floodwater. Never drink floodwater or eat food that came in contact with floodwater.
- Stay away from electrical lines that have fallen. If you see fallen electrical lines, tell an adult immediately.
- Use the telephone for life-threatening emergencies only.
- Use a flashlight and not candles, which can ignite flammable materials.
- After a tornado you may feel scared or sad. Talk to an adult about how you feel.
Before a tornado hits, it is important to know where the safe place is in your home. The safest place to be is underground in a basement or storm cellar. If you do not have a basement or cannot get to it, you should go to a room that does not have windows or walls that face the outside. A bathroom or closet is usually a good place to go during a tornado.
Following the example to the right, draw a picture
of your home and point out the safe place.
If your safe place is outside of your
home, draw that. Do this with your family.
(Adapted from Van Cleeve, J. (1991). Earth Science for Every Kid: 101 Easy Experiments That Really Work. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.)
You can create a model that demonstrates the swirling movement of a tornado.
You will need:
2 clear plastic, 2-liter soft drink bottles without caps or labels
Sturdy tape, such as duct tape or electrical tape
Food coloring (optional)
Making the model:
- Fill one bottle about three-quarters of the way with water. (Optional: You can add food coloring, glitter, etc. to the water.)
- Tape over the mouth of the bottle and then poke a hole through the tape with a pencil. Make the hole slightly larger than the pencil.
- Take the second (empty) bottle and place it upside down on the first so that the mouths of the bottles are touching.
- Tape around the necks of the bottles so that the bottles are taped together tightly.
- Flip the bottles so that water begins to flow into the empty one.
- Hold the bottles around the neck and quickly move them in circles so the water begins to swirl.
- Set the bottles down on a table, with the empty one on the bottom.
- The water in the bottle should spiral like the winds of a tornado.