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A tornado is one of nature's most violent forms of storm activity. It can produce upward spiralling winds of between 120 and 450 km/h, and cause devastating damage along a path of 50 to 300 meters in width. The forward motion of the tornado funnel may be quite erratic as it zig zags along a southwest or northwestern direction (usually) at a speed of 50 to 70 km/h.


What does a tornado look like?

A tornado is recognizable by a funnel cloud hanging from the base of a dark, ominous looking storm cloud. The sound has been described as a tremendous roar similar to an express train or jet aircraft (only louder). In a thunderstorm approaching from a westerly direction, the most likely place for the funnel cloud to appear is near the left side (southern flank) of an approaching curtain of heavy rain and hail. There is usually a noticeable lowering of a portion of the cloud base which contains a large, swirling, turbulent mass from which the funnel will hang.


Watches and Warnings

The weather office issues, and radio and TV repeat, weather watches and weather warnings. Remember  -  a 'watch' is advisory only. Nothing may happen, but a watch could develop into a warning. Stay alert! Listen to your radio. A 'warning' means that the event is imminent. Take precautions and listen to your radio.


How to Prepare

Tornado contact with the ground (funnel cloud) occurs with very little advance warning. The wisest action is to be prepared in advance for any type of emergency situation, by ensuring you have:

  • An emergency kit
  • An action plan  -  It would be advisable to discuss with family members what action is to be taken while at home, shopping, school or while visiting friends.
  • A rendezvous point  -  You may be separated from family members, so arrange in advance a meeting place (and alternative), and arrange a system of communicating with one another after the storm.
  • Mobility  -  It is a good idea to be in the habit of always having a fairly full tank of gas in the family car. 


Take Shelter

Seek shelter indoors if possible. If in the open, move away from a tornado's path at a right angle. If there is no time to escape, lie flat in the nearest depression, such as a ditch or ravine.

In office buildings
The basement or an interior hallway on a lower floor is safest. Upper stories are unsafe. If there is no time to descend, a closet or small room with stout walls, or an inside hallway will give some protection against flying debris. Otherwise, get under heavy furniture. 

In homes with basements 
Seek refuge near the basement wall in the most sheltered and deepest below-ground section of the basement. Additional protection is afforded by taking cover under heavy furniture or a workbench. Other basement possibilities are the smallest room with stout walls, or under a stairway. A storm cellar, or reinforced portion of the basement can be planned and constructed.

In homes without basements 
Take cover in the smallest room with stout walls, or under heavy furniture or a tipped-over upholstered couch or chair in the center of the house. The first floor is safer than the second (or third). If there is time, open windows partly on the side away from the direction of the storm's approach but stay away from windows when the storm strikes. Construction of a storm cellar is particularly advisable for homes without basements. An alternative is pre-selection of a nearby culvert or deep ditch.

In Mobile homes
Particularly vulnerable to overturning and destruction during strong winds, trailers should be abandoned in favour of a preselected shelter, even a ditch in the open. Securing the trailer with cables anchored in a concrete footing can minimize damage.

Factories, auditoriums, and other large buildings with wide, free span roofs  Pre-selected shelter areas should be located in basements, smaller rooms or nearby.

Parked cars are unsafe 
Do not use cars as shelter during a tornado or severe windstorm; however, as a last resort, if no ravine or ditch is nearby, they may provide some shelter from flying debris to those who crawl under them.