Tornado Safety 101: What you need to know

a checklist for disaster preparedness

Tornadoes happen fast, cause a lot of destruction, and give those in their path virtually no time to prepare. The United States experiences more than 1,200 tornadoes every year (more than any country in the world!). According to the National Centers for Environmental Information, tornadoes have been documented in every state in the U.S. While some states, like those in “Tornado Alley,” experience a higher frequency of tornadoes than others, it helps to prepare early for tornado safety no matter where you live — just in case the unthinkable happens.

Tornadoes typically occur during severe thunderstorms, and residents of the area get very little warning a tornado is on the way. A tornado watch is issued when a tornado is possible in your area. It means you need to prepare for the possibility of a tornado very quickly. A tornado warning is more serious. It means a tornado has been spotted in your area and you need to take action.

This is why it’s important to have a plan well before a tornado strikes. Preparing your home, car, family, and pets now with tornado safety in mind will ensure you weather the storm safely.

How to prepare your home for a tornado

The CDC recommends having an emergency kit on hand to prepare for a tornado. Your kit should be stocked with batteries and a battery-operated TV, radio, or internet-enabled device so you can stay up-to-date on the latest weather information in your area. You should also have enough water (a three-day supply of at least one gallon per person per day) and a three-day supply of non-perishable food. Next time you’re at the grocery store, throw a few extra cheap cans of food and containers of water into your cart for tornado safety purposes. Repeat this every time you go to the store until your kit is full (and don’t forget to pack a can opener!).

Ready.gov also recommends including the following in your home’s basic emergency kit:

  • Flashlight
  • First-aid kit
  • Medications
  • A whistle to signal for help
  • Dust masks in case of contaminated air
  • Plastic sheeting and duct tape for sheltering in place
  • Moist towelettes
  • Garbage bags
  • Plastic ties
  • Wrench/pliers in case you need to shut off your utilities
  • Local paper maps
  • Cell phone chargers and fully charged backup batteries
  • Pet food and water

Keep everything in your tornado safety kit in the same place, and make sure everyone in your family knows where it is and what each supply is for.

The Red Cross recommends making a list of everything you need to bring inside in case of a tornado and removing diseased or damaged limbs from trees to make them more wind-resistant.

How to prepare your car for a tornado

If you know a storm is coming, try to park your car in your garage or another covered area. If you can’t get to covered parking, park your vehicle away from any poles or trees to minimize potential damage from high winds.

If you happen to be caught driving when a tornado is approaching, the National Safety Council recommends seeking shelter immediately in the form of a tunnel or underground parking lot. If you can’t find one of those spots, get out of the car and find a low-lying area. Lie flat, protect your head, and stay away from poles or power lines.

Your car should also be stocked with a tornado safety emergency kit in case of a disaster. Your car’s kit should include:

  • Spare tire
  • Wheel wrench
  • Tripod jack
  • Jumper cables
  • Tool kit
  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • Reflective triangles and vest
  • Compass
  • First aid kit
  • Non-perishable foods
  • Water
  • Cell phone car charger
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Duct tape
  • Rain poncho
  • Emergency phone numbers for your family, insurance company, and towing company

How to prepare your family and pets for tornado safety

One of the most important steps in preparing for a tornado is creating an emergency tornado safety plan for your family and making sure everyone knows exactly what to do. Dedicate a “safe room” in your home that everyone will go to, like a basement, storm cellar, or a small interior room with no windows on the lowest level of your home.

If you live in a mobile home, determine the closest storm shelter you can go to. According to the National Weather Service, about 40% of all tornado-related deaths come from residents of mobile homes. You can find a Red Cross disaster shelter near your home here.

Once you’ve identified a safe room or shelter, practice going there with your family and pets. Take your tornado safety emergency kit, turn on the weather radio, and cover your heads and necks with your arms.

If you have pets, they need a tornado safety emergency kit too with:

  • Food
  • Water
  • Medicines
  • First aid kit
  • Collar with ID tag
  • Leash/harness
  • Any paperwork/registration information
  • One carrier per pet
  • Grooming supplies
  • Sanitation supplies, like cat litter, a litter box, newspaper, plastic bags, cleaner, and paper towels
  • A picture of your pet in case they get lost
  • Familiar toys, treats, and bedding

If your pet isn’t microchipped, get that done ASAP. If you get separated from your pet during a disaster, you’ll be thankful you did. Also, talk to your neighbors about your pets. If you’re away from home or out-of-town, set up a plan so your pets are taken care of in an emergency.

After the storm

Returning home safely

Just because the storm is over doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. Injuries can happen after a tornado during rescue attempts and cleanup. When assessing damage to your home, wear pants, a long-sleeved shirt, and sturdy, close-toed shoes.

The National Weather Service recommends keeping your radio on, even if you think the storm is over. In severe weather, multiple tornadoes are possible. They also recommend contacting your neighbors, family, and friends to make sure everyone is safe.

What to do if your home or car is damaged in a tornado

Once the tornado has safely passed and you’ve inspected your house and car for damage and taken photos of everything, call your home and car insurance companies to start the claims process if you found anything.

If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from your insurance company after a storm, don’t give them information until you call your insurance carrier back and verify the call was legit. This is a common insurance scam after natural disasters. Do not give out any information, like your policy numbers and coverage details, to anyone until you have called the number on your insurance card to verify what the company needs. Read up on more common post-disaster scams on the FCC’s website here.

Check with your homeowners insurance and car insurance companies today to make sure you’re covered in the event of a tornado. Most homeowner policies cover tornado damage, but you’ll need comprehensive car insurance coverage to ensure your vehicle is protected. Comprehensive coverage usually covers damage to your car that’s not a result of a collision, like if it’s stolen or damaged by flood, fire, animals, and falling objects like hail or trees.

If you don’t have comprehensive insurance in your plan, consider adding it to your policy today to protect your car during natural disasters and ensure tornado safety. If you aren’t an Elephant customer yet, find out how much you can save on comprehensive insurance and get a quote today.

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