Photo of a tornadoWhen a tornado is coming, you have only a short amount of time to make life-or-death decisions. Advance planning and quick response are the keys to surviving a tornado.


Tornado Danger Signs

  • An approaching cloud of debris can mark the location of a tornado even if a funnel is not visible.
  • Tornadoes generally occur near the trailing edge of a thunderstorm. It is not uncommon to see clear, sunlit skies behind a tornado.
  • Rain-wrapped tornadoes are especially dangerous. They are common with heavy precipitation supercell thunderstorms, which are frequently occurring in Iowa. Supercell storms have been observed to generate the vast majority of long-lived and violent (EF2-EF5) tornadoes, as well as downburst damage and large hail.

       More about the Enhanced Fujita (EF) Scale...

What to Do Before, During and After a Tornado

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Before a Tornado Develops



When a Tornado is Spotted


If you are inside

  • Move to your pre-designated shelter. The designated shelter should be in a basement, storm cellar, or lowest level of the building. If you are at work or school, you should go to the basement or an interior hallway on the lowest level of the building where you are.
  • If you can, get under a sturdy piece of furniture.
  • Stay away from windows.

If you are outdoors

  • Seek shelter in a basement, shelter or sturdy building. If you cannot quickly walk to a shelter:
      • Immediately get into a vehicle, buckle your seatbelt and try to drive to the closest sturdy shelter.
      • If flying debris hits your vehicle while you are driving, pull over and park.

       Now you have the following options as a last resort:

    • Stay in the car with the seat belt on. Put your head down below the windows, covering it with your hands and a blanket if possible.

    • If you can safely get noticeably lower than the level of the roadway, exit your car and lie in that area, covering your head with your hands.

    • Your choice should be driven by your specific circumstances.

Mobile homes, even if tied down, offer little protection from tornadoes and should be abandoned.


Occasionally, tornadoes develop so rapidly that advance warning is not possible. Remain alert for signs of an approaching tornado. Flying debris from tornadoes causes most deaths and injuries.



After the Tornado Strikes


  • Help injured or trapped persons. Give first aid when appropriate. Don't try to move the seriously injured unless they are in immediate danger of further injury. Call for help.
  • Turn on radio or television to get the latest emergency information.
  • Use the telephone only for emergency calls.
  • Take pictures of the damage - both to the house and its contents - for insurance purposes.
  • Remember to help your neighbors who may require special assistance: infants, the elderly, and people with special needs.
  • Clean up spilled medicines, bleaches, or gasoline or other flammable liquids immediately. Leave the buildings if you smell gas or chemical fumes.
  • Stay out of damaged buildings. Return home only when authorities say it is safe.

       Inspecting Utilities in a Damaged Home

  • Check for gas leaks. If you smell gas or hear a blowing or hissing noise, open a window and quickly leave the building. Turn off the gas at the outside main valve if you can and call the gas company from a neighbor's home. If you turn off the gas for any reason, it must be turned back on by a professional.
  • Look for electrical system damage. If you see sparks or broken or frayed wires, or if you smell hot insulation, turn off the electricity at the main fuse box or circuit breaker. If you have to step in water to get to the fuse box or circuit breaker, call an electrician first for advice.
  • Check for sewage and water lines damage. If you suspect sewage lines are damaged, avoid using toilets and call a plumber. If water pipes are damaged, contact the water company and avoid using water from the tap. You can obtain safe water by melting ice cubes.




Mitigation includes any activities that prevent an emergency, reduce the chance of an emergency happening, or lessen the damaging effects of unavoidable emergencies. Investing in preventive mitigation steps now, such as checking local building codes and ordinances about wind-resistant designs and strengthening un-reinforced masonry, will help reduce the impact of tornadoes in the future.



Storm Spotter Training

Interested in becoming a storm spotter? Visit the National Weather Service website for details.