Tornado Warnings - How Do You Prepare?

We just had a tornado warning in Northern Illinois with the local siren going off and national weather service imploring us to head to the basement or safe space.

It was all over at 6:45pm, and now storms for the rest of the evening.

Just curious about how others prepare when these warnings happen. I grabbed some essentials and headed towards the basement, but if the tornado came and lifted / destroyed my home and scattered my life in pieces all over the neighborhood, I’d essentially have the clothes on my back and wallet/phone/keys to work with.

What’s your best advice for preparing and gathering things with a few minutes notice?

We rarely get tornadoes but we do have a large basement.

If you hear that freight train coming evacuate to the downstairs.

So grabs staples like cereal, fiber bars, etc, Fill up the water coolers, get flashlights ready and move this to a central part of the basement. Already have radios and most of my tools. Grabs extra batteries.

If you hear that freight train coming evacuate to the downstairs.

If you have time, get outside tables & chairs and stuff into the shed or the chain link 8’ tall dog pen. Bring the little generator into the basement.

If you hear that freight train coming evacuate to the downstairs.

Grab the chain saw and its gas & bar oil. just in case.

If you hear that freight train coming evacuate to the downstairs.

Go outside and look for it. :upside_down_face:

I haven’t had to do this since I moved to my current location, but if it really looked threatening, I’d grab my cats and get in the bathtub, which has no windows or outside walls, and close the shower door. I’m in a first-floor apartment at the bottom of a hill.

I glance at the text of the warning and probably do nothing if it’s the usual “radar indicated” hype (the push for increased warning time has resulted in so many false alarms that the mere issuance of a warning is a nearly useless piece of information). Maybe turn on the local TV station to see just how agitated the weatherman is. Check out the town Facebook groups to gape at the people posting prayer-hand emojis and reports on which sirens are blaring. I went down to the basement once when there were actual reports of a funnel cloud being sighted and the storm sounded unusual, but otherwise it’s just another thunderstorm.

I’ve had a storm cellar for 15yrs.
Lots of tornadoes. Never have I been in it. My fear of being trapped in it is worse than my fear of tornadoes.

I don’t do anything. If the house starts flexing, that’s when I’ll head for shelter.

Enough with the warnings for tornadoes! They should have been banned by now. :angry:

Go outside and look up, maybe count how many neighbors are doing the same. Remark to myself about never having seen so many of them outside all at once. Maybe turn on a radio after getting bored with the sky. I dont have a cellar or basement and my tub will be full of kids so I’m kinda fucked on the off chance its near my house anyways.

When I was a kid a “tornado warning” was “Hey, do you hear a train goin— where did the roof go?”

Now, I get sirens, my phone goes berserk, as does the TV if it’s on, and maybe the radio if it’s on. I double-check and any actual funnel is about 45 minutes away from me. I go on-line and double check the track. If it looks like it might actually come somewhat near me I put the three parrots into one cage, grab my ID and phone, and go down to my storage space in the basement.

So far I haven’t been hit in the new place, although in 2008 in the old place we had a near miss - the actual tornado track was about two blocks away. We wound up cleaning smashed furniture and shredded other household goods off the roof of the building, and I pulled about 20 pounds of twisted aluminum siding out the backyard and cashed it in at the local recycler.

Our panic-shrieking media now reports a mild cold front as “23 MILLION AT RISK OF DEATH FROM MASSIVE STORM FRONT SAVAGING THE MIDWEST!!!”, So I ignore all the idiot weathermen and their frantic warnings. I can decode the original METARs and TAFs from aviation websites, or listen to the NOAA weather radio broadcast on my backup (battery operated) receiver. In the rare event I decide there’s real risk, we gather in a predetermined interior room which should provide the most protection. This is pre-stocked with water, flashlights and a few supplies.

FWIW: Due to the changing weather patterns, we’re currently considering installing a shelter, and have been pricing them. Right now the manufacturers seem to be marketing them as safe rooms (due to the riots) and there’s a backlog. After things (and prices) die down, we may get a shelter installed onsite. Still not sure on this one.

My neighbor had an underground safe-room/shelter built into the floor* of his garage. He showed it to me a few years ago, and it had a battery operated hydraulic lift built into it. According to him, it could lift away the entire top along with 25,000 lbs. of debris. There was a manual backup as well.

*Offset area, not where cars parked.


Yes, the freight train sound - it must be terrifying to hear that train a comin’! I am really glad to have a basement.

@nearwildheaven: That’s exactly what DH does! If he doesn’t see it, he doesn’t believe it!
Smiling at the sight of Elmira Gulch music playing and a bathtub with you and kitties flyin’ by!

@Lord_Feldon: Sometimes we get an emergency warning on the phone for things like this. Not last night. I did pull up the local weather station and was following the warnings by the NWS which were updated like every four minutes. When the outdoor siren goes off I take it serious, though as this area is infamous for tornadoes.

@Beckdawrek: A real storm cellar, with two doors on top? Cool. How much room is inside one of those? Do you have it stocked and ready to go?

@Grrr: I was listening for such flexing while hunkering down. I can’t imagine how terrifying it would be to hear your house ripped apart.

@broomstick: Yes, the pets! I used to have a kitty and would scoop her up. Would three parrots be chattering quite a bit about what’s going on? I wonder if animals can sense the danger if a tornado is about to hit.

@pullin: Love the idea of a safe-room under the garage. Reminds me of panic rooms - I wonder if those are are built to shelter from tornadoes.

This area is known as tornado alley and we’re not too far from the area where there was a killer tornado some years ago in Belvidere which killed 24 people, mostly school children as they were getting out of school and boarding busses, which still gets lots of press on anniversary dates.

When I moved to the area, I became friends with a former student who was there and saw the multiple tornadoes coming down as he was waiting in front of the school in a car with others, which flipped over and spun around, glass shattering everywhere a he thought he was about to die. Harrowing history, that one. I went to see the monument when they first installed it. It broke my heart seeing all the children’s names.

[Part 1 of 2 due to post length limits]

I don’t live in tornado country now but I did for 20 years.

IMO/IME What_Exit’s first reply is close. But could use some refinement.

As others have said, you’ll get a hundred or a thousand warnings before your own personal residence gets hit for real. So if every time a warning happens you’re madly prepping, praying, and hiding, you’re probably doing it wrong. On the other hand, when the tornado shows up with no warning, or with 2, 3, or 10 minutes warning, now’s not the time to start a 30 minute prep process that has you outside half the time & preoccupied the whole time. And it’s definitely not the time to begin to try to figure out what to do because you’ve never given it a thought before.

One thing you can do is actually prepare your shelter ahead of time, even if it’s just a designated area in your basement that you fortify as best you can.

What_Exit talks about immediately grabbing perishables and putting them in the shelter. I say that’s a dumb waste of what may be precious time and exposes you to risk. Instead keep a supply of those things in the shelter & rotate them seasonally.

Here we have hurricanes where we need supplies for a week+, not just a few hours. But the same idea applies: I have 20 cases of bottled water stored in my shelter area. And one open case in the kitchen. As I use up the open one in the normal course of living, I replace it from the shelter stock & buy a new one for the shelter stock on my next grocery run. Canned foods, power bars, batteries, flashlights, etc., are done the same way. For an initial investment of <$150 I’m always ready for a 2 week shelter in place without running water or power. For post-tornado survival you need a lot less supplies & the cost is even less.

IMO doing anything outside, like messing with patio furniture, in the face of a possible tornado is nuts. You’re vastly increasing risk to life for a minimal change in your total risk of property damage. If you live in an area with lots of trees or hills, you’ll never see it coming until it hits you. Often it’s dark and you’ll never see it. Often they’re so rain-wrapped that it just looks like heavy rain … until the wind goes from blustery to insane in about 3 seconds and you’re swept way to your death.

Far better to be at almost any random place inside your house when that happens versus outdoors moving furniture or scanning the sky or taking a vid to post on TwitFace or …

[Part 2 of 2 due to post length limits]

Yes, do connect to the NWS website, a radar app, or watch local TV. But be aware of delays in the radar picture you’re seeing. Live local TV is probably at most a minute behind reality. The NWS radar loop or an app on your phone may be 10 minutes behind reality. The good ones show you the time each snapshot in the animation was taken as it’s displayed. Typically it’s 10 minute intervals. You can get hurt pretty good by believing the worst is 10 minutes away when it’s actually 1 minute away.

It’s not hard to mentally project the overall storm motion forwards from the last snapshot to now or a few more minutes into your future. But there’s no way to reliably project forward how the storm evolves or where a tornado may suddenly descend. Said another way, the radar can tell you when you’re at high risk, but it can’t really tell you when you’re safe. At least not until the last of the red stuff is well downwind of you.

Final thought:

Lots of folks talk about hearing the “freight train.” Survivor reports show that’s not often heard at all, or if it is, it’s about 5 seconds before the roof goes. So waiting for that sound to take action will almost certainly be too late.

My bottom line: Ultimately your best defense against tornadoes is simply that, as common as they are, your own house is vanishingly unlikely to get hit. The odds are in your favor.

Do what you can to prep on a seasonal basis, have a well-known well-rehearsed plan that takes 3 minutes tops to implement, pay attention to the sky & the warnings, then go about your life until you’re scared enough then implement the plan without hesitation.

How do you know when to be scared enough? Experience.

Not a good answer, but the alternative is to spend about 100 hours per year hiding in your shelter. Most folks won’t make that tradeoff.

YMMV. And good luck!

I don’t do anything when I hear a severe warning other than pay more attention to what I’m hearing and seeing.

Our weather pattern goes west to east, but my local counties are oblong-shaped and oriented north-south, so every warning I hear is about an event that is far from me and moving away. If I ever get a relevant warning, it will already be right on top of me.

I don’t know why weather alerts are targeted at political boundaries instead of the path of the storm. As it is, I have to monitor the radar situation and draw my own conclusions. I’m not doing any complex analysis, just looking to see if the angry red cluster is headed toward me. It seems like this shouldn’t be harder to program than all the other things that a weather app does.

I was born in the Midwest and raised in the South, just on the edge of ''Tornado Alley." The scariest situations for me was going to bed knowing that tornado watches and warnings had been posted and that there were severe storms that would arrive sometime after 12 or 1 a.m. I stayed up all night for those.

A good investment back in the day was a weather alert radio. Now you can get phone apps. The most important thing is having a good 5-minute heads up if possible. Gives you enough time to head toward the interior of your home.

Now there are tornadoes, and then there are tornadoes. The odd tornado you might get in the northeast or Atlantic coast is nothing compared to those you see in the Midwest, the Heartland, and the Gulf Coast (i.e. from Ohio to the Rockies and from Wisconsin/Minnesota on down to Texas and the Gulf). The tornadoes in the first-mentioned areas are probably survivable even if they damage your home; those in the Heartland and South, OTOH, can be massive, and they will kill you if you don’t take the right precautions, and sometimes they can, even if you do.

Actually I was talking about non-perishables and I thought my repetitiveness made it clear once you hear the roaring (the Freight Train) forget everything else and get to safety. I said it first, last & in-between.

We don’t get tornado warnings very often, I’ve only been near one once* and it was small compared the ones that destroy houses or wreck cities. This only caused tree & power line damage. We’re more likely to get hurricanes and still rare. So I don’t do the advance prep, but an excellent idea if you live it tornado alley.

I did see a water spout on the river I had been sailing on an hour earlier. That spooked me a bit.