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Tornado Safety

Will Your Family Be Safe During a Tornado?


Tornado Damage in South Dakota

The Spencer, South Dakota Tornado on May 30th 1998 caused devastating damage to the community.

National Weather Service Forecast Office Sioux Falls SD
Written by Associate Writer Nicole Harms

Understanding a Twister

Perhaps on of the most feared weather anomalies is the tornado. The Unpredictability of a tornado produces terror in many families. Some people are so afraid it is a phobia called Lilapsophobia. Part of the anxiety is due to the development of a tornado from a seemingly normal thunderstorm producing their characteristic haphazard and crazy paths.

Tornadoes are one of natures most devastating storms, but they do not last long. The average length of a tornado is only five to thirty minutes, but the places they travel are often devastated.

Tornadoes Cause Damage in Three Ways.

Strong Winds

The strong winds of a tornado can rip just about anything off of the ground including trees, vehicles, and even houses. The winds inside of tornadoes travel at over 310 miles per hour. Even weak tornadoes can pull shingles and siding off houses.


The second damaging effect of tornadoes is actually from the debris that the storm picks up. People have been buried alive by houses or mud picked up and then dropped by a tornado. Smaller objects become damaging projectiles when thrown by tornadoes. One tornado took a child’s bicycle and wrapped it around a tree!

Hail and Lightning

It is not only the wind that causes damage in a tornado, but also the hail and lightning that the storm produces. Large hailstones can damage cars and injure people, and lighting can cause fires and electrical problems.

The Environment Suffers From Tornadoes As Well

Tornadoes produce devastating effects on the environment. They can uproot trees, cause mass migrations of animals, and destroy the habitats of local wildlife.

Family Safety During a Tornado

If there is a tornado approaching, what safety measures should you take? First, it is important to realize that there is no specific way to know if a storm is going to produce a tornado. Meteorologists have developed warning systems that tell them if a storm is capable of producing a tornado. Submit your own tips for tornado safety in the Reader Response module.

During severe weather, have a weather radio on. If you do not currently have a weather radio, you can compare prices of weather radios here. They are relatively in expensive and could save your life. If you hear the announcer say there is a tornado watch, that means the conditions are correct for forming a tornado. A tornado warning means a tornado has been spotted. If you hear a tornado warning, you may be in danger!

If You Hear a Tornado Warning...

First, find shelter in the lowest possible place, such as a basement. If your home does not have a basement, go to the innermost room. Stay clear of windows or anything heavy like furniture or appliances. A bathroom is a good location.

Take your battery-powered weather radio to your shelter and turn it on. Kneel on the floor and cover your head with your hands. This is the best position to be in to avoid damage during a tornado.

Should you be caught out in the open with a tornado approaching, do not try to outrun the storm. Find a low lying spot such as a ravine and crouch down with your arms over your head. Because tornadoes are so unpredictable, you are in much more danger if you try to outrun them.

While tornadoes cause much damage in the areas where they hit, one good thing about tornadoes is that the area they damage is relatively small. If you take a few safety precautions, you have the best chance of making it through a dangerous tornado.


The Weather Watchers Library: Tornadoes by Dean Galiano

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