How to Survive a Tornado: At Home, in Your Car, or Anywhere

Surviving a Tornado Title Image

Dorothy! Dorothy! Remember that iconic scene from the Wizard of Oz when Aunt Em is searching everywhere for her beloved niece during a tornado? People in Kansas aren’t the only ones who should know how to survive a tornado.

If there’s a possibility of a tornado in your area, use these tips to better prepare yourself. You will be glad that you didn’t end up like our friend, Dorothy (in the sense that she was sucked up by a Tornado, not that awesome part where she was given a pair of shoes that lets her go home any-damn-time she pleases). 

How to Prepare for a Tornado

Do Practice Drills

I know you hate practicing a tornado safety drill with your family, but it could save your life. At least once a year, practice a plan of where you will go during the event of a tornado. If you have a larger family, designate specific jobs for each member, like keeping the safety kit up to par or being in charge of scheduling an annual practice drill.

Especially if you live in an area prone to tornadoes, such as Tornado Alley, conducting practice drills is important! It is also important that your family has a specific spot to meet should you get separated during the storm.


Stockpiling is one of those crucial, amazing things that, once done right, can get you out of a lot of sticky situations. Surviving a tornado is no exception either. In the event of a tornado, flying debris can pose a major threat to yourself and your family. Having all the necessary items prior to the storm allows you to hunker down in your safe area, rather than frantically search for key items.

Here are the most effective pieces to keep stockpiled:

Multiple tonadoes striking all at once.
If you see this scene outside your window, implementing the “shelter and pray” method may not be a bad idea.

Warning Signs of A Tornado

Of course, you should already know that during a tornado, the sky will begin to darken, or even turn green. There are other signs to watch for as well, such as preceding hailstones, and a loud screeching sound that resembles a freight train. And no, it’s not the kind that Josh Turner likes to sing about. Using a little bit of common sense, and knowing that you’re not invincible will go a long way.

It’s important to also know the terminology used by meteorologists.

  • Thunderstorm Watch – Conditions are likely for a thunderstorm to develop.
  • Thunderstorm Warning A thunderstorm has been spotted, and now your chances of a tornado are greater.
  • Tornado Watch The conditions are likely that a tornado will form. Keep an eye out and tune in to your local news.
  • Tornado Warning A tornado has been spotted. Now isn’t the time to start wrenching on the Iroc Z with the T-tops out or shirtlessly fire up the grill while listening to some ZZ Top.

How to Survive a Tornado in Every Situation

Location Bad Idea Good Idea Best Idea
At Home Stand outside, near lots of windows, by some heavy dead trees. Get to the center of your house. Go to the basement, hunker down, and cover yourself with a mattress.
In Your Car Sit on the hood wave at the tornado. Buckle up, cover yourself, and wait. Find nearby shelter in a home or business with a basement.
Open Spaces Stand by that one weak looking outbuilding. Hunker down in a ditch or low area. Find nearby shelter in a home or business with a basement.
On the Water Keep on boating it’s your day off and nothing is gonna stop you. Get out of the water. Find nearby shelter in a home or business with a basement.
In Mobile Home Sit on the rooftop with your favorite beverage and listen to some Toby Keith. Visit a neighbor’s house that is not a trailer or manufactured. Hunker down in the neighbors basement, preferably with their permission.
Everywhere Else Stand outside near lots of heavy unsecured items while heavily intoxicated. Get to a low area or in the center of a sturdy building. Go to a basement, hunker down, and cover your body with something sturdy for protection.

At Home

If you are fortunate enough to live in a sturdy home with a basement, you have the best chance of surviving a tornado, and you should always go there. If you want to be a good samaritan, offer up your home to neighbors who don’t have an underground shelter.

Really though, it doesn’t matter because your pushy neighbor Sharon who likes to stand too close and talk too loud will probably invite herself over in any way. Listen to your wife and let her in, or lock the door, pretend you can’t hear her and hope she blows away- the choice is yours. 

If your home has no basement, get to the lowest floor possible, go to the center of the home, cover your neck and head, and avoid all windows if possible. Again, use your noggin, and think about what possible flying debris could cause you harm. Stay low until you’re certain the tornado has passed. 

A tornado about to strike in an open field.
Getting stuck out in an open field like this with a tornado bearing down on you is a pretty bad situation. Find a ditch or depression in the field, get as low as possible, and stay away from any potential debris.

In Your Car

The car isn’t the preferred location during a dangerous storm like a tornado. Your first option is to exit the car quickly find sturdy shelter, if possible. Staying in the car is an option too if you have nowhere else to hide, just remember to keep your head down and put your seatbelt on. Never park under a bridge because you will be putting yourself in greater harm’s way for dangerous flying debris.

In Wide Open Spaces

Okay, Dixie Chick, you better hope your cowboy takes you away, and quickly. If he doesn’t show up though, look for low lying ground, such as a ditch. A ditch or depression in the ground will provide some limited cover. Look around and make note of anything that could be dangerous at high speeds, such heavy tree branches or large rocks, and try to keep away from them. Kneel down, keep your head down, and cover your neck, or lay flat on your stomach, covering your neck. 

On the Water

Abandon your ship as quickly as you can and take shelter on land. Even if a small chance of a tornado is likely, don’t risk your life! Being on a body of water will not give you any chance of protection whatsoever. If you’re at a state park or recreation center, seek shelter in those brick restrooms or shower houses. 

In a Mobile or Manufactured Home

Manufactured homes don’t stand a chance against the powerful force of a tornado! Often generating speeds or more than 200 mph, a tornado will rip apart this kind of home with ease. As mentioned earlier, part of your tornado safety drill should be knowing exactly where to get to quickly if you live in this kind of structure. If you have nearby neighbors with a different home (or better yet, a basement) make friends with them long before there’s a threat of a tornado.

Everywhere Else

No matter where you are, always try to cover yourself with anything that could minimize the danger of flying debris. In your home, you can always use mattresses, pillows, or heavy hardback books. If you don’t have access to any kind of extra protection, you should always cover your head and stay low to the ground.

If you Have Kids at School

It is certainly hard enough to get your kids to listen to you all the time, but make sure you preach to them about tornado safety at school. Schools are required to have safety plans for surviving a tornado, and the staff will know what to do to keep your children safe.  Oftentimes, the school structure will be safer than the majority of homes anyway.

Do not try to retrieve your children. Many school policies prevent children from being signed out during disasters. Beyond that though, you’re putting yourself at risk driving to the school, and putting your entire family at risk whilst driving home. Stay put, and have some faith in your children’s ability to listen to the school staff. 

A storm chaser in a truck chasing a tornado.
If you find yourself in the path of a tornado while in your car and cannot get away; stop the car, keep your seat belt on, and get as low as possible.

Tornadoes Are Dangerous, Even After They’ve Passed

Do yourself a favor and be patient in the event of an emergency. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is taking yourself out of your safe room when you think the tornado has passed. Tornadoes are known to change direction without notice, and more tornados can always form. Make sure you are cleared to leave before doing so.

Even after the tornado has passed you’re still not out of harm’s way. Look for the following:

  • Fallen Trees – Don’t try to be super dad and lift any heavy trees off your property. You can always replace a home, but what about you? 
  • Fallen Power Lines – Is that a phone line or a power line? Assume it’s electric either way, stay back, and keep your kids and pets back as well.
  • Power Lines Near Water – Also be aware of lines that may come in contact with water. You know what happens when water and electricity meet.
  • More Inclement Weather – If you thought the tornado was dreadful, just keep in mind that more awful weather is probably on the way. Lighting strikes and flooding can be just as dangerous as the actual tornado itself.

Revisiting Tornado Safety: In A Nutshell

If you don’t want to end up in the middle of a twister like Dorothy did, follow these easy to remember guidelines for surviving a tornado. To summarize, surviving a tornado can be recapped in three simple tips:

  1. Stay low. The lower to the ground the better! Always find the lowest part of any place or building you’re in.
  2. Avoid the path of debris. Look around and see what could cause you harm at high speeds.
  3. Stay calm and be patient. You can make better decisions when you are in a calm state of mind. The storm isn’t over just because you say so!

Have you ever been through a tornado? What’s your best piece of advice for surviving a tornado? Share that with us in the comments section. Thanks for reading!



Tornado Safety Guide.” (n.d.) Home Advisor. Retrieved May 25, 2018.

Tornadoes.” (n.d.) Retrieved May 25, 2018.

Tornado Safety.” (n.d.) Storm Prediction Center – NOAA. Retrieved May 25, 2018.

Tornado Preparedness Tips for School Administrators.” (n.d.) Storm Prediction Center – NOAA. Retrieved May 25, 2018.

John Walter

John Walter is an emergency preparedness consultant with eight years of experience and training in related fields. He is a passionate prepper living in the Sacramento area of California.

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