Depending on where you live, tornadoes can pose a major risk to property and life. Tornadoes most commonly occur in the south and central U.S, in an area that is often known as “Tornado Alley.” The top five states with the highest number of tornadoes are Mississippi, Texas, Alabama, Georgia and Illinois.
Like most natural disasters, tornadoes are most likely to occur during specific times of the year. Tornado season, at its most dangerous and prevalent, is from early spring to July, according to the Insurance Information Institute (Triple-I). In addition, most tornadoes occur in the evening hours, between 4 p.m. and 9 p.m.
However, it’s possible for tornadoes to strike outside of the regular season. In December 2021, a powerful category EF-4 tornado touched down in Mayfield, Kentucky. The extreme tornado traveled 165.7 miles, with peak winds reaching 190 mph. More than 500 people were injured and 57 fatalities were reported.
As tornado season approaches, preparing for these natural disasters is imperative. Tornado preparedness can keep your family safe and prevent loss of life. In this guide, we’ll explain some of the most common misconceptions about tornadoes and debunk these myths so you can stay safe during tornado season and beyond.
Common tornado myths
|You can drive faster than a tornado.||Tornadoes can move over 60 mph. Even if you’re speeding, a tornado can still lift your car when taking 200mph wind speeds into account.|
|The best place for shelter is the southwest corner of your basement.||Tornadoes can move in every direction and don’t spare southwest locations. Experts suggest finding a walled room without windows at the lowest level of your residence.|
|Opening your windows will depressurize your house.||No; it won’t. The National Weather Service advises people to move to the lowest floor or the lowest interior room and focus on protecting yourself from potential flying debris.|
|Taking shelter under an overpass is the safest place to be while driving during a tornado.||This actually increases your risk. Bridges and overpasses may not be stable and could cause traffic hazards for others on the road. Counterintuitively, parking under an overpass offers less protection from flying debris, per the Storm Prediction Center.
Overpasses and bridges can also create a wind tunnel, according to Storm Aware. This causes more damage and puts you at greater risk for flying debris.
|Tornadoes cannot pass through bodies of water, mountains or big cities.||They can and they will. Experts postulate that tornadoes are less likely to form in urban areas, but tall buildings do not affect a tornado’s path or power.
As for bodies of water, the 1974 ‘Super Outbreak’ of tornadoes hit Cincinnati (located near the Ohio River). Some of these tornadoes had a rating of EF-5, which is considered the most destructive tornado by the National Weather Service. Wind speeds range from 260-318 mph.
|The tornado itself is the most dangerous element of the storm.||The Storm Prediction Center says otherwise. Wind speeds and storms cause flying debris, which is what makes tornadoes so fatal and destructive. Being struck by a heavy, flying object is the most dangerous outcome of a tornado, not the tornado itself.|
|Tornadoes only happen during tornado season.||The tornado that hit Kentucky last December proves this myth wrong. While tornadoes typically form in the spring, outliers can be just as deadly.|
|You can see and hear a tornado before it hits.||Don’t wait until you see the funnel or hear the wind before taking shelter. Rain or cloud cover can obscure your view of the tornado and give you less time to react. Be vigilant about checking for weather updates from the NOAA and know the difference between tornado watches and tornado warnings.|
|Tornadoes never strike the same place twice.||Au contraire. Tornadoes do what they want, where they want. The NWS found several instances of this, one being in Arkansas, where three separate tornadoes hit the same church on the same day.
Cordell, Kansas was also struck by a tornado on May 20th for three years in a row (1916, 1917 and 1918).
|If a tornado isn’t coming directly toward you, you’re safe.||Tornadoes can change direction at any time. Tornado paths can be unpredictable, so it’s best to be cautious and seek reliable shelter even if you’re not in the direct path of the tornado.|
How to prepare for tornadoes
Despite the danger, there are some things you can do to prepare yourself for a tornado. If you own a home in a high-risk tornado area, there are a number of preventive measures you can take to protect your property against tornadoes and more importantly, keep your loved ones safe when a tornado approaches.
Here are a few tips for preparing for tornadoes as we head into tornado season:
Survey your home
Ahead of tornado season, it’s a good idea to survey your home and look for areas that could be susceptible to tornado damage. Areas to focus on include your roof, gutters, windows and doors. Use the months before tornado season to make improvements and repairs, if necessary.
For example, if you notice that your roof is showing signs of wear, consider replacing the shingles in affected areas to prevent leaks. You should have your gutters cleaned and double check that they are secured to the side of your house. It’s also important to trim your trees before tornado season. Focus on heavy, low-hanging branches that could break and fall onto the roof or other structures on your property.
Keep your yard clean
Tornado season overlaps with spring and summer, when you’re more likely to be spending time outside. If you have outdoor furniture, planters or a grill outside, consider securing those items, or better yet, bring them inside when you are done using them.
Tornadoes can strike unexpectedly, which means you may not have time for a last-minute yard clean up. Loose items in your yard can easily get swept up in high winds and potentially cause damage to your home or neighboring houses.
Stock your emergency kit
If you live in an area where tornadoes or other natural disasters frequently occur, you should have an easily accessible emergency preparedness kit that is stocked with the essentials. Your kit should include things like:
- Battery-operated radio
- Extra batteries
- Non-perishable food (for several days)
- Bottled water (for several days)
- Emergency blankets
- First aid kit
- Important documents
Ideally, you should keep your emergency kit in your safe shelter area. Otherwise, make sure it’s easy to grab so you can take it into your shelter area if a tornado occurs.
Have a safety plan
The foundation of tornado preparedness lies in your safety plan. Your tornado safety plan should include instructions for where you and your family will seek shelter if a tornado is expected to pass over your area. Common shelter areas include basements, ground-floor bathrooms or any lower-level area that has no windows, like a hallway.
Once you have designated your shelter location, make sure everyone in your home knows the plan so you can act fast. You should also familiarize yourself with how to turn off your utilities, like gas, electricity and water, which can help prevent further damage in a tornado.
Make sure your home insurance policy covers tornado damage
Most standard homeowners insurance policies include tornado damage as a covered peril. You don’t need to add tornado insurance as a separate policy, like you do with flood insurance and earthquake insurance.
However, it’s a good idea to speak with an agent and double check that your policy covers tornado damage, and if so, how much coverage you have. Here are some of the factors that can impact your level of tornado coverage:
- The value of your home
- The amount of personal property coverage you have
- How likely tornadoes are in your area
If you feel like you need more coverage than you already have, you can talk to an agent about increasing your policy limits for additional dwelling or personal property protection. However, keep in mind that your insurance company might limit the amount of coverage you can get for tornadoes, depending on the likelihood of tornadoes in your area.
Pay close attention to local weather updates
When a tornado is expected to approach your area, staying on top of local weather forecasts is imperative. There are a number of places to get weather updates, including your local news station, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and FEMAs’ Emergency Alert System. If your smartphone allows for emergency weather alerts, make sure you and your family members opt in to receive real-time updates.
Most importantly, if a tornado is expected to approach or pass over your area, keep a close eye on alerts throughout the day. Like all types of weather and natural disasters, tornadoes can strike quickly and at any time, even when they are not expected. It’s important to ensure you and your family have enough time to get to a safe area when a tornado nears.