A tornado is a violently rotating column of air that is in contact with and extending between a convective cloud and the surface of the earth. It can produce winds of one hundred to three hundred miles per hour and usually develops after a thunderstorm. It is the most destructive of all storm-scale atmospheric phenomena.

Tornadoes can occur anywhere in the world given the right conditions, but they occur most frequently in the United States in an area bounded by the Rocky Mountains in the west and the Appalachian Mountains in the east.

In the United States, an average of one thousand tornadoes occur every year, which, on average, cause sixty deaths. However, the chances that a tornado will strike the building that you are in are very small, and, by doing a few simple things, you can reduce the chance of injury.

The most important thing you can do to prevent being injured in a tornado is to be alert in case of severe weather. Listen to your local news or radio or check the Tornado Project Online Web site.

  • If a tornado watch is issued for your area, it means that a tornado is possible.
  • If a tornado warning is issued, it means that a tornado has actually been spotted in your area. Go to a safe shelter immediately.

Look for the following environmental clues to help predict if a tornado will strike:

  • A dark, often greenish sky
  • A wall cloud
  • Large hail
  • A loud roar, similar to a freight train

Know how to protect yourself before a tornado strikes.

1. Contact your local National Weather Service (NWS) office; emergency management or civil defense office; and American Red Cross (ARC) chapter to learn your community's warning signals and evacuation plans. Discuss the information that you gather with your family and friends, and develop a survival plan.

  • Pick two places to meet in the event a tornado strikes: (1) a spot outside (but nearby) your home and (2) a place away from your neighborhood in case you can't return home.
  • Designate an out-of-state friend as your "check-in contact" for everyone to call if the family gets separated.
  • Discuss what you would do if advised to evacuate.
  • Have your family learn basic safety measures, such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and first aid; how to use a fire extinguisher; and how and when to turn off the water, gas, and electricity in your home.
  • Keep enough supplies in your home to meet your needs for at least three days, e.g., water, extra clothing, blankets, a first aid kit, emergency tools, and batteries. Store these supplies in sturdy, easy-to-carry containers, such as backpacks or duffle bags. (Replace stored water and food every six months.)
2. Maintain and practice your plan by asking questions to make sure your family remembers the meeting places and scheduling practice emergency drills.

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