Emergency Preparedness Tips for Tornadoes

Tornadoes are rotating columns of high winds. Tornadoes can be hard to predict and can move up to 70 km/hour and leave a long path of destruction including uprooted trees, overturned cars, and demolished houses. Beware of flying debris. Even small objects such as sticks and straw can become lethal missiles.

Although they usually strike in the afternoon and early evening, they have been known to strike at night as well. Most tornadoes occur in June and July although the season extends from April to September.  

Tornado warning signs

  • Severe thunderstorms.
  • An extremely dark sky, sometimes highlighted by green or yellow clouds.
  • A rumbling or whistling sound similar to the sound of a freight train.
  • A funnel cloud at the rear base of a thundercloud, often being a curtain of heavy rain or hail.

What to do during a tornado if you are...

In an office building:

  • Take shelter in an inner hallway or room, ideally in the basement or on the ground floor.
  • Do not use the elevator.
  • Stay away from windows.

In a house:

  • Go to the basement or take shelter in a small interior ground floor room.
  • If you have no basement, take shelter under a heavy table or desk.
  • Small rooms tend to be more structurally sound so seek shelter in a hallway, small room, closet or bathroom.
  • In all cases, stay away from windows, outside walls, and doors.

In a gymnasium, church or auditorium:

  • Large buildings with wide-span roofs may collapse, keep away from large rooms such as gymnasiums or auditoriums.
  • If you are in a building and cannot leave, take cover under a sturdy structure such as a table or desk.

In a school:

  • Seek shelter in small windowless rooms such as a washroom instead of a gymnasium.
  • If you are unable to get to a washroom, take cover under a table or desk.

In a vehicle:

  • If you spot a tornado in the distance go to the nearest public building.
  • If a tornado is close, get out of your car and take cover in a low-lying area, such as a ditch.
  • Do not take shelter under an overpass or a bridge.

If you are outdoors:

  • Get as close to the ground as possible, protect your head and watch for flying debris.
  • Avoid wide-span buildings, such as barns, auditoriums, shopping centres and supermarkets with large roofs.
  • Do not chase tornadoes – they are unpredictable and can change course quickly.

Avoid cars and mobile homes

  • More than half of all deaths from tornadoes happen in mobile homes.
  • Find shelter elsewhere, preferably in a building with a strong foundation.
  • If no shelter is available, lie down in a ditch away from the car or mobile home.
  • Beware of flooding from downpours and be prepared to move.

In all cases:

  • Get as close to the ground as possible, protect your head and watch for flying debris.
  • A tornado is deceptive. It may appear to be standing still but is, in fact moving toward you.
  • Check for updates with Environment Canada or The Weather Network.