Tornado Warning Signs: What to Watch for and How to Stay Safe

When it comes to bad weather, it can be difficult to tell the difference between an intense thunderstorm and a dangerous tornado. While extreme caution is warranted during even your typical thunderstorm, tornadoes present their own dangers and should be taken seriously under every circumstance. Knowing what signs to watch for will help you recognize when there is a threat of a tornado in your area.

Tornado Watch vs. Tornado Warning

There is often confusion about the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning. A tornado watch means that weather conditions make it possible or likely that a tornado could develop. A tornado warning means a tornado has been spotted in your area, and you should take shelter immediately. The National Weather Service summarizes the terminology by saying “Tornado Watch: Be Prepared! Tornado Warning: Take Action!”

Tornado Warning Signs

While most urban areas have tornado warning sirens, it is always best to know the warning signs to look for during bad weather. You never know when you might be out of range of sirens, and it’s better to play it safe when it comes to tornados. Below are some signs that will help you recognize when a tornado is forming.

  • A greenish, oddly colored sky often precedes a tornado.
  • An eerie stillness after a heavy storm can be a sign that a tornado is about to form.
  • A sound like a waterfall, train, or roar getting louder means a tornado is active.
  • A wall cloud forming or descending from a thunderstorm can be the beginnings of a tornado.
  • A cloud of debris, even if it doesn’t look like a tornado, can mean there is a tornado nearby.
  • Clouds that appear to be rotating or moving in a circular pattern often precede the formation of a tornado.

Having a Safety Plan

No matter where you live, it is important to have a safety plan in case a tornado forms in your area. Tornados can be incredibly destructive, and having an action plan for you and your family can mean the difference between life and death. If you suspect a tornado might be heading in your direction, take the following precautions immediately.

  • Stay away from windows and exterior walls.
  • Shelter under a stairwell, in a closet, or under a heavy piece of furniture in the center of your home.
  • If you have a basement or storm shelter, this is the safest place to go during a tornado.
  • Keep a supply of flashlights, batteries, water, and non-perishable food in your designated shelter.
  • If you are outside, shelter in a low area such as a ditch.

Being aware of these warning signs and taking these safety precautions will help you stay safe when confronted with extreme weather. When in doubt, shelter in a safe place and tune into your local weather service for the most up-to-date weather information.