Tornadoes are almost a certainty during Arkansas’ spring and summer months. Do you know how to stay safe before, during and after a tornado? Learn how with these tips.

Tornadoes can produce winds of up to 300 miles per hour, travel 100 miles or more and touch down with deadly force multiple times. They can occur any time of day or night and any time of the year. However, tornadoes are more frequent in spring and summer and most occur between midday to midnight.

Plan ahead now

To be prepared, develop an emergency plan for your family. Easy-to-follow emergency planning and different types of emergency kits are included on this Department of Homeland Security website.

Identify a safe place to shelter during the storm, wherever you are.

  • At home, the safest places are a basement, storm cellar, safe room or interior room without windows, on lowest floor. Be sure your family knows where to go. If there are children or impaired persons in your family, practice regular tornado drills.
  • In a high-rise building, shelter in a hallway or stairwell in the center of the building, unless you have time to use stairs to get to lowest floor, away from windows.
  • In a mobile home, always leave and go to an emergency shelter. No mobile home is safe in a tornado or strong winds. Know the best route to get to a shelter and an alternate route if roads are blocked or flooded.
  • At your workplace, children’s school and any place where you spend a lot of time, check on safe-shelter locations. Ask about conducting tornado drills – they can reduce fear, confusion and save lives.

Other precautions include:

  • Check your emergency kit at least twice a year and restock as needed. Keep it in a safe but easy-to-grab place. At a minimum, the Red Cross says your kit should include:
    • Water – a gallon per person for three days
    • Food – three days of non-perishable items and can opener
    • Flashlight with extra batteries
    • Radio – battery or hand-crank
    • Medications and medical items for seven days
    • First aid kit
    • Personal hygiene items and blanket
    • Copies of personal documents including medication list, medical information, birth and marriage certificates, deed or lease to home, passports, birth certificates, insurance policies, family and emergency contact information
    • Extra cash
    • Cell phone and chargers
  • Make an inventory of your property and belongings that includes purchase price and date of purchase. Photos and videos are particularly helpful after a disaster. Store inventory with valuable documents.
  • Make your trees more wind resistant by removing diseased, dead or damaged limbs.
  • Remove any debris or loose items in your yard. Branches, firewood, patio furniture, barbeque grills or doghouses may become missiles in strong winds. Most injuries and deaths are caused by high winds and being struck by flying or falling debris.

Watch or warning?

  • Know the difference between a tornado watch and a warning. A watch means a tornado is possible. A warning means a tornado is already occurring or about to occur nearby and you should take shelter immediately.
  • Listen to local radio, TV or a NOAA radio for updates.
  • Watch for warning signs of tornadoes if you can do so safely – dark or greenish clouds, a wall cloud or cloud of debris.
  • Bring pets inside and maintain direct control of them. Animals often sense a storm before a warning is issued and may try to hide in unsafe places.

Surviving outdoors

The American Red Cross recommends finding shelter outdoors:

  • In any sturdy building. Do not shelter under trees or near tall poles. Stay away from overpasses and bridges.
  • Get into a vehicle if you cannot get to a shelter; buckle seat belt and try to drive to nearest shelter or sturdy building.
  • If debris starts flying while driving, pull over and park with engine running and seat belt on; get your head below the windows and cover it with arms or a blanket.

After the storm

After a tornado, the wreckage leaves additional safety risks. Downed power lines, broken gas lines, shifting or falling debris, unsafe water or contaminated food, injured or dead people are just a few of the horrors after the storm passes.

  • Check for injuries. If you are trained, provide first aid and contact emergency medical responders.
  • Let family and friends know you are safe. The Red Cross urges you to register at its Safe and Well website. This is a way to enter information about your safety, allowing family and friends to check your status. Registering is voluntary and free; you can update your information at any time. You can register from any computer or you can register at an emergency shelter. You only need to list your name, address and phone number. You may also enter one or more standard messages to describe your status, or add a short personal message and/or the condition of your home. To search for you, your family and friends need your name and either your address or phone number. A successful search will reveal your name, the message (s) you selected and the “as of date” you left the message. You can add additional messages at any time, as your status changes. To help locate missing persons, help reunite loved ones, or provide other disaster relief services, the Red Cross may provide this registration information to other aid organizations. However, the Red Cross observes strict privacy and confidentiality policies. You cannot find where someone is located unless they choose to enter this information. If you are searching for a loved one who has a serious, pre-existing health or mental health condition, you may start an Emergency Information Request by calling your local American Red Cross Chapter or 1-800-RED-CROSS.
  • If evacuated, do not return until authorities say it is safe. Stay tuned to area news for updates, and safety and/or relief information.
  • Pay attention to those around you and how they are handling injuries and stress. Common emotional reactions to a disaster include exhaustion, sadness, numbness, and feeling lonely or worried. Disaster victims may have trouble making decisions or staying focused on what needs to be done; become easily frustrated, angry or argue; and have changes in appetite and sleep patterns. Children are particularly vulnerable to emotional reactions after a disaster. A child’s view of the world as a safe and predictable place is temporarily lost. If parents and other adults try to stay positive and supportive after a traumatic event, it helps children recover more quickly and more completely.
  • For most people, most of their negative reactions to disaster go away with time. If you or a loved one are not recovering emotionally or in crisis, contact the Disaster Distress Hotline at 1-800-985-5990, sponsored by the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration.

Return home safely

  • Stay away from damaged buildings.
  • Check the outside of your home for loose power lines, foundation cracks, missing support beams or other damage before entering.
  • If the door is jammed, don’t force it open because it may be supporting other parts of the structure.
  • If you smell gas or hear a hissing sound, leave immediately and get far away; call the fire department after you reach safety.
  • If you have a propane tank system, turn off all valves and contact your propane supplier to inspect it before using.
  • Don’t hold, push or lean against damaged parts of a building.
  • If your ceiling is sagging that means it got wet, is very heavy and dangerous. Poking the sagging area could cause the whole ceiling to collapse on you. Start at the edges to release water slowly.
  • Sagging floors often collapse. Place a strong board over the sagging area that extends at least a foot on both sides before walking on it.
  • Take photographs and write a description of the damage to your home and its contents, outbuildings and other damaged property. You will need this for insurance and disaster relief.