Tornadoes are rotating columns of high winds1 that can last anywhere from a few minutes to over an hour.2 They can move at speeds exceeding 100 km/hour.3 They come in different shapes and sizes, but are all potentially destructive. They can uproot trees, lift debris, level buildings and more. Urban centres are not immune from the threat of severe tornadoes. Tornadoes are preceded by warning signs such as:
- Intense thunderstorms with a lot of thunder and lightning
- A very dark sky sometimes greenish sky
- A loud, continuous and menacing rumbling sound, like that of a freight train or a whistling sound
- Whirling debris under a cloud base
- A funnel cloud (but a funnel cloud is not always visible in the event of a tornado).4
Here are some tips to help you stay safe in a tornado.
If you live in an area prone to tornadoes, listen to the radio for tornado warnings during severe thunderstorms.
When you hear a tornado warning
- Gather family members and pets inside.
- Make sure windows and doors are closed.
- If you have time, make sure outdoor items such as garbage cans, recycling bins and garden furniture are secured.
Flying debris poses the greatest risk to personal safety during a tornado.
The best place to be in a tornado is the lower level of a building with strong foundations. Avoid buildings with wide unsupported roofs such as school gymnasiums and auditoriums.
During a tornado
If you are at home:
- Go to the basement or a small room on the ground floor, such as a bathroom or closet.
- You can also take shelter under a heavy table or desk.
If you are in an office or an apartment building:
- Take shelter in an inner hallway, interior stairwell or windowless room, preferably in the basement or on the ground floor.
- Crouch down and cover your head.
- Do not use elevators.
- Stay clear of windows, outside walls and doors.
If you are driving:
- If you spot a tornado in the distance, get off the road as soon as possible and go to the nearest sturdy shelter. A tornado can appear to be standing still but may in fact be moving towards you.
- If there is no shelter nearby and you can safely get to a spot lower than the level of the roadway, such as a ditch, leave your car and go lie face down there, covering your head with your hands. A car can be tossed by tornado winds.
- If you must remain in the car, keep your seat belt on, put your head below window level and cover yourself with a blanket or coat.