Known for their violent, destructive nature, approximately 1,200 tornadoes strike the United States each year. Due to their usually quick formation, warnings for tornadoes are released only minutes before the potential strike so knowing what to do is essential for safety during a tornadic event.
While Tornado Alley is notorious for high numbers of tornadoes, twisters can erupt anywhere throughout the U.S. and the world dependent upon storm conditions.
Developing from severe thunderstorms, the actual formation of a tornado is still not fully understood, but specific conditions of the atmosphere are commonly known for producing the twisters.
"A tornado is the updraft of a thunderstorm," AccuWeather Meteorologist Dave Samuhel said. "Ground-up winds blowing in different directions with some spin already in the atmosphere can produce a tornado."
Tornadoes feed on moisture and as a result the bigger the difference between the air at the ground and the air higher up in the atmosphere is, the more likely it is that a tornado could be created.
"Warm, humid air at the ground and colder air aloft can help a tornado form," AccuWeather Meteorologist Dave Dombeck said.
Although some tornado events can be predicted, others give no warnings. However, some signs can be indicative of tornado formation including strong winds with cloud-based rotation, whirling dust and debris, hail and a loud rumble sounding similar to a moving train.
At night, occasionally bright blue or green colored flashes, indicating snapped power lines, can mark a twister.
Other than natural signs of a potential tornado, residents should pay close attention to their local weather service, as tornado watches and warnings will be issued in the event of a threat.
A tornado watch means that tornadoes are possible in the area, but a tornado warning signifies that a tornado has been sighted in the area or indicated on weather radar. During a watch, people should remain alert for a potential tornado, but when a warning is issued residents should take cover immediately.
Location is key when seeking safety from a tornado, but depending on location, a different set of steps must be followed to remain as safe as possible during a severe weather outbreak.
No matter what the circumstance, mobile homes should always be abandoned during a potential tornado outbreak. Even when these homes are tied down, these are still extremely unsafe. Residents should always seek out a local tornado shelter or head to a designated shelter.
When inside a house or apartment building, the lowest floor is typically the safest place to be. Basements are the best option, but an interior room on the floor closest to the ground are other options. Bathrooms, closets, spaces under staircases or rooms without windows are the best second option.
Gathering keys, prescription medications and wallets should be done before a tornado warning is issued and shelter is sought out.
When in the safest room available, use a mattress or blanket to cover oneself for protection if a tornado strikes. If able, wear sturdy shoes as debris after the storm, such as broken glass, may cause injury without proper shoes.
A safe place can be hard to find outdoors, but a cave or ditch can provide some protection.
The two most important things to remember when outside during a potential tornado outbreak are cover your head and find something to hold onto.
When in a Vehicle:
This can be one of the worst places to be when a tornado hits, as it provides little safety from a tornado's high winds, so it is critical that vehicles are abandoned immediately or driven out of the path of a storm.
As tornadoes generally track either southwest to northeast or west to east, driving at a right angle to the storm can sometimes enable drivers to get away from the dangers of the storm.
However, driving away is not always the best option as tornadoes can be unpredictable and change directions sporadically. If a storm can be spotted by the eye, the safest thing to do is get away from the vehicle and search for a sturdy shelter.
When looking for shelter, motorists should avoid hiding under overpasses, as these provide a false sense of safety but are not actually protective.
As a last resort, drivers should lie flat in a ditch and cover the head until the storm passes.