Tornado Safety

Contributor: Lindsey Congalosi. Lesson ID: 13265

Tornadoes have occurred on every continent (except Antarctica) and every U.S. state. They kill 80 people a year and injure over 1,500. Learn how to stay safe from these deadly natural disasters!


Earth Science, Health and Wellness, Practical Life Skills

Life Skills
learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Otter, Beaver
Grade Level
High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Quick Query

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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Watch the opening scene for the 1996 movie Twister.

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As you saw in the clip, a tornado warning had been issued.

  • What exactly does this mean?
  • What should you do if you find out a tornado warning has been issued for your area?

Read more to find out!

What is the difference between a tornado watch and a warning?

incoming storm

  • Have you ever been watching a television program only to have your show interrupted by an announcement about an impending thunderstorm or tornado?
  • Or perhaps you received an alert from your phone or the radio?

tornado sign

  • Did you ignore the message and continue your day or seek shelter?

If you hear there is a tornado watch, then you should do exactly that. Watch.

A tornado watch means a tornado could form. It means the atmosphere is behaving in a way that can produce tornadoes. This means warm, humid air from the south is mixing with cold, dry air from the north.

(Check out the Additional Resource, found in the right-hand sidebar, to learn more about how tornadoes form.)


Tornado watches generally cover a large area, such as several counties, because it is impossible to tell where the tornado will form.

A tornado warning is much more serious than a watch.

tornado warning sign

Contrary to what some people believe, a warning does not mean that a tornado is already on the ground. However, It does mean that air has started to rotate quickly, creating a funnel cloud. The funnel could still be in the sky, but touchdown is likely and imminent.

Tornado warnings cover a much smaller area than a watch. A tornado warning is specific to where the tornado has been spotted.

That means that if you are somewhere with a tornado warning, you really need to act! Get to safety immediately — you may only have a few minutes or less!

Where is the safest place during a tornado?

In Twister, the family goes into their underground bunker, also known as a storm cellar, to avoid the tornado.

A storm cellar is one of the safest places to be during a tornado because it is built to keep people safe during violent storms.

storm cellar

Storm cellars are most popular in the Midwest, where tornadoes are most common.

Ideally, the cellar is built close to, but not directly next to, the house. This is so that if the house collapses during the storm, the family can still open the door of the cellar to get out.

The storm cellar is usually made from strong material like concrete, but older ones may have been simply dug into the ground.

If you do not have a storm cellar, your next safest place is in the basement, far away from walls and windows.


If possible, take shelter under something heavy and sturdy, such as a table or desk.

If you do not have a basement, go to an interior room — one on the inside part of your house without windows to the outside.

A bathroom is usually the best option after a basement. Bathrooms generally do not have large windows, and the pipes in the walls can help them stay standing.

dog in the bathtub

Sit in the bathtub and protect your head with something sturdy.

Watch the following video for more tips on how to stay safe during a tornado.

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What should you do outside during a tornado?

The answer is it depends.

approaching tornado

You may be traveling in a car, outside at an event, or even in the middle of a field. The most important thing is to find shelter!

Just like the basement is the safest place in your home, get as far below ground as possible. Seek shelter in a ditch if no basements or storm cellars are nearby.

You should also get as far away from any cars as possible so that the tornado does not throw them on top of you.

Watch this scene from Twister to see what happens when Bill, Jo, and their friends encounter a tornado while outside at a drive-in movie theater.

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Bill knew to get everyone into the pit at a nearby garage as quickly as possible, and Jo knew that her friend would not be safe inside his truck.

You also saw how dangerous debris flying in the brief tornado winds can be. Always keep your head down.

Now that you know how to stay safe in a tornado, blow on over to the Got It? section to test your skills and play some games.

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