It’s difficult to think of your home being hit by a tornado, but being prepared for that possibility could mean the difference between life or death. Tornadoes are wild, unpredictable and happen extremely quickly, which gives you very little time to take emergency precautions. The best thing for those in states affected by tornadoes is to prepare ahead of time, as much as possible, for the worst-case scenario. This guide will help you ensure that you are severe storm ready!

Create A Plan

The most important step of tornado preparation is to create a plan for you and your family. If you do not have a shelter, discuss which interior room in your home you will use or where you should go on days when severe weather might occur. Do you have a family member or friend who will let you access their storm shelter? Being mentally prepared and having a course of action is incredibly important.

Install A Shelter

The best way to ensure the safety of you and your family is to install a storm shelter. Underground shelters provide the maximum amount of protection, and can withstand an EF4 or EF5 class tornado, which are strong enough to rip homes off their foundations. Specifically built, above ground storm shelters, that meet certain engineering criteria can also withstand EF4 and EF5 tornadoes. Above ground shelters may be better options for those with disabilities, the elderly, or people who have a phobia of being underground.

During the strongest of tornadoes, storm shelters are the only way to best assure your safety. If you already have a storm shelter, it is good to check it at least twice a year to ensure it is in good order. Check for any cracks that might have occurred, and make sure the hinges and latch are working properly. Keeping your storm shelter clean is also necessary, getting rid of any bugs that have made a home and clearing out any dust or debris that may have accumulated.

Build an Emergency Kit

Having a premade emergency kit is essential in times of severe weather. Keep these kits well stocked and easily accessible, either in your storm shelter or somewhere you can grab it quickly in the event of a tornado. Depending on the items you have in your kit, the essentials can be put together without much cost, and any size kit is well worth having. The Department of Homeland Security has put together a list of what an emergency kit for any natural disaster should contain. The items listed here, as well as any additional information can be found at

When putting together your emergency kit, think of any items you may need for specific family members. Seniors, children and pets might need additional items. Any medications taken by you or members of your family need to be thought of and prepared for. Helmets, to protect from flying debris, are also important items to keep with your kits and each family member should have one ready.

After a tornado, it could take hours or even days for help to reach you, so make sure you have plenty of supplies. According to the Department of Homeland Security, your kit needs to have food, water and supplies for each person for at least 3 days. These are the essential items listed on

  • Water- one gallon of water per person per day for 3 days, for drinking and sanitation
  • Food – 3 days of non-perishable food
  • Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert
  • Flashlight
  • First aid kit
  • Extra batteries
  • Whistle to signal for help
  • Dust mask to help filter contaminated air and plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place
  • Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation
  • Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
  • Manual can opener for food
  • Local maps
  • Cell phone with chargers and a backup battery

The following items are listed as items that may be required for individual needs.

  • Prescription medications
  • Non-prescription medications such as pain relievers, anti-diarrhea medication, antacids or laxatives
  • Glasses and contact lens solution
  • Infant formula, bottles, diapers, wipes, diaper rash cream
  • Pet food and extra water for your pet
  • Cash or travelers checks
  • Sleeping bag or warm blanket for each person
  • Complete change of clothing appropriate for your climate and sturdy shoes
  • Household chlorine bleach and medicine dropper to disinfect water
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Matches in a waterproof container
  • Feminine supplies and personal hygiene items
  • Mess kits, paper cups, plates, paper towels and plastic utensils
  • Paper and pencil
  • Books, games, puzzles or other activities for children

It is also recommended to keep important documents in a safe place, either electronically or in a waterproof, portable container. These may include identification and bank account records, insurance policies and household inventory with pictures and possibly videos of valuable items, wills, birth and marriage certificates, etc.

Think of Your Pets

Pets are not only companions but valued members of the family. If a tornado does strike, you need to ensure that your pets are taken care of as well. The ASPCA (the American Society to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) has put together information on how to keep your pet or farm animals safe during a time of emergency or evacuation.  This information can be found on their site at

The ASPCA also gives a guide of what items to include in an emergency kit for your pet, which needs to be prepared alongside yours. These items include;

    • Pet first-aid kit and guide book (ask your vet what to include)
    • 3-7 days’ worth of canned (pop-top) or dry food (be sure to rotate every two months)
    • Disposable litter trays (aluminum roasting pans are perfect)
    • Litter or paper toweling
    • Liquid dish soap and disinfectant
    • Disposable garbage bags for clean-up
    • Pet feeding dishes and water bowls
    • Extra collar or harness as well as an extra leash
    • Photocopies and/or USB of medical records and a waterproof container with a two-week supply of any medicine your pet requires (Remember, food and medications need to be rotated out of your emergency kit—otherwise they may go bad or become useless)
    • At least seven days’ worth of bottled water for each person and pet (store in a cool, dry place and replace every two months)
    • A traveling bag, crate or sturdy carrier, ideally one for each pet
    • Flashlight
    • Blanket
    • Recent photos of your pets (in case you are separated and need to make “Lost” posters)
    • Especially for cats: Pillowcase, toys, scoop-able litter
    • Especially for dogs: Extra leash, toys and chew toys, a week’s worth of cage liner

Home Maintenance and Preparation 

Home damage can be reduced with proper upkeep of your property. Most damage from tornadoes come from flying debris, but there are ways you can try to minimize large debris missiles from forming. Check your fences to make sure they are sturdy and in good order. Metal fence posts can withstand much higher wind speeds than wooden posts, which means a better chance of your fence remaining intact.

Tree limbs not only cause damage by becoming missile debris during larger tornadoes, but can come crashing down during storms with high winds. Smashed cars, roofs and other property damage has resulted from loose limbs. Keeping your tree limbs trimmed, as well as making sure your trees are in good health can help avoid disaster.

Over time, doors and windows can become loose or cracked, which means they could fly open or break during high winds. Check the frames, latches and window panes to ensure they are all working properly. Tightening or replacing screws and resealing are simple fixes that can make a world of difference, and if they are not in good order, a complete replacement of the door or window is well worth it.

The Day of a Severe Storm

If a severe storm is in the forecast, it’s time to do last minute preparations. Double check your emergency kit to make sure it is full and easily accessible, and make sure all batteries on all devices and backup batteries are on full charge. Wear clothes with long sleeves, long pants and sneakers, boots or other close-toed and sturdy shoes. If you are going to a safe place or shelter other than your home, do not wait until too late to leave. Give yourself plenty of time to get there safely, well before a tornado watch is in effect.

Last minute preparations to your home need to happen before severe weather arrives. Bring any patio furniture, potted plants, garden tools and other outdoor items inside or into the garage. High winds can cause these items to fly into windows, causing serious damage to either your home or the homes around you.

Follow your plan

The most important things to do are to:  keep yourself updated on what is happening with the weather, and to follow your emergency plans you have set into place. Keep close to a television or storm radio and make sure you know where the storm is and what is going on. Familiarize yourself with meteorologist terms, such as the difference between “tornado warning” and “tornado watch” and make sure you pay careful attention to them. With the preparations you have made, you can feel safer knowing that even in the event of a disaster, your family and home are better protected.

by Sierra Waldrop