When tornado season arrives, typically between April and July, every apartment resident needs to know where to go in a tornado.
Tornadoes don’t always come with a warning, and the worst of them can pack wind speeds of more than 300 miles per hour — tearing a home or building from its foundation. If you don’t have a basement, the natural question is where should you go during a tornado? How can you create a tornado shelter right in your own apartment?
Where to go in your apartment during a tornado
Let’s review tornado safety for apartment dwellers, from where to take shelter during a tornado to what to do in your apartment during a tornado.
Where in your apartment complex should you take shelter during a tornado? Here are some basic safety tips:
Take cover as close to the ground as possible
The safest place to go in a tornado is always down — down in a basement, the first floor or a covered parking garage on the ground floor. If you live on the ground floor, great! If not, get to the lowest level of your apartment building immediately.
Apartment dwellers on higher floors should seek similar shelter. If there aren’t any options below ground, a neighbor’s ground-floor unit is the safest bet.
Also, if you live in a building with interior stairwells, you can go to the lowest floor and under the stairs to hide in a tornado.
Pick your next best option — hide away from windows
If the storm is bearing down on your apartment complex, a tornado warning is in action — or you can’t go underground — the next safest place to seek shelter during a tornado is the furthest from the windows. This way you avoid the potential of flying debris. Choose an interior room, closet or hallway for shelter.
Bathrooms are often considered safer for the plumbing structures that surround them. If you’re in a high-rise building and can’t get to the ground floor, get to the hallways in the center of the building and take shelter there until the tornado passes.
What to do during a tornado watch or severe weather: Protect your body
Whether you’re taking shelter in a basement or hiding in a bathroom to stay safe during a tornado, you have one thing to do: Protect your body. You can do this by covering your head and neck with your arms.
Get in the tub or closet and cover up with thick blankets, sleeping bags, pillows — even a whole mattress. These can help keep you safer in the event that debris begins to fly.
Bicycle helmets are also a great way to protect your head from possible injury if the roof or ceiling ends up compromised. It’s smart to keep a helmet in your apartment if you live in a tornado zone.
During and after a tornado, you’ll want to protect your lungs from debris, so consider wearing a mask or protective face covering, too.
Know the signs of a tornado
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), there’s no substitute for staying alert to the sky when it comes to tornadoes. Here are some signs to look and listen for:
- Strong, persistent rotation in the cloud base
- Whirling dust or debris on the ground under a cloud base — tornadoes don’t always have a funnel cloud
- Hail or heavy rain followed either by the dead calm of a fast, intense wind shift. Many tornadoes come wrapped in precipitation and can’t always be seen.
- A loud, continuous roar or rumble, which doesn’t fade in a few seconds like thunder
- At night: Small, bright, blue-green to white flashes at ground level near a thunderstorm (as opposed to silvery lightning up in the clouds). These mean power lines got snapped by very strong winds.
- At night: Persistent lowering from the cloud base, illuminated or silhouetted by lightning — especially if it’s on the ground or there’s a blue-green-white power flash underneath.
Be prepared during peak season with a temporary tornado shelter
It’s important to have a plan for where to go during a tornado, even if you don’t live in an area where such storms are common.
Practice tornado drills with your family or roommates, and coordinate with neighbors and your apartment community’s management team. Find out ahead of time if there’s a public tornado shelter in your neighborhood. If there is, learn its location and the fastest route to get there.
Put together a tornado emergency kit that’s easy to grab and bring to your sheltering place when there’s a warning. You should include a battery-powered radio and flashlight, extra batteries, any prescription medications and a first-aid kit.
Make sure you have water — one gallon per person, per day, to last three days— non-perishable food, a manual can opener, baby formula and diapers, if applicable.
Pet owners should make sure to have food, water and other important items on hand for your furry friend, too. If you have a pet and see a tornado warning, it’s smart to get them in a harness and keep them on a leash so you can easily grab them and go.
Staying safe after a tornado
If there’s damage from the tornado, keep your family or group together and wait for emergency crews to arrive. If there are injuries, tend to victims carefully.
Debris is dangerous — there will likely be broken glass and sharp objects everywhere — so steer clear. Downed power lines could still be live with electricity. Don’t touch them or anything metal nearby!
If it’s dark, don’t use matches or lighters — gas lines may have leaked. Flashlights are the only safe option in the immediate aftermath of a tornado. Remain calm and call for help.