[Skip to Content]

Tornadoes: Helping Your Family Be Prepared

Medically reviewed by: Melanie L. Pitone, MD

Tornadoes can happen anytime and anyplace with little warning, so it’s important to be prepared. Having a plan can make the idea of the storms less stressful for your whole family. They’ll know what to do and when to do it. Here are some tips.

How Can My Family Be Ready for a Tornado?

Learn the warning signs. Explain to kids that if there’s a tornado nearby, there will likely be an alert on phones, TVs, and radios. Some places have outdoor warning sirens that will sound. 

The storms can also happen with no warning, so teach kids the signs of an approaching tornado, like:

  • a cone-shaped cloud that spins and is near the ground
  • a cloud of debris (broken objects)
  • a green or dark sky
  • big hail (balls of ice)
  • a loud roaring noise that may sound like a train

Know where to go and what to do. Teach kids what to do in case of a tornado before one ever happens. This way, they’ll know to quickly go to a safe spot in your home. Explain that if a tornado is on the way, everyone should get to the lowest part of the house and away from windows and doors. If you have a basement or storm cellar, go there. If you don't, go to a windowless room in the middle of the home, like a closet or bathroom. If you can, get under something strong, like a table, and cover yourself with a blanket.

If you live in a mobile home or anyone is outside or in a car when a tornado nears, try to get to a storm shelter or nearby building that’s strong.

If you can’t reach a sturdy building, get to low ground (like a ditch), lie flat, and protect your head and neck. If kids are out riding their bikes when a tornado hits, tell them to keep their helmets on for protection.

Stay in the safe place until you hear that it's OK to come out.

Review school and daycare disaster plans. In areas where tornadoes often hit, schools and daycares may teach kids what to do in case of an emergency. Go over the plans with your child.

Choose a meeting place. Have somewhere the whole family can meet in case you become separated during or after the tornado. This could be a place like a neighbor’s home or a local landmark.

Pack emergency kits. Tornadoes can cause the loss of power, water, and other utilities, so create storm prep kits. Older kids can help. Include things like a weather radio, water, canned food, flashlights, batteries, and battery-powered phone chargers. You may need to evacuate or stay home, so prepare a to-go kit and a stay-at-home kit. The Red Cross has full supply lists online.

Infants will need extra items like formula and diapers. Kids who have a medical condition like asthma, diabetes, or one that requires electrical equipment like a ventilator, may need other supplies. Your doctor can tell you what to get.

Kids can help collect the items or shop with you. Think about what food and supplies pets would need as well.

Have extra clothes. Pack a set of clothes for each family member. Include shoes or boots — if someone is barefoot or in socks, stepping on glass from things like broken windows could be dangerous. Also consider packing a long-sleeved shirt, jacket, and pants. Kids in pajamas, for example, won’t be very protected when it is time to leave your safe area if there is debris or broken glass.

Gather first aid supplies. It’s important to have a first-aid kit on hand. Kids can help you stock it and see if any supplies have expired.

After a tornado, 911 emergency services may be very busy or delayed by blocked roads. As part of your storm preparation, consider taking a first aid or CPR class with your teen. Some are even available online.

Prepare your phone. Keep cellphones fully charged. Downloading a weather app can keep you up to date on where the tornado is. Also, program the numbers for utility companies in case you lose service. 

It may be hard to visit your doctor after a storm, so see if telehealth visits are available in your area. There might be an app you can add to your phone beforehand.

Check on neighbors. If you’re in an area where tornadoes are likely to happen, kids can help you check on older adults or other neighbors who might need help gathering supplies.

What Else Should I Know?

Even if your family does all the possible prep work, the thought of a tornado can be a lot for kids to handle. Learn how to talk with them about the storm and ease any fears they have. 

If your home or neighborhood has damage after a tornado, check the CDC's tips on how to stay safe.

Medically reviewed by: Melanie L. Pitone, MD
Date reviewed: January 2024