Tornadoes: Be Prepared in Every Season

When tornado sirens wail, a good response plan can help keep your people safe. Lifesaving actions start with recognizing severe weather conditions, developing a plan for your ministry’s employees and visitors, and being ready to act when a storm hits.

Watch vs. Warning

It’s important to understand the differences between various weather advisories. The National Weather Service can issue the following alerts:

  • A severe thunderstorm watch is issued when severe thunderstorms are possible in and near the watch area. It does not mean that they will occur. 
  • A tornado watch is given when conditions are ideal for a tornado to form. This is the time to start preparing supplies and know where you can take shelter in case a warning is given.
  • A severe thunderstorm warning is issued when thunderstorms with high winds, hail, or both are occurring or imminent.
  • A tornado warning means that a tornado has been sighted or touched down, and you should seek shelter immediately. A warning may be issued only a minute or two before the storm arrives, so it is important to make your safety preparations once a watch has been issued.


Find out if your area has a weather alert siren—your community may call it a civil defense siren—to warn of approaching storms. Contact local emergency professionals and ask whether the siren will signal for a tornado watch or just a tornado warning. Most municipalities perform regular testing. Learn when tests are conducted to ensure you are in range to hear the siren.

Recognize the Signs

According to the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center, look for these signs of a tornado:

  • Strong, persistent rotation in the cloud base.
  • Whirling dust or debris on the ground under a cloud base. Some tornadoes have no visible funnel.
  • Hail or heavy rain followed by either dead calm or a fast, intense wind shift.
  • Loud, continuous roar or rumble, which doesn't fade in a few seconds like thunder.


Be aware: many tornadoes are wrapped in heavy precipitation and can't be seen. If you suspect that a storm is brewing, listen to a weather radio programmed for your area, or check local television and radio broadcasts for the latest updates. 

Be Ready, Year Round

While certain areas of the United States experience a defined tornado season, the National Weather Service cautions that aggressive storms can strike at any time of day, any day of the year, all over the country. To protect those on your property during a storm, consider forming a tornado response plan. Your plan should include:

  • A battery-powered weather radio. You can program the radio to receive alerts for the county you reside in.
  • Weather notifications on your cell phone. Most wireless carriers offer notifications that display severe weather alerts. On most phones, you can enable the feature from your Settings menu—search how-to tips online for your brand of phone. You also can download a free app from the National Weather Service.  
  • A method to warn staff. Text alerts, an intercom system, or two-way radios can quickly alert staff to implement your ministry’s severe weather procedures. 
  • A shelter route. Ministry leadership or your ministry’s safety team should know how to direct people to safety as soon as an evacuation is needed. Pick a place with no windows or outward-facing doors if possible. Schedule regular practice drills.
  • Accessible supplies. Keep extra medical supplies, food, and bottled water handy and ready to bring into your shelter during a storm. Also set aside extra batteries for radios and flashlights.
  • A property inventory. Keep a detailed, accurate inventory of your property, documents, and belongings in case of damage or looting. Use this sample checklist as a guide to get started.


Having these precautions in place can promote a calmer environment in the event of a real tornado. A plan prepared specifically for your ministry creates confidence in your leaders and can decrease the potential for injury because of a storm.

Additional Resources

For more information to help in developing your tornado safety plan, refer to the following resources:

Before, during, and after a tornado resources from
Preparing for a Tornado from the CDC.
Tornado Safety from the American Red Cross.
Is your workplace prepared for a tornado? from the National Safety Council.