Tornado Preparedness

flying cow during tornado GIF
Beware strong winds. Tie down your livestock.

Helen Hunt, where are you when we need you? Tornados are disasters that can strike with little warning and cause massive damage, up to and including transporting entire homes to alternate dimensions (i.e. Oz). They’re also as American as apple pie. Other places have them, but the US is the reigning champ when it comes to frequency and severity. So let’s gird those loins already!

What Happens During a Tornado?

The photo below is from hell. Just kidding, it’s a photo of a tornado in Wray, Colorado on May 7, 2016.

tornado preparedness

It’s scary, it’s dangerous, and might be coming to a town near you. According to, about 1,000 tornadoes tear through the United States every year. In an average year, those tornadoes cause 80 deaths, 1,500 injuries, extensive damage, and untold inconvenience.

The best defense is staying prepared! If you’re not familiar with tornadoes, this page and the next page of this guide will fill any of your tornado knowledge gaps. If you want to jump right into survival mode, skip directly to How to Prepare for a Tornado.

Just the Facts

Since you’ve seen all the tornado movies, you know that a tornado is a cylinder of spinning air that travels along the ground, wreaking windy havoc as it goes. While you might be tempted to call tornadoes twisters or cyclones, the proper name for their shape is a condensation funnel, and they form from cumulonimbus clouds within supercells. Supercells are thunderstorms with warm updrafts. Like Morrissey’s girls, some are bigger than others.

Though the wind speed generated by a tornado might be more than 250 mph, the average tornado moves over the land relatively slowly, at about 50 mph. They can be up to two miles wide and move between 50 to 100 miles before fizzling out. As they move, they pick up soil, debris, water… pretty much anything standing in their way.

A tornado can also have more than one funnel, in case you thought this was sounding too easy.

What’s the Damage?

Wind is the key to any tornado’s success. Wind speed is usually what determines the severity of the damage. The more intense the storm, the higher the wind speed, and the higher the “F” rating.

The Fujita Scale rates tornado-intensity, based on the damage they cause. These ratings range from F0 to F5. 

Rule of Thumb

F0 denotes weak tornadoes with wind speeds lower than 72 mph.
F5 denotes very violent tornadoes with winds around 300 mph. 

F0, F1, F2, and F3 are the most common ratings for tornadoes.

This is F0 tornado damage.

tornado overview

And this is the damage an F5 tornado can do.

tornado damage
If you can’t tell, these used to be houses.

All tornadoes cause flying debris, but the more violent storms can bring your neighborhood these gifts:

  1. Debris as deadly projectiles
  2. Airborne vehicles
  3. Completely destroyed homes

Read on to find out how to prepare for a tornado to keep yourself safe and avoid property damage.

About the Authors

It takes a village! We are researching, writing and fact checking as a family. Collaboration is the name of the game, whether we’re running from a zombie horde or finding the best way to turn a complex concept into a deliciously digestible set of bullet points.

Katherine Esperanza is a Los Angeles based writer. When she's not conjuring new queer slice-of-life short stories, she's busy watching the newest films, out at queer shows, supporting queer artists, or just checking out the queer community as a whole.

A former international non-profiteer, small business owner, and co-op'er, Katherine is delighted to help introduce more leftist politics into the disaster preparedness/prepper sphere, which is currently far too right-wing.