Where Should I Go During a Tornado?

Updated on April 28, 2011
C.M. asks from Harpers Ferry, WV
28 answers

So, we were on a tornado warning in our area, now we are just on a tornado watch until 2am. But, I really don't know where to go in our home. We are in a townhome. We do not have a basement. Main level is WIDE open with the kitchen, and living room just an open space, with BIG windows on both sides. There is a bathroom on this floor too, but it also has a big window. Upstairs we have 3 bedrooms. All rooms have windows. There is a bathroom in my bedroom, but we have a glass shower door. We do have another bathroom upstairs that has a bath tub but I have been hearing that you should NOT go upstairs. So what should I do? I'm having the kids sleep in my bed tonight with me. My husband is away at police academy in another state and won't be home for 3 more weeks. We just moved here to Virginia from California back in January. I'm not used to this and I am terrified right now! I really don't think I will sleep tonight. The tornado that did touch down was only about an hour away from me and even though the warning is over, I'm still shaken up and worried that at any time it could turn back into a warning. I'm actually regretting moving here now and I really don't think I can handle this every year. What should I do right now?

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So What Happened?

*Update #2
Things were starting to look really bad, but I think they have settled at least for now. I have brought the kids down to the couch and we will all sleep together down here. I have emptied the hall closet and put a blanket, flash light, water, and first aide kit in there. I called the police dept. and the lady I talked to just said that the really bad part is in Manassas (which is about 30 minutes from me) and we are just on a watch. She said the best place for us would be the closet not the hallway or bathroom because everywhere does have a window. The hall way opens up to the living room and is close to the sliding glass door. So, I'm exausted and have to get up early to take my 6 year old to school. The news is over and I can't find anything else on TV about it now. I do have weather allerts on my phone though. Thank you for all the sugestions and prayers. I do believe in prayer and I do believe that God's angels are watching out for me and my kids now. Going to try to sleep a little. Thank you!!

Well, we do have a hall closet but it's right next to the front door, so it does have an exterior wall. Our pantry isn't a walk in and has shelfs from the floor on up. We don't have a space under our stairs either. I did take stuff out of the hall closet since that is the only place that we could fit in that doesn't have a window. I agree, this is a poor design. My kids right now (ages 6 and 3) are sleeping in my bed right now. Maybe we should camp out on the couch just incase so we are closer to the closet?
Oh, and the earth quakes that we had in CA really weren't all that bad. I would take an earth quake any day over tornado's!
But, do you think the hall closet would be the safest place?

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answers from Daytona Beach on

do you have under the stairs storage area or closet? I would go there. don't go upstairs. and don't go in a bathroom that has a window. my house is wide open also and i don't have any closets that could fit all of my family. they all have shelves all the way up and down them. i go into the hallway and shut all the doors and grab a mattress off of one of my kids beds to put over us. one post that was on here a few weeks ago dealt with this also and one of the ladies mentioned putting helmets on the kids. i thought that was a really good idea.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Jacksonville on

Lived in tornado alley all the way up till now. If you have a closet downstairs get into that. If not go to the most interior room you have. If you are worried about the shower door shattering take some blankets and pillows, or even couch cushions and get under those. I don't know, do you guys have tornado sirens? We used to not even worry till those things were blaring.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Richmond on

It's generally not that bad here in VA - we happen to be having a bad season this year. The hall closet is a good place to go. Also, if you don't have anywhere without windows and the storm is truly there, you can go into the bathtub and pull a mattress over you. I know it's freaking you out right now but, again, it's generally not this bad.

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answers from Phoenix on

I haven't read all of the responses, but having grown up in the Midwest and having spent many times in many places waiting out tornado watches and warnings, I wanted to add my two cents. While ideally you want a room with no windows, your bathtub on the first floor is safer than your closet because the walls surrounding it are stronger. Get your heaviest blankets/comforters together and put them in the tub for tonight. Keep your tv or radio on and have everyone bunk in the living room for the night. If it changes from a watch to a warning take the radio into the bathroom with you and get everyone into the tub. Be prepared to cover yourselves completely with the heavy blankets in the event things get really bad, to protect yourselves from flying glass and debris. Talk to your kids about the plan before they go to sleep, so they know what to do and what to expect. Stay safe tonight!

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Honolulu on

A closet in the center of the house. If that is not an option turn your couch over and get under it.

(grew up in Kansas... we had at least 20 warning each year!)

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answers from Boston on

I think they say closets. Lots of support from walls close together. Clean one out of the boots and shoes so you can squeeze in if necessary. How about garage? You can also tape up the glass windows and shower doors I think - strong duct tape which will keep them from shattering. Or cover yourselves with a shower curtain or tarp, or a mattress from a rollaway bed or similar furniture.

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answers from Houston on

I've lived in tornado alley all my life. So I'm used to hiding in the bathtub with a mattress pulled over us. I actually have a friend who was ripped out of her trailer and thrown almost a mile from a tornado and she survived, though that types of thing is very rare.

Keep that 1st level inner closet clear... have a little luggage or something, like a 72 hour kit in there that has things like flashlights, bottled water, snacks, blanket, first aid kit. Bring in thick blankets/pillows/couch cushion and store them in there as well you can cover yourselves with from flying debris like glass.

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answers from Columbus on

Well in Cali you had Earthquakes and now in Virginia you have tornadoes. Anywhere you move there will always be something.

You do not want to be upstairs during a tornado. Go the the lowest most inner part of the home. Is there a closet on the main level. That would be my suggestion.

Good luck and try to get some rest. In Ohio we are under a warning for tornado as well.

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answers from St. Louis on

I don't know if anyone has mentioned it cause my eyes are so tired I just can't read. I have lived in the midwest (St Louis) all my life. I am assuming it is a half bath on the main floor so that is no good with the window.

If it is a townhouse you should have a common wall with the other unit. That would be the safest place, against that wall and as far away from the windows. There is actually a position you take, squat, head against the wall with your hands over your head. If you have time to grab a blanket or something like it to put over yourself and your kids even better.

Ahh the school tornado drills....good times.

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answers from Dallas on

We get them all the time here.
Here is a website that can help you: www.wunderground.com. You can type in your city. Scroll down and you will see a map. Place the arrow over it, then click on "nexrad" when it appears. Then you can animate the map and turn on the storm tracks. That will show you where the storms are and where the tornado is with a triangle.
You may also want to have flashlights on hand if the power goes out.
Try not to worry. If your children see you afraid it will frighten them.
God bless and I hope you stay safe.

I hope you came through the storms ok.

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answers from Atlanta on

Hi C.,

I've had a tornado come down my street twice in my life...once in Georgia and once in North Carolina. We were never touched. I was 250 miles inland and had a hurricane hit my home....you just don't know what will happen. It can be a scary thing but you do have warnings for tornados and hurricanes unlike an earthquake. Stay on the ground floor and have blankets ready to put over you to keep small debris from hitting you. A twin mattress or cushions from the sofa can soften a blow from anything falling. Is your bathroom on the ground floor or upstairs...if it's downstairs it would be safest with th blankets and cushions. Does your kitchen have floor cabinets that would shelter you from the windows? If they do then that might be where you should be as long as you had the thick cushions or mattress to protect you from sharp things flying. Most tornadoes in the south are NOTHING like the monsters you see in the midwest. You do need to take precautions but they are really few and far between. Simply be prepared.

You may want to put your tornado supplies in the hall closet...flashlight, pillows, radio, etc and simply move them to crawl in there...

Hope this helps.


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answers from Cincinnati on

We're under a watch tonight too (Ohio), but I'm not really worried- with a watch, you're usually fine. Let me also tell you that this has been an extremely active tornado season- this is not the "norm"! Just stay in the middle of the room or in a closet or pantry like some others have suggested. Also, keep in mind that if you are under a tornado watch at the same time you are under a severe thunderstorm warning, the sirens will go off. So, if you hear them, don't automatically panic and think its a tornado warning. Just stay calm and check the tv or radio for what it is. Chances are, everything will be fine- but don't go upstairs if there is a tornado warning- that is the WORST place to go!

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answers from Washington DC on


DO NOT regret moving here. YOU ARE FINE!!! You'll be happy to be out of the EARTHQUAKE zone!! I was in SFO for the 1989 quake - that was a humdinger! :) I've lived in San Diego, LA and SFO - all had earth quakes...so tornados are nothing. Seriously. Yes, it seems scary. But do NOT PANIC. The worst thing you can EVER do is PANIC. DO NOT PANIC.

Have a plan of action - if you can't go to your bathroom - the linen closet is a great idea. We have a storage room that is reinforced and have food, water and first aid kits in there as well as a wind-up radio - so we don't have to worry about the batteries dying.

Being prepared is the most important thing you can do. When you see the warnings - make sure you are prepared - food, water, first aid and radio - if you have patio furniture outside - when the warning/watch comes - make sure they are all stacked and close to the house.

Three years ago - one touched down in my backyard - I thought the Indy race was in my backyard!! It took our BBQ and slammed it up against the house (no damage! YAY!) and took our flag poles and bent them flat against the deck....the grass looked as if a herd of elephants had trampled through.

I live in Reston - just North of you off Route 28. If you need anything - let me know!

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answers from Washington DC on

I have lived in NoVA for 16 years and am from NY. I am not used to this either yet :) However, the last couple of years and this Spring in particular has been unusual here. I have been in my basement about 3 times in the last couple years. But never once in the preceding 14 years.

If you don't have a full basement you still need to stay downstairs. Go to an interior room on the lowest level. A bathroom is good, but anywhere where you can hunker down near a wall or under a table. Bring balnkets to cover your head and body.

Try to relax and not scare the kids. I suggest letting the kids stay in their own rooms for that reason. Keep an eye on the news and weather.com. In Loudoun, you can sign up for "Loudoun alerts" in e-mail. Can you do that in Fairfax?

I am sure you will be fine tonight :)

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answers from San Francisco on

Wow! The person who built that sure didn't think about the tornado season, did they? First of all, take a deep breath. It sure is scary to be alone, especially when the weather is so bad. I have lived in many houses over my lifetime and many didn't have basements, either. The second story should be avoided, as you already know. If your staircase is open, you could go under it. The Master Bdrm is downstairs? If so, that bathroom may be your best bet. The shower door isn't ideal, but if the bathroom is on an inside wall, you and the kids could camp out on the floor. Always look up and around for any objects that could fall so that you can make it as safe as possible. Teach the children to cover their heads so that if the tornado does come through, they will be less likely to be injured. A blanket on top could protect from any shards of glass. If that bath isn't downstairs, then go to the inner most part of the house at floor level, in a closet if possible. Helmets, mattresses, shower curtains, etc. to protect yourselves. Again, check for anything that could fly/fall on you and be sure to protect everyone. Most importantly, try to stay calm. I know it's so difficult, but it's very important for the kids. I will say a prayer for you right now. I hope this helps:)

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answers from Chicago on

Talk to your neighbors about where they go. You said you live in a townhome; are you part of a larger complex of buildings? Is there a clubhouse or an office? If it's close by enough and they have a safe area to go into, then I would do that. Or maybe a church nearby with a basement? If the storms get really serious you may want to consider places like those. Otherwise, the closet on the ground floor is likely your best bet.

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answers from Washington DC on

Hope you got some sleep last night.
This year has been really bad and is not typical. I grew up in Montgomery County MD, and have lived in Arlington, Centreville and now Leesburg and I don't recall ever having this many tornado watches in one season, so it is not a common thing.
For peace of mind by yourself a NOAA weather radio receiver. Keep it in a bedroom or a main location and if a tornado is coming your way it will alert you so you can take shelter.
As for where to be - I would go into a ground floor closet space where you are not near any windows. Being part of a row of houses will offer some protection from structural damage, especially if it is against an interior wall.
Although all warnings should be taken seriously you can look online to find out how much tornado activity has been recorded in your area over the last 100+ years. I checked Leesburg and the last death from a tornado was in the ealry 1800s, although every few years there is some roof damage to a building. It may help you put the risks and fears in perspective.

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answers from Dallas on

I am new to tornadoes too and this is what I have been told. You want to be on a lower level in a closet or room with out exterior walls. Bring a flashlight with you and if you have a radio that is good too.

After all is calm, go to the store and prepare yourself an emergency kit.

Good luck and be safe!

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answers from Dallas on

We have lots of tornadoes and warnings here. We have closet, that is our designated tornado spot. We also take our son's twin mattress in with us. Do you have a closet downstairs, with no exterior walls?

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answers from Raleigh on

I am in the spot of NC that just got hit by the tornadoes two weekends ago. I have friends who have major damage done, so I know your fears! We actually go in to our pantry (just take out the heavy stuff first) because it is the only space on our downstairs level that doesn't have a window and is interior. (The two most important things.) You would want to take blankets/sofa cushions/mattress in with you if you can fit it to help protect you if it ever happens again. If you are under a watch, chances are all will be fine! :) Remember, it doesn't matter where you live, there will always be some sort of problem from Mother Nature that you will have to deal with (hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, etc.) Good luck!

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answers from Minneapolis on

Really, once you go through it a couple of times... It'll be just like an earthquake (In a weird sort of way).

Just make sure that everyone is covered in something to protect against the glass and debris. I think that the closet sounds like a good spot for now, but you should really talk to your neighbors to see if they have some place safer that you could use during emergencies.



answers from Oklahoma City on

I live in a mobile home and live in Tornado Alley. We cannot stay in our home when the storms are coming. I would say that learning to know the significance of the different storms categories and strengths will help you very much.

A storm watch in an alert to let you know that storms may happen.

A storm warning is an alert that a storm is in your area, may be same county or even 1-2 counties away. McDonalds often has your state map with the counties on the trays during this time of year. Get a clean one and put it on your fridge.

The new tor-con index is pretty good to me. It takes into consideration a lot of information that is very close to accurate. If you watch the weather channel or a local channel that has a good weather team then you can trust them to let you know if you are in danger. If you are truly not safe in your home due to poor design then find out what the neighbors do. There may be shelters on the property or nearby that some go to.

We go to the local hospital and go to their basement. If the winds are going to be over 60-70 miles per hour I am going to be gone before they hit and safe in a shelter outside of my home. We have had over 100MPH winds hit my house and had no damage but I am not going to take a chance that we get damage and hurt.

Find a shelter nearby that will be open if the storms are serious. Find out what the neighbors do. Decide what your family is willing to risk if there is a tornado in your area, sighted within 30 miles of you.



answers from Houston on

you will get used to it eventually. Go to a hallway or a closet or in the center of your house. the smaller the room the better. If you can get all of you in there the bathtub with a mattress over you is even better. If you have a basement there is the best place with a battery operated radio and flashlight. if you live in a high tornado area your neighbors may have a shelter ask. if they do they will let you go in there. Hold on tight and batton down the hatches. Or you can always do what I did go to the porch and watch it. :)

edit yes the closet would be the safest. you are on the right track just don't panic.


answers from Modesto on

I'm pretty sure I'd be on my knees saying prayers during tornado season.
I've lived in CA my whole life so I dont know where the best place to go is.
Give me earthquakes any day.



answers from Washington DC on

We have a tornado watch too but there hasnt' even been any rain, no green clouds and no hail.
Is it worse up there? We're about 50 miles south of DC.

Go to the innermost area of the house. If you have a closet that works. A laundry area, that works too.
Stay away from windows.
If nothing else get under large furniture or bring a mattress down and get underneath it. If there is truly a tornado near you though get under something large.
Tornadoes move from the Southwest to the Northeast. They rarely come back like a hurricane can, but new tornadoes can be spawned from the same wall cloud.

THe worst seasons for tornadoes are now, when the weather is changing and in Sept when the weather starts to get colder.



answers from Washington DC on

Spring weather can sometimes be scary, but you should know that the severe weather we have had this week is not something we deal with every spring. While we do have a lot of storms in the spring and summer, the tornadic weather is rare. I used to live in a townhouse that sounds similar to yours. We actually cleared out a first floor closet to sit in during a tornado warning once, though thankfully it passed over without us actually having to pile in to the closet. I hope tht your night wasn't too bad, and you did get some sleep.


answers from Rochester on

You need to get into a closet towards the center of your first floor, if you have one...and if not, get under a sturdy table. You're right, though, you should not be upstairs or near any windows. If you have no other options, you can put a mattress on top of yourself and the children, but I wouldn't do that unless you are in imminent danger from a tornado.



answers from Redding on

Oh C., I am terrified of tornadoes! I live in California and we get lots of earth quakes. Some of them have been pretty bad, but the thought of a tornado scares me to death.
I'm pretty sure you are supposed to stay as close to the ground as possible so I wouldn't be upstairs.
I didn't read all the responses but it looks like you have some tornado veterans that can advise you.
If it makes you feel any better, I have family in Virginia, NC, TN...all around back there and it's not like they get tornadoes all the time. My dad's side of the family has lived there for generations and fortunately, we have no tornado mishaps in the family at all.
Do you know your neighbors at all? If not, now might be a good time.
My relatives all look out for their neighbors and vice versa. It's a southern thing. Of course it depends on the kind of area you live in, but I would maybe call the local police and let them know you are home alone with your kids while your husband is attending a law enforcement academy.
Hopefully someone who has been through this can allay your fears.

I wish you the very best!

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