Healthy Lifestyle

Key Steps to Protecting Yourself and Your Property from the Destructive Forces of a Tornado

Tornadoes are violent weather events that can wreak havoc on entire communities in a matter of seconds. The United States is on track for a near-record-breaking year for tornado activity in 2023, according to a preliminary report from the National Weather Service. The report reveals that the U.S. witnessed 389 tornadoes from January to March of 2023, which is just below the record of 398 tornadoes in the same time period in 2017. This article explains the risks of tornadoes on physical and mental health and offers safety measures to protect oneself and loved ones in the event of a tornado.

Finding Shelter is Imperative During a Tornado

Taking shelter during a tornado is the most important safety measure one can take to ensure survival. John Moore III, a public affairs specialist and meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s National Weather Service, emphasizes the need to “take shelter immediately—get to your safe place” when asked what his main piece of advice would be for those under a tornado warning. The best places to shelter during a tornado are storm shelters or basements. In the absence of a storm shelter or basement, people should take shelter in a small interior room on the first floor of their home, such as a bathroom or closet.

Randall Herrin, MD, emergency department medical director at the OU Health Edmond Medical Center in Edmond, Oklahoma, warns that the majority of injuries that occur in a tornado are a result of flying debris. For this reason, it is recommended that people take shelter on the lowest floor of their home or current location, ideally in an interior room without windows. “Oftentimes, this is an interior bathroom or closet. If able, you should cover yourself with heavy blankets or even a mattress to help protect from flying debris,” he adds.

Health Risks in the Aftermath of a Tornado

A tornado can cause extensive damage to a person’s home, shelter, and environment, which can have a negative impact on the health and safety of those in the tornado’s path. Damage to infrastructure can cause gas leaks, and downed power lines can lead to threats of electrocution, says John Moore III. After a tornado, if one smells gas, it is recommended to evacuate the area immediately. If one sees downed power lines, one should not touch them and wait until utilities are entirely turned off to start the cleanup or debris removal process.

According to the American Lung Association, tornadoes can also affect an area’s surrounding air quality, citing pollutants from various surrounding sources swirled up and expelled by the column of fast-moving air. A nearby pipeline could be damaged or destroyed, releasing toxic materials like oil or asbestos that could contaminate soil or groundwater nearby.

Lingering Mental Health Conditions Linked to Tornadoes

The trauma caused by a tornado can affect one’s mental health. A 2022 review published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health offers a snapshot of the ways in which tornado events can affect one’s mental health. The authors found that experiencing a tornado can lead to conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, or anxiety for months to years after the event. These effects are common for both adults and children. “Long-term effects such as PTSD are often seen in people who have experienced a loss of property or loved ones as a result of a tornado event,” warns Dr. Randall Herrin.

Preparing for a Tornado

Moore and Dr. Herrin emphasize the importance of being prepared for a tornado, especially if one lives in an area prone to tornadoes. People should have an emergency supply kit in or near their of a tornado can be mentally and physically taxing. Therefore, it is important to have a support system in place to help you cope with the aftermath of a tornado. This may include talking to loved ones, seeking support from mental health professionals, and joining support groups.


Tornadoes are highly destructive and dangerous weather events that can cause physical and mental harm to individuals and communities. It is imperative to take shelter immediately when a tornado warning is issued, preferably in a storm shelter or basement, or in an interior room on the first floor of your home. After a tornado, it is important to be cautious of downed power lines and gas leaks, and to take precautions to protect your health, such as avoiding polluted areas and wearing protective gear while cleaning up debris. Lastly, it is important to seek support from mental health professionals and support groups to cope with the trauma and aftermath of a tornado.

While tornadoes cannot be prevented, taking the necessary precautions and being prepared can significantly reduce the risk of harm and increase the chances of survival. It is essential to stay informed about the weather conditions in your area and to heed warnings issued by local authorities. Remember, when it comes to tornadoes, being prepared can mean the difference between life and death.

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