Hazards: Tornado

Tornado icon

Tornadoes are nature's most violent storms. They can appear suddenly without warning and can be invisible until dust and debris are picked up or a funnel cloud appears.

Planning and practicing specifically how and where you take shelter is a matter of survival. Be prepared to act quickly. There are no tornado sirens in Fairfax County.

What to Do
  • Go immediately to the lowest level of your building to an interior room or hallway.
  • Storm cellars or basements provide the best protection.
  • Stay away from windows and doorways.
  • Do not stay in a trailer or mobile home. Go immediately to a building with a strong foundation.
  • If you're in a car or if shelter is not available, lie flat in a ditch or other low-lying area. Do not get under a bridge or overpass.
  • Plan to stay in your shelter location until the danger has passed.

If in a structure (e.g. residence or building):      

  • Go to a pre-designated shelter area such as a safe room, basement, storm cellar, or the lowest building level.
    • If there is no basement, go to the center of an interior room on the lowest level (closet, interior hallway) away from corners, windows, doors, and outside walls.
    • Put as many walls as possible between you and the outside. Get under a sturdy table and use your arms to protect your head and neck.
  • Watch out for flying debris. Flying debris from tornadoes causes most fatalities and injuries.
  • In a high-rise building, go to a small interior room or hallway on the lowest floor possible.
  • Do not open windows.

If in a trailer or mobile home:

  • Get out immediately and go to the lowest floor of a sturdy, nearby building or a storm shelter. Mobile homes, even if tied down, offer little protection from tornadoes.

If outside with no shelter:          

  • Immediately get into a vehicle, buckle your seat belt and try to drive to the closest sturdy shelter.
  • Stay in the car with the seat belt on. Put your head down below the windows; cover your head with your hands and a blanket, coat or other cushion if possible.
  • If you can safely get noticeably lower than the level of the roadway, leave your car and lie in that area, covering your head with your hands
  • Do not get under an overpass or bridge. You are safer in a low, flat location.
  • Never try to outrun a tornado in urban or congested areas in a car or truck. Instead, leave the vehicle immediately for safe shelter.

Tornado Terms

Tornado Watch

A tornado watch means current weather conditions may result in a tornado.

Tornado Warning

A tornado warning means a tornado has been sightedor indicated by weather radar; take shelter immediately.

Be aware that the majority of tornadoes occur between 3 and 9 p.m. Think of where you would normally be during that time – at school, at work or in the car. The average forward speed of a tornado is 30 mph, but may vary from stationary to 70 mph. Tornadoes can accompany tropical storms and hurricanes as they move onto land.

Related Information

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