What Do You Do In An Apartment During a Tornado?


Tornados are deadly storms that can wreak a lot of havoc – their winds can reach up to 250 miles an hour and have been known to clear a pathway 50 miles long and a mile wide. Also commonly referred to as twisters, tornadoes typically form in thunderstorms and are commonly accompanied by hail. While tornadoes occur in different parts of the world, they are especially common in the United States, with approximately 1,000 tornadoes occurring every year. It is of utmost importance to act quickly during a tornado – this article takes a detailed look at what to do in an apartment during a tornado.

During a tornado, your number one priority is your own safety. The safest place to be in your apartment during a tornado is the basement. If your apartment building does not come with a basement than go to the lowest floor of the building.

If this is not an option, your next best alternative is to seek shelter in an interior hallway, under a stairwell, or any other area of your apartment that does not feature exterior walls or windows. Bathrooms are another safe place to hide as they feature pipes that can provide insulation during a tornado. Closets are a great hiding place as well especially if you keep the closet door closed for added protection. You will want to avoid areas of your unit that have windows and heavy objects to reduce the risk of getting injured when a tornado unexpectedly hits.

Whether or not you reside in an area that is frequently hit by tornados, it is important to be aware of the safety measures to take to remain safe in your apartment. Read on to find out areas where you can be safe within our apartment during a tornado, areas to avoid, precautions to take in readiness for a tornado, and signs to look out for.

Places where you can be safe in an apartment during a tornado

  • Basement – If your apartment features a basement, you will want to seek shelter there during a tornado. Studies have shown over the years that deaths and injuries as a result of tornadoes are much less likely to occur if you are holed up in your windowless basement. A common theory is that since most of the tornadoes that impact the United States travel from the west-southwest direction towards the east-northeast direction, the southwest corner of your basement is the safest location to seek shelter. However, this theory has been debunked and is especially untrue for stone or brick houses. In reality, no corner of your basement is safer than the other, but you can position yourself under a sturdy object to keep yourself safe from falling objects.
  • Interior rooms – If you don’t have a basement, or simply can’t get to one on time, consider seeking shelter in any area of your apartment that has no exterior walls or windows. This means hiding in an interior hallway, under a stairwell, or even a room that does not have windows. Keep your body as close to the ground as possible and ensure that your head stays down as well. For added protection, cover your head with your hands, or wear a padded helmet if you have one handy. This is important in case the items in the room fall over during the tornado.
  • Bathrooms – Although bathrooms typically feature an exterior wall as well as windows, they can act as a hiding place during a tornado because they have thick pipes within the walls which can provide much-needed insulation during a tornado. Climb into your bathtub if you have one and bring with you your mattress and bedding for extra cover and protection against falling debris.
  • Closet – Closets are typically interior rooms by design, which makes them a great choice for a place to hide out while waiting for a tornado to pass. Consider pulling clothes off their hangers to create more space. You will also want to bring along bedding to provide insulation. To ensure that you stay safe, remember to shut the closet door behind you securely to reduce the risk of debris hurting you.
  • The lowest level of your apartment building – If you reside in a unit that is located on the upper floor, try to the lowest level of the apartment building that you can as soon as possible. This could be your neighbor’s apartment on the first floor or an underground parking garage. If your apartment is in a high-rise building, you may not have the chance to get down to a lower level of the building quickly enough, so your best bet may be to find an area in the hallway in the center of the building that does not have a high risk of falling debris.
  • Storm shelters – Some apartment complexes feature tornado shelters.  If your building has one that you can access before a tornado hits, head there.

Areas in an apartment you want to avoid during a tornado

  • Any area that has windows – Tornadoes are accompanied by gusting winds that are usually strong enough to break glass. This means that windows become safety hazards during this natural disaster. Furthermore, once a window shatters, different kinds of debris can be blown right into your apartment. If you can’t steer clear of windows when there is a tornado, try your best to keep them blocked to protect yourself. Some options to consider include taping heavy blankets over your windows beforehand or sliding a sturdy piece of furniture over the window to ensure that glass stays out of your apartment.
  • Any area where there are heavy objects – While it may be perceived as a good idea to hide under your bed or squeeze behind a dresser to protect yourself during a tornado occurrence, it’s not. This is because pieces of furniture can be moved by the gusts of wind and even end up falling, which can result in you getting trapped under them or getting injured.

How to prepare for a tornado

If you live in an area where tornado warnings are commonplace, it might be worth taking precautionary steps to ensure you are prepared.

  • The importance of understanding different tornado terminologies – It is crucial to understand the various terminologies associated with tornadoes to help you have a better idea of the severity of the storms that hit your area and consequently allow you to properly prepare to move to a safe zone.
  • Tornado watch – A tornado watch is put in place when weather conditions in a given area could potentially result in the development of a tornado. Tune in to your local radio station or weather channel to receive weather updates, and ensure you have a safety plan in mind in case a tornado watch turns into a tornado warning.
  • Tornado warning – A tornado warning is issued when a tornado hits the ground and can be physically spotted. If a warning is issued in your area, then you will want to act out your disaster plan immediately.
  • Tornado outbreak – This is the occurrence of several tornadoes simultaneously as a result of the same synoptic-scale weather system.
  • Coming up with a tornado disaster plan – Knowing the actions to take when a tornado occurs will help you remain safe during severe weather. Here are some details to keep in mind:
  • Do you have insurance? – One of the first considerations when coming up with a comprehensive tornado disaster plan is to protect your valuable assets, such as your personal belongings. A tornado can wreak a lot of havoc in your apartment as it tends to damage almost everything in its path. Having renters insurance coverage can give you peace of mind when it comes to replacing any damaged personal belongings after a tornado.

When choosing renters’ insurance, it is important to compare policies from the different insurance companies. Go through the policies carefully to be informed on what is covered as well as pricing. Renters insurance typically comes with coverage limits, so it is important to know what is covered and what isn’t in your policy.

  • Which floor do you reside on? – As previously mentioned, you are safest on the lowest level of your apartment complex during a tornado as an apartment dweller. If you reside on the top floor, it might be worth having a conversation with your neighbor(s) living on lower levels beforehand about waiting out the tornado in their units.
  • Does your apartment complex come with a storm shelter? – Find out beforehand if your apartment complex features a storm shelter that you can access during tornado-prone seasons.

What household materials can you protect yourself with?

Gather household items such as blankets, mattresses, and pillows that you can use to protect yourself from falling debris. You can also seek shelter under large, sturdy pieces of furniture.

  • Pack an emergency kit
  • Radio – You need to have a battery-powered radio that you can use to listen to emergency and weather updates. This is necessary in case there is a power outage during severe weather.  Remember to bring with you extra batteries as well in case your radio unexpectedly dies.
  • Food and water – Depending on where your apartment is located and how severe the aftermath of the tornado is, it might come in handy to have some food and bottled water in your emergency kit. Even if you are not trapped for a long time, having non-perishable food and/or canned foods and bottled water handy will make the situation easier.
  • Cell phone – Remember to bring with you a fully charged prepaid cell phone in your emergency kit. This is important in case you need to call for help in case someone is injured.
  • Lantern or flashlight – You will want to include a heavy-duty flashlight or lantern in your emergency kit in case there is a power outage for visibility as well as security purposes.
  • Any required medications – It is important to include any prescription medication you may have with you in your emergency kit in case you need it during a tornado.
  • Blankets and pillows – Blankets and pillows can be used to keep your body and head protected if a tornado occurs.
  • Cash – Keep a bit of cash with you in case banks are unexpectedly closed for an extended period after a tornado.
  • Helmets – Keeping your head protected is key during a tornado especially if there is a risk of debris falling on you. Ensure you have some helmets handy in your emergency kit for this purpose.

Ensuring you remain safe once a tornado passes

If a tornado hits where you live, the need to be cautious does not end once it passes. How you deal with the aftermath of this natural disaster can help you avoid potential dangers. Ensure that you remain cautious when leaving your sheltered area – watch out for any exposed or fallen utility lines, down trees, or any other type of debris.

If you don’t feel particularly safe to leave your apartment, contact authorities, and wait for them to safely evacuate you. However, if you smell gas or see flooding, you must leave your apartment right away. Ensure that you are extremely careful while leaving your apartment building and wait for confirmation from authorities that it is safe before reentering. If possible, take as many pictures as possible of any damage that may have been caused to your property by the tornado as you will most likely need to file an insurance claim.

Signs of a tornado to look out for

As previously mentioned, tornado warnings may be broadcasted on your local radio station, TV news channel, or even smartphone alerts. You may also be able to tell if a tornado is coming by paying attention to the warning signs during severe weather:

  • The sky is dark and, in some cases, green
  • Large chunks of hail
  • Low, dark clouds sometimes accompanied by lightning
  • Strong winds

Final thoughts

Tornadoes are dangerous and can even cause fatalities especially if you don’t take the proper precautions. If you live in an apartment, it is important to know the safest place to take shelter as well as have the right supplies for when you go into hiding.

Melanie Asiba

Melanie is an author. She enjoys traveling, reading and trying out new things. In addition to writing for Apartment ABC. Connect with her at [email protected]

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