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What to do if a tornado strikes

You may have very little time to prepare for a tornado, so how you respond is critical – and how you react depends on where you are.

Here are our tips on what to do in the event of a tornado.

If you are in your Home or Office

  • Seek shelter in the lowest level of your home (basement is best). If there is no basement, go to an inner hallway, a smaller inner room, or a closet. Keep away from all windows.
  • Do not waste your time closing windows – if a tornado hits it makes no difference if your windows are open or closed.
  • You can cushion yourself with a mattress but do not use one to cover yourself. Don’t waste time moving mattresses around.
  • Cover your head and eyes with a blanket or jacket to protect against flying debris and broken glass.
  • Keep your pet on a leash or in a carrier.
  • Multiple tornadoes can emerge from the same storm, so do not go out until the storm has passed.
  • Do not leave a building to attempt to “escape” a tornado.

If you are in a Caravan or Shed or Portable Office

  • Leave your Caravan, Shed or Portable Office immediately and take shelter elsewhere.   These can be very easily lifted up or shredded in seconds.

If you are Outside

  • Try to get inside and seek a small protected space with no windows.
  • Avoid large-span roof areas such as school gyms, shopping malls, halls etc.
  • If you cannot get inside, crouch for protection beside a strong structure, or lie flat in a ditch or low-lying area and cover your head and neck with your arms or a piece of clothing.

If you are Driving

Ideally, you should avoid driving when tornadoes threaten, because a vehicle is a very unsafe place to be. If, however, this is not possible, stay as calm as possible, and assess the situation.

  • Your best option might be to get out of the car and lie flat in a ditch or other low-lying area that is sufficiently deep enough to protect against the wind.
  • If you do so, beware of water runoff from heavy rain that could pose a hazard; get as far away from the vehicle as possible and shield your head from flying debris. 
  • Or, if possible, take shelter immediately in a nearby building.

Ensure you have a survival kit – for more information go to the Getthru website run by Civil Defence.

In the case of a weather emergency may not always be able to provide you with timely updates if our offices are also affected – or if the internet is overloaded.

There is also no guarantee you’ll have access to the internet at home or on your mobile phone if the power goes out or phone networks crash. 

During an emergency the radio is the best means of getting vital information

The following radio networks work collaboratively with Civil Defence Emergency Management authorities to broadcast important information and advice in an emergency.


Image / A funnel cloud over Auckland in March / Janne Hosking
– with The Weather Channel


Guest on 7/05/2011 8:48am

What to do if a tornado strikes: Turn your back to the storm, stand with legs wide apart, bending from the waist put your head between your legs and kiss your ass goodbye

Guest on 6/05/2011 12:12am

I was in the Taranaki Torando. These things are moving so quicky.. the likelyhood of you having any chance to react is about nill, hence me ending up very battered from the it. It would great if you could get your pet on a leash, cover yourself with a matress but i doubt you could do all that in about 15 seconds. Not to mention the last thing your thinking about is where is the dogs leash…

Sue on 5/05/2011 5:06am

So Civil Defence tells you to make sure that you dont waste time shutting windows or covering with mattresses but make sure that you take the time to put your animal on a leash or in a carrier. Me thinks it might take a while to find the dog/cat and the leash/catbox specially if one might have to go to the vets to get a catbox! Mmmmm.

Do you know what they say about sheltering under bridges – I read somewhere that this was stupid too.

WW Forecast Team on 5/05/2011 5:11am

Hi Sue – that particular piece of advice came from The Weather Channel and perhaps isn’t so appropriate for a sudden tornado.  But if there was any advanced warning it might be a good idea to have the pets indoors and ready to secure them quickly if need be.  Dogs are probably more vulnerable than quick moving cats.  And yes – stay away from bridges – they become wind tunnels – as seen in the movie Twister! 

– WW

Sue on 5/05/2011 5:26am

Okay – husband is wrong – Im listening to you guys. He says head for a bridge. I say and now you say that could become a wind tunnel. Cheers for the info.

WW Forecast Team on 5/05/2011 5:31am

This link here dispels the many tornado myths – such as opening windows to relieve pressure (as if that would stop a tornado from destroying a house!) and sheltering under bridges:

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