What to do during severe thunderstorm or tornado warnings:

What to do when a warning is issued and what to know about storms that can produce tornadoes
Published: Mar. 9, 2021 at 10:51 PM EST|Updated: Mar. 2, 2022 at 10:05 PM EST
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A tornado warning will be issued by the National Weather Service if a storm is producing a tornado or rotating to where it’s capable of producing a tornado. There will be occasions when a warning will be issued and there’s no watch preceding it.

When and if a tornado watch is issued: Know where you will take shelter if a warning comes if you are in the warned area. It doesn’t hurt to set a pair of sturdy shoes like boots or sneakers in your safe place. Most injuries from tornadoes happen after the storm passes with debris. Should there be debris in your home, you don’t want to be walking over broken things or insulation barefoot or in flip flops.

What do you do during a tornado warning?

  • The first thing you should do is take shelter IMMEDIATELY. It’s human nature to look outside to try to see the storm or look for confirming information. You may be wasting precious seconds. You also would not likely even see the tornado with heavy rain, trees and other things that may be hiding the tornado if one is on the ground.
  • Over the last 40 years the average lead time on tornadoes has risen from 3 minutes to 14 minutes. You may not have that long though. Seconds matter with storms and the faster you take shelter the better. Some storms may be moving as fast as 40-60 mph!
Tornado information
Tornado information(WHSV)
Best and worst places to go when there is a tornado warning
Best and worst places to go when there is a tornado warning(WHSV)

Where to take shelter

  • Basement or interior room without windows and on the lowest level of your home
  • This can often be a closet, hallway, or a bathroom without windows
  • Put as many walls between you and the outside as you can
  • When at your shelter, cover yourself with a blanket, sleeping bag, or mattress if possible
  • If you are outside in a vehicle, that is not safe. A vehicle can not just be thrown, but debris can pierce into a vehicle just like this one from. This photo is from the tornado that touched down in Timberville in 2019. Thankfully, no one was inside the vehicle during this tornado. Those are two 2x6 wood beams that were driven into the windshield.
This is why a vehicle is not safe during a tornado
This is why a vehicle is not safe during a tornado(Aubrey Urbanowicz)

Most Recent Tornadoes

Tornadoes are not common in our area but they do happen. Recently, we had a tornado in 2020 and one in 2019.

August 6, 2020 is when we saw our most recent tornado. This was an EF-0 with winds estimated at 80 mph that touched down near Harriston in Augusta County. The tornado touched down on Hatchery Road and then moved over US 340 to the Jollett Springs Mobile Park. There were numerous large trees that came down along with power line and power poles.

October 31, 2019 is when we saw our second most recent tornado. This was also an EF-0 with winds estimated at 75 mph. It touched down near Timberville and lifted near Southern States on US 211. This storm mainly had straight-line winds but there was enough of a spin for a brief tornado to form. More about this tornado here.


Winds in severe storms can be just as destructive as a tornado. All of these photos are from recent severe thunderstorm wind damage. This was damage NOT from a tornado. In fact a weather station in Dayton reported a wind gust of 93mph (bottom left photo) during this storm in March of 2017.

Our most common form of thunderstorm damage will come from severe storms, not tornadoes.

All are local photos from severe thunderstorm wind damage. NOT from a tornado
All are local photos from severe thunderstorm wind damage. NOT from a tornado(whsv)

Damaging winds are also called straight-line winds and can be in excess of 50-60mph. In some thunderstorms winds can be as high as 70-90mph! On rare occasions, severe thunderstorm winds can be higher than 90mph.

This is why it’s important to treat a severe thunderstorm warning just like a tornado warning. You don’t know what kind of damage the storm may produce.

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