Tornadoes are nature’s most violent storms. Spawned from powerful thunderstorms, they strike quickly and can cause fatalities and devastate neighborhoods in seconds. Tornadoes are most frequent in the plains between the Rocky and Appalachian mountains. While April through June is considered tornado season, they can occur during any month. While Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma are the leading states for the number of tornadoes reported, Missouri is frequently visited by deadly and destructive tornadoes. One of the single deadliest tornadoes in U.S. history occurred in Joplin, Missouri on May 22, 2011. The EF-5 tornado—the most powerful category of tornado, with wind speeds in excess of 200 miles per hour— struck at 5:41 p.m. and destroyed or heavily damaged thousands of buildings in a six mile long and three quarters of a mile wide section of Joplin, killing more than 150 people.
The average tornado moves southwest to northeast—in Missouri frequently following the Interstate 44 corridor—but tornadoes can move in any direction.
A tornado appears as a rotating, funnel-shaped cloud that extends from a thunderstorm to the ground with whirling winds that can reach 300 miles per hour. Damage paths can be in excess of one mile wide and 50 miles long. Some tornadoes are clearly visible, while rain or nearby low-hanging clouds obscure others. Occasionally, tornadoes develop so rapidly that little, if any, advance warning is possible.
Before a tornado hits, the wind may die down and the air may become very still. A cloud of debris can mark the location of a tornado even if a funnel is not visible. Tornadoes generally occur near the trailing edge of a thunderstorm. It is not uncommon to see clear, sunlit skies behind a tornado.
Familiarize yourself with the terms used to identify tornado hazards
- Tornado Watch means tornadoes are possible. Remain alert for approaching storms. Watch the sky and stay tuned to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio, or television for information.
- Tornado Warning means a tornado has been sighted or indicated by weather radar. Take shelter immediately.
Preparedness tips before a tornado
Create a plan for where you and your family will go in the event of a tornado—at home, at work and at relatives’ or friends’ homes that you visit frequently. Always be alert to changing weather conditions:
- Listen to NOAA Weather Radio or to commercial radio or television newscasts for the latest information.
- Look for approaching storms. Look for the following danger signs: dark, often greenish sky; large hail; a large, dark, low-lying cloud (particularly if rotating); loud roar, similar to a freight train.
If you see approaching storms or any of the danger signs, be prepared to take shelter immediately.
What to do during a tornado
If you are under a tornado WARNING, seek shelter IMMEDIATELY.
|If you are in:||Then:|
|A residence, school, high-rise building or other structure.||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. Do not open windows.|
|A vehicle, 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 and it may be safer to lie flat in a nearby ditch or depression and cover your head with your arms.|
|The outside with no shelter||Lie flat in a nearby ditch or depression and cover your head with your arms. Be prepared to move quickly if the ditch fills with water.
What to do if you have unmet needs following a tornado
Throughout the recovery period, it is important to monitor local radio or television reports and other media sources for information about where to get emergency housing, food, first aid, clothing, and financial assistance. The following section provides general information about the kinds of assistance that may be available.
Direct assistance to individuals and families may come from any number of organizations, including:
Missouri chapters of the Red Cross:
- American Red Cross Saint Louis Area, St. Louis
- Greater Kansas City Chapter, Kansas City
- Greater Ozarks Chapter, Springfield
- Midland Empire Chapter, St. Joseph
- Missouri Capital Area Chapter, Jefferson City
- North Central Missouri Chapter, Kirksville
- Northeast Missouri Chapter, Hannibal
- Pettis County Chapter, Sedalia
- Southeast Missouri Chapter, Cape Girardeau
Other volunteer and faith-based organizations
These organizations provide food, shelter, supplies and assist in clean-up efforts.
Detailed additional information can be found at the following websites:
- National Weather Service – St. Louis Office
- National Weather Service – Kansas City Office
- National Weather Service – Springfield Office
- National Weather Service – River Forecasts – Eastern Missouri, including Mississippi River
- National Weather Service – River Forecasts – Western Missouri, including Missouri River
- Missouri Ready in 3 Program’s Weather Preparedness Page
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Emergency Preparedness and Response, flood information
- Missouri Dept. of Transportation’s Road Conditions
Missouri's Ready in 3 Program also provides free family safety guides to help prepare your family and household or call (573) 526-4768 to order a free family safety guide. The family safety guide is available in several languages.