NORFOLK -- Tornadoes can appear suddenly, without warning and are sometimes invisible until dust and debris are picked up or a funnel cloud appears. Tornadoes can strike anywhere, anytime, and you need to be prepared to act quickly.
Rob Shapiro with The American Red Cross is busting some common tornado safety myths.
If you get caught outside during a tornado, Shapiro says not to take cover under trees, bridges or overpasses. "Those are very dangerous places to be," said Shapiro. They can easily fall on top of you during heavy winds. He recommends getting into your car, or even a ditch, if possible.
If you're inside your house, Shapiro recommends getting to the lowest point in the structure and putting as many walls as you can between yourself and the storm.
"You don't want to stand near a doorway because that doorway could be near a window."
If you live in a mobile home, believe it or not, Shapiro says you are safer outside during a tornado.
Mobile homes are vulnerable to heavy winds, and flying objects can put you in more danger if you stay inside.
Learn the terms that are used to identify a tornado
- Tornado Watch: a tornado is possible in your area. You should monitor weather-alert radios and local radio and TV stations for information.
- Tornado Warning: a tornado has been sighted in the area or has been indicated by National Weather Service Doppler radar. When a warning is issued, take cover immediately.
Know the signs
- Strong, persistent rotation in the base of a cloud
- Whirling dust or debris on the ground under a cloud base – tornadoes sometimes have no visible funnel
- Hail or heavy rain followed by dead calm or a fast, intense wind shift. Many tornadoes, especially in Virginia, are wrapped in heavy precipitation and can’t be seen.
- Loud, continuous roar or rumble, which doesn’t fade in a few seconds like thunder does
- If it’s night, look for small, bright, blue-green to white flashes at ground level (as opposed to silvery lightning up in the clouds). These lights are power lines being snapped by very strong wind, perhaps a tornado.
- Persistent lowering of the cloud base
How to stay safe during a tornado
- When a tornado watch is issued, stay tuned to local radio, TV and NOAA weather radio for further information and possible warnings. Be prepared to take cover.
- When a tornado warning is issued, take cover in your safe location immediately or on the lowest level of the nearest substantial building. Protect your body from flying debris with a heavy blanket, pillows, sofa cushions or mattress.
- If you can’t get to your safe location or the lowest level of a substantial building:
- Open buildings (shopping mall, gym or civic center): Try to get into a restroom or interior hallway. If there is no time, get up against something that will support or deflect falling debris. Protect your head by covering it with your arms.
- Cars and trucks: Get out of your vehicle and try to find shelter inside a sturdy building. A culvert or ditch can provide shelter if a substantial building is not nearby. Lie down flat and cover your head with your hands. Do not get under an overpass or bridge. You are safer in a low, flat location.
- Outdoors. Try to find shelter immediately in the nearest substantial building. If no buildings are close, lie down flat in a ditch or depression and cover your head with your hands.
- Mobile homes:Do not stay in mobile homes. Leave immediately and seek shelter inside a nearby sturdy building, or lie down in a ditch away from your home, covering your head with your hands. Mobile homes are extremely unsafe during tornadoes.
- Stay in your safe location until the danger has passed.