Tornado safety — How to protect yourself and recognise warning signs

Tornado caused extensive damage in Tongaat on the KZN North Coast. Picture: IPSS Medical Rescue

Tornado caused extensive damage in Tongaat on the KZN North Coast. Picture: IPSS Medical Rescue

Published Jun 5, 2024


In light of the recent severe storms and tornado outbreak in KwaZulu-Natal, where Newcastle, Utrecht, Ballito, and Tongaat were affected, it is crucial for residents to understand how to stay safe during such extreme weather events and recognise the warning signs of an approaching tornado.

Recognising Tornado Warning Signs

Tornadoes can develop quickly, and recognising the warning signs is essential for taking timely action. Here are some key indicators of an impending tornado according to FEMA:

● A dark or greenish hue in the sky often signals severe weather and potential tornado formation.

● Tornadoes are frequently preceded by large hailstones.

● A tornado often produces a continuous, loud roar similar to a freight train.

● Look for a visible, rotating, funnel-shaped cloud extending from a thunderstorm.

● Even if a funnel is not visible, a debris cloud at ground level can indicate a tornado.

Here are essential safety tips to follow if a tornado is imminent

● The safest place during a tornado is an underground shelter, basement, or small interior room on the lowest floor of a sturdy building, away from windows.

● Use heavy blankets, sleeping bags, or mattresses to protect yourself from flying debris. Wear a helmet if possible.

● Stay away from windows, doors, and outside walls. Flying glass and debris pose a significant hazard.

● If you are in a multi-story building, go to the lowest level possible and find a small, windowless interior room or hallway to shelter in.

● Crouch down, face down, and cover your head with your hands to protect yourself from debris.

If You Are Outdoors or in a Vehicle

● If you are outside or in a vehicle, seek a sturdy building for shelter immediately.

● If there is no shelter available, lie flat in a nearby ditch or low-lying area and cover your head with your hands. Be aware of the potential for flooding.

● Bridges and overpasses may seem like safe shelters but can create a wind tunnel effect, making them more dangerous.

Preparation Tips

● Prepare an emergency kit with essentials such as water, non-perishable food, flashlight, batteries, first aid supplies, and important documents.

● Watch or listen to the news or social media for weather warnings or updates.

● Develop and practice a tornado emergency plan with your family, identifying the safest places in your home and the quickest routes to shelter.