What Are Tornadoes?

Tornadoes are nature's most violent storms, with whirling winds that can reach 300 mph. Spawned from powerful thunderstorms, damage paths can be in excess of one mile wide and 50 miles long. The intensity of a tornado is measured by the Enhanced Fujita Scale (EF Scale).

Why Prepare?

Although severe tornadoes are rare in Massachusetts, in recent years we have experienced a number of tornadic events, with the 2011 Greater Springfield tornado being the most prominent. Therefore, it is important that all residents of the Commonwealth learn how to take safety precautions to avoid injury and minimize property damage if your area is impacted by a tornado.


The National Weather Service issues tornado watches and warnings to alert the public of potential severe weather. It is important to understand the difference between watch and warning so you know what to do to stay safe:

Tornado Watch 

Tornadoes are possible based on weather conditions.

        • Pay attention to changing weather conditions, and be prepared to shelter immediately.

Tornado Warning

A tornado has been sighted or indicated by weather radar.

        • Seek shelter immediately.

Before a Tornado

  • Be informed by receiving alerts, warnings, and public safety information before, during, and after emergencies. Download the Massachusetts Alerts app.
  • Create and review your family emergency plan.
    • Identify safe locations to take shelter where your family spends time, such as your home, your workplace, public buildings, nursing homes, shopping centers, and schools.
    • Determine safe locations to seek shelter, such as basements or storm cellars. If an underground location is not available, choose an interior room or hallway on the lowest floor. Put as many walls between you and the outside as possible.
    • Be sure everyone in your household knows these shelter locations.
  • Assemble an emergency kit.
  • Make a record of your personal property by taking photos/videos of your belongings. Store these records in a safe place.

During a Tornado Watch

  • Listen to NOAA Weather Radio or to a local news station for the latest information. Follow instructions given by public safety officials.
  • Be alert to changing weather conditions. Although sometimes tornadoes develop so rapidly that there is no advance warning, common signs of an approaching storm include:
    • A revolving, funnel-shaped cloud
    • A dark, almost greenish sky
    • Large hail
    • A large, dark, low-lying cloud
    • A loud roar, similar to a freight train
  • Avoid places with wide-span roofs like auditoriums, cafeterias, supermarkets, and shopping malls.
  • Be prepared to take shelter immediately — make sure you retrieve your emergency kit.
  • Consider postponing outdoor activities.
  • Secure or bring in outdoor objects (patio furniture, children's toys, trash cans, etc.) that could be blown away or cause damage during strong winds.

During a Tornado Warning

  • Listen to NOAA Weather Radio or to a local news station for the latest information. Follow instructions given by public safety officials.

If You Are Inside

  • In a residence or small building, go to a pre-designated area such as a basement, storm cellar, or the lowest building level. If there is no basement, go to the center of a small 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.
  • If you are in a school, hospital, high-rise building or other public place, move to a small interior room or hallway on the lowest possible floor.
  • If you are in a mobile home, get out immediately and go to a pre-identified location like the lowest floor of a sturdy, nearby building. Mobile homes offer little protection from tornadoes.
  • Do not open windows.

If You Are Outside or In a Vehicle

  • If possible, go to a nearby sturdy building.
  • Consider taking cover in a stationary vehicle. Put your seat belt on and cover your head with your arms and a blanket, coat, or other cushion if possible.
  • Consider lying flat in a nearby ditch or low-lying area and cover your head with your arms and a blanket, coat, or other cushion if possible.
  • If you are boating or swimming, get to land and seek shelter immediately.
  • Do not go under an overpass or bridge. You are safer in a low, flat location.
  • Watch for flying debris, which can cause injuries or fatalities.

After a Tornado

  • Continue to monitor media for emergency information.
  • Follow instructions from public safety officials.
  • If you are trapped, try calling or texting for help. Try tapping on a pipe or wall or using a whistle to help rescuers locate you.
  • Call 9-1-1 to report emergencies, including downed power lines and gas leaks.
  • Call 2-1-1 to obtain shelter locations and other disaster information.
  • Stay away from downed utility wires. Always assume a downed power line is live.
  • Stay out of damaged buildings and areas until authorities deem them safe.
  • Check your home for damage:
    • If you believe there is a gas leak, go outdoors immediately, and do not turn electrical switches or appliances on or off.
    • If your home or property is damaged, take photos or videos to document your damage, and contact your insurance company.
  • If your power is out, follow our power outage safety tips.
    • Report power outages to your utility company.
    • Use generators and grills outside because their fumes contain carbon monoxide. Make sure your carbon monoxide detectors are working as it is a silent, odorless, killer.
  • If phone lines are down, use social media or texting to let others know you are OK.
  • Be a good neighbor. Check on family, friends, and neighbors, especially the elderly, those who live alone, those with medical conditions and those who may need additional assistance.