Severe Weather Safety Rules

It is very important to know what you need to do to be safe in all sorts of severe weather. You help your chances of surviving quite a bit by being in the right place at the right time when any type of severe weather strikes by knowing what to do and where to go when the watch or warning is issued.

That said, the first thing is to have at least one, preferably two, reliable sources to receive severe weather warnings. NOAA Weather Radios will tell you when your county is in a tornado or severe thunderstorm warning polygon. Smartphone apps will tell you if there is a warning where you are, thanks to the GPS chip in phones these days.

Please, please, please, do NOT depend on hearing sirens before a tornado! Even if you’re within a mile or two of a siren, you may not hear the sirens go off in the first place if you’re inside! A good idea is to have a smartphone app, weather radio, or regular cell phone text service alert you. Then go to radio or TV, whichever is more immediately accessible, and get a second source of information that way.

Severe thunderstorm and tornado warnings are issued for pretty small areas. The meteorologists at the National Weather Service use polygons to determine the best areas that need to be warned from the storms instead of entire counties. Tornado warnings especially don’t happen very often around here, so make sure to act as soon as you learn that you are in a tornado warning polygon!

Start right now and make a plan. Determine where you’ll go on a moment’s notice in the event of all types of severe weather.

  • Make sure there is a designated shelter in places you frequent, like your school, church, where you work, and especially your home.
  • Whenever you are aware of any type of risk, watch or warnings, pay attention to weather information and make sure you have multiple sources as well.
  • If they’re not already on you, keep your shoes, car keys, and wallet close at hand so you can grab them instantly if needed.
  • Make sure friends and family know what’s going on…send them a text or give them a call if you can.


The Storm Prediction Center issues a tornado watch for a large area when conditions are favorable for tornadoes to develop inside severe thunderstorms. Here’s what to do when a tornado watch is issued for our area:

  • Make sure you know where you’re going during the tornado watch period, and where to go if a warning is issued.
  • Keep an eye to the sky while you’re driving, and if you see anything suspicious, go ahead and take shelter whether there is a warning or not.
  • Notify friends or relatives about the weather risk for the next few hours.
  • If you’re in a mobile home, call a friend or relative in a sturdy shelter and go spend a few hours with them until the threat is over if you can. At the very least, make sure they know you’re coming if a warning is issued for your area.
  • Tornado watches are often issued when it’s a perfectly nice day. Don’t let this fool you, as the sunny skies are cooking up the perfect environment for severe thunderstorms and possible tornadoes to form.


A severe thunderstorm watch means that anywhere in the watch area could see large hail, damaging winds, and possible tornadoes as well.

If a severe thunderstorm watch is issued:

  • Keep in mind what you’re going to do if severe weather strikes.
  • Consider postponing outdoor activities, including any sporting events.
  • Notify friends and family of what is going on.
  • Be prepared to find substantial shelter if you’re in a mobile home. Severe thunderstorm winds can be just as damaging, or worse, than weak tornadoes!


A lot of times flash flood watches are ignored, and they shouldn’t be. Flash flooding happens quite a bit in northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia, with all of the peaks and valleys and quirks that the Appalachians provide.

If a flash flood watch is issued:

  • Think about getting to higher ground if flooding starts to be a problem. It’s always good to have friends in high places, so to speak!
  • Keep an eye on the sky…if there’s been a lot of rain for a long time, that would be a good time to start heading for higher ground.
  • Make sure friends and family know about the risk, especially if they live near streams, lakes, or rivers.

WARNING: This means a tornado, severe thunderstorm, or flash flood is occurring or radar is indicating those things. Act Now!


  • In general, get underground or to a basement if you can, get under a sturdy piece of furniture.
  • Get a helmet and put it on while you’re heading that way, and cover up with blankets or even a mattress if possible.
  • If you don’t have a basement, go to the lowest floor and get into a small room with as many walls between you and the outside.
  • Stay away from windows!
  • If you’re in a school, church, shopping center, or sporting event, go to a designated shelter. If you learn of the warning and you don’t think anyone else is aware of it, go to someone in charge (security, usher, etc.) and let them know quickly!
  • Stay away from large rooms, glass, and outside walls.


  • More than half of tornado fatalities happen in mobile homes
  • Leave for safe shelter before a tornado threatens.
  • If there is a designated safe place in your mobile home park, go there.
  • If there is none, go to a friend or relative who is in a sturdy shelter and join them in their safe place.
  • If you can’t do any of these, it is safer to be outside in a ditch or low spot than stay in the mobile home. Be aware of possible flooding concerns while you are there!
  • If you’re in a vehicle, try to drive away from the storm’s path if you can.
  • If not, find a substantial building and get in it.
  • As a last resort, get out of your vehicle and lie in a low spot, ditch, etc., away from your vehicle. Watch for flooding as well!


  • Church sanctuaries and fellowship halls are not safe places in tornadoes.
  • Get to the basement and get under a table or desk
  • If there is no basement, get to a small room or interior hallway. Try to choose part of the building opposite to the approach of the storm
  • In schools, stay away from auditoriums and gymnasiums.
  • Go to the designated shelter on the first floor or the basement.
  • Small, sturdy rooms will work, such as restrooms or closets.
  • If there is no time, dive under tables or desks and try to stay away from the windows.
  • Ask if there is a storm shelter in large retail and shopping centers.
  • Stay out of the main walkway areas, away from outside walls and windows.
  • Get under a table, counter or into a restroom or small storeroom.
  • Stay inside–do NOT go to the parking lot and find your car!
  • In a hotel or motel, go to the designated shelter area on the first floor.
  • Alert others staying there to the danger as you go.
  • Stay away from windows, get underground if you can.
  • Get under a bed or lie flat in a first-floor, interior hallway as a last resort.


  • Do NOT open windows. This is generally a waste of time and won’t help keep your home from being destroyed by a tornado.
  • Don’t go to the southwest corner of the building.
  • Don’t go to a highway overpass for protection…those are terrible places to be!
  • Tornadoes DO happen in the mountains. On April 27, 2011, a tornado struck Mountain City, Tennessee. Tornadoes have also hit Yellowstone National Park, leaving damage up and down a 10,000 foot mountain.
  • Tornadoes will also cross rivers and lakes as well. No location is tornado proof!


  • Do NOT ignore Severe Thunderstorm Warnings! While they are not tornado warnings, the parts of severe thunderstorms can be hazardous, and can indeed produce tornadoes without much notice. Remember, most tornadoes are only on the ground for a few minutes!
  • Hail, lightning, and very gusty winds are very real threats you must consider when you’re included in a severe thunderstorm warning.
  • If you’re outside, get to a nearby basement, shelter, or sturdy building. Make sure you have walls on all four sides of you!
  • If you can’t walk to shelter, try to drive to the closest shelter.
  • Stay away from windows, and stay in the basement if possible.
  • Severe thunderstorms can produce tornadoes with little or no warning, so be prepared to seek tornado shelter at a moment’s notice!
  • Make sure you’re the shortest thing around you if you’re outside during a thunderstorm while you’re seeking shelter. DO NOT take shelter under trees!


  • Act quickly. You may only have seconds to get to higher ground.
  • Don’t drive or walk into areas of standing or flowing water. It doesn’t take much to knock you over or push your car!
  • If conditions threaten, don’t camp or park your vehicle near streams.
  • Stay weather aware, with redundant sources of weather information at all times.

Special thanks to the National Weather Service and my friends at WBMA-TV, ABC 33/40 (see link on the left) for their help with some of the information on this page.


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