Tornado Safety


Tornadoes can occur anywhere. Every state in United States experiences tornadoes. No location is immune. Even though tornadoes do not frequently occur in East Tennessee, they still pose a significant threat. Contrary to popular belief, our local terrain of mountains, hills, and valleys does not protect us from tornadoes.


What is a tornado?

A tornado is a violently rotating column of air extending from the base of a thunderstorm to the ground.


Watch vs. Warning

TORNADO WATCH Issued by the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, OK when conditions are favorable for the development of tornadoes within the next 3-6 hours.

  • Remain alert to changing weather conditions
  • Monitor NOAA Weather Radio or local media for updates and warnings
  • Be prepared to seek shelter ASAP in the event a warning is issued
TORNADO WARNING Issued by the local National Weather Service office (ours is in Morristown) when a tornado is indicated by Doppler radar or has been spotted.Seek Shelter Immediately!

If you are in or near a sturdy structure or building…

  • Seek shelter in the basement or on the lowest level. An interior room or hallway with no windows or outside walls is ideal.
  • Avoid rooms with exterior walls or large rooms such as gymnasiums or auditoriums.

If you are in a mobile home…

  • Mobile homes are death traps, offer no shelter, and should be abandoned. Seek shelter as mentioned above. If that is not possible, seek shelter in a ditch or low-lying area. Lie flat and cover your head with your hands.

If you are in a vehicle…

  • Drive to the closest substantial structure and seek shelter is possible. If not possible, vacate the vehicle and lie flat in a ditch, gulley, or other low-lying area with your hands over your head.
  • NEVER seek shelter under a bridge or overpass!

If you are outdoors with substantial shelter nearby…

  • Seek shelter in a low-lying area such as a ditch or gulley. Lie flat and place your hands over your head.
  • Avoid tall objects such as trees and poles as well as metal objects that may attract lightning.
  • Be alert to rising water in low-lying areas and flash flooding.


Tornado vs Funnel Cloud

There is a difference between a tornado and a funnel cloud. A tornado touches the ground. A funnel cloud does not. Although a funnel cloud is not in contact with the ground below, they are still VERY dangerous. A funnel cloud indicates that a storm is capable of producing a tornado or has already produced a tornado. Funnel clouds can “drop” and form a tornado very quickly.


EF Scale

As of 2007, the National Weather Service uses the Enhanced Fujita scale (EF-scale)  to rate tornadoes.


Tornado Myths

  • Hills and mountains prevent tornadoes. This widespread myth has probably gotten many people killed because they felt their community was immune from tornadoes. While terrain does play a factor in tornado development and our local geography is generally not tornado friendly, the hills and mountains of East Tennessee do not protect us from tornadoes.
  • Opening windows will prevent damage. Untrue. If a tornado strikes, it will likely blow your windows out, anyway. Do not waste previous time opening windows when you could be seeking shelter.
  • Sirens will sound when a tornado is coming. Most cities and town in East Tennessee do not have sirens capable of alerting the public to severe weather. Even if they did, sirens are difficult to hear indoors and even outdoors due to our terrain. The best way to be alerted to severe weather is by NOAA Weather Radio.


Tornado Facts:

  • Tornadoes can occur any time of day, any day of the year
  • Tornadoes may appear nearly transparent until dust and debris are picked up or a clouds forms withing the funnel.
  • The average tornado moves from southwest to northeast, but tornadoes can move in any direction and can suddenly change their direction.
  • Tornadoes can travel up to 70 mph and can feature winds over 200 mph.
  • Tornadoes can accompany tropical storms and hurricanes as they move onto land.
  • Waterspouts are tornadoes that form over water. They can move onshore and cause damage to coastal area.

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