Posted: Fri, 09/30/2011 - 2:24pm Updated: Mon, 05/22/2017 - 8:15am

Several times in recent years, schools have been hit by tornadoes. In most instances, fortunately, classes were not in session. In some other instances, where students were present, school officials familiar with twisters safeguarded the children by taking prompt action just before the tornadoes hit.

NOAA's National Weather Service urges that all schools develop plans and conduct drills to cope with tornadoes--particularly in the South and central states, where the threat is greatest. Tornado drills require different actions than fire drills.

Among details to consider:

  • Remember that the National Weather Service issues a tornado Watch when the possibility of tornadoes exists, and a tornado Warning when a tornado has been spotted or indicated on radar. Remember also there may not be time for a tornado Warning before a twister strikes. Tornadoes form suddenly. Teachers and students should know the difference between a Watch and a Warning.
  • School officials at the State and county level should have a plan for rapid dissemination of tornado Watches and Warnings to every school in the system--either by radio or telephone.
  • Each school should be inspected and tornado shelter areas designated. Schools with basements should use these as shelters. Schools without basements should use interior hallways on the ground floor that are not parallel to the tornado's path, which is usually from the southwest. Never use gymnasiums, auditoriums, or other rooms with wide free-span roofs. Teachers and students should know their designated shelter areas.
  • School Administrators should establish procedures governing use or non-use of school buses during tornado Watches and Warnings. Generally speaking, school buses should continue to operate during tornado Watches, but not during tornado Warnings. School buses are easily rolled by tornado winds.
  • During a tornado Watch, specific teachers or other school staff members should be designated to monitor commercial radio or TV for tornado Warnings, even if the school has a NOAA Weather Radio tone-alert system. Weather spotters also should keep an eye on the sky for dark, rolling clouds, hail, driving rain, or a sudden increase in wind, in addition to the telltale funnel. Tornadoes are often obscured by precipitation or darkness. Other public agencies, too, report tornado sightings.
  • A special alarm system should be designated to indicate a tornado has been sighted and is approaching. A backup alarm should be planned for use if electrical power fails--perhaps a battery-operated bullhorn, an inexpensive hand-cranked siren, or even an old-fashioned hand-swung bell.
  • Specific teachers should be assigned to round up children on playgrounds or other outdoor areas during a tornado warning. Otherwise, they might be overlooked.
  • Children in schoolrooms of weak construction--such as portable or temporary classrooms--should be escorted to sturdier buildings or to predetermined ditches, culverts, or ravines, and instructed to lie face down, hands over head.
  • Most tornado deaths are caused by head injuries.
  • When children are assembled in school basements or interior hallways during a tornado drill or Warning, they should be instructed to respond to a specific command to assume protective postures, facing interior walls, when the danger in imminent. Such a command might be: "Everybody down!" It is essential that this command be instantly understood and obeyed. Illustrations showing the protective position should be posted on bulletin boards.
  • If a school bus is caught in the open when a tornado is approaching, the children should be escorted to a nearby ditch or ravine and made to lie face down, hands over head. They should be far enough away so the bus cannot topple on them.
  • School-bus drivers should be regularly drilled in Tornado procedures.
  • School district officials planning new buildings or additions should keep tornadoes in mind when setting construction standards.

Tornado Actions

Tornado Watch


Signal: ______________________________________________

IT MEANS: There is a chance of dangerous weather later with damaging winds. Be on the lookout for the danger signs listed below and be ready to move quickly to safety if the Warning Signal is given.

WHAT TO DO ______________________________________________

Tornado Warning


Signal: ______________________________________________

IT MEANS: A tornado has been sighted. Go at once to the area listed below. If you see or hear the tornado coming, do not wait for the Warning Signal--go to your shelter area if there is time, it not, curl up on the floor and protect yourself as the boy in the picture is doing. If a tornado comes while you are on the school bus, get away from the bus and into a nearby ditch or ravine. Lie down, hands over head.

WHAT TO DO ______________________________________________

Danger Signs

    Thunder, lightning, heavy rains, and strong winds
  • HAIL
    Pellets of ice from dark-clouded skies
    Like a hundred railroad locomotives; a crashing thunderous sound
    Dark, spinning "rope" or column from the sky to the ground