Tornadoes - Emergency Preparedness

Photo of a tornado.Tornadoes are unmistakable rotating columns of high-velocity wind that bring devastation to anything in their path. Ontario averages 20 tornadoes per year. Most tornadoes occur in June and July although the season extends from April to September. They can occur at any time of the year. They frequently develop in mid- afternoon to early evening.

Environment Canada warns the public about tornadoes but because they are hard to predict and can move at up to 70km per hour, a tornado can strike without warning. Typically, a tornado is preceded by a severe thunderstorm and is associated with black skies, strong wind and heavy rain or hail. Sometimes the sky will turn an unusual green colour and the wind will sound like a freight train.

When a tornado threatens:

  • Take shelter immediately, if available, preferably in the basement or lowest level of a sturdy building.
  • Stay away from windows, doors and exterior walls. Flying glass is extremely dangerous.
  • Don’t waste time opening windows to keep pressure from building up in the house. It’s unlikely to help anyway.
  • Outdoors, with no shelter available, lie flat in a ditch, ravine or other low lying area, and shield your head with your arms.
  • Don’t get caught in a vehicle or mobile home, which the tornado can lift. Take shelter elsewhere or, if none is available, even a ditch offers better protection.
  • Choose a location where your vehicle won’t be hurled or rolled on top of you. More than half of tornado deaths occur in mobile homes. If you live in a mobile home, it is wise to identify a nearby sturdy shelter well in advance, and go to that shelter when a severe storm is approaching.
  • Beware of flying debris. Even small objects such as sticks and straw can become lethal missiles.

Your best shelter:

  • In a house, go to the basement and take shelter under a stairway or a sturdy work table in the centre of the house.
  • In a house with no basement, the safest spot is the ground floor in the centre of the house. Small rooms tend to be more structurally sound so seek shelter in a hallway, small room, closet or bathroom (the plumbing may provide some structural stability). Lying in the bathtub with a mattress on top of you may provide good protection.
  • In a vehicle or mobile home, get outside and find other shelter. North American officials still debate whether seeking shelter in a car during a tornado is safe. Some advise, if the tornado is weak, a car can offer protection against flying debris and rollovers if the occupants fasten seat belts and keep their heads down.
  • However, there is no way of knowing how strong or violent a tornado is without the proper tools, so the safest strategy is to get out of the vehicle. As a last resort, lie in a ditch or culvert but be aware of flooding.
  • Avoid wide-span buildings, such as barns, auditoriums, shopping centres and supermarkets with large roofs.
  • Go to a nearby sturdy shelter, preferably, or to the lower floor, an inside room, restroom or hallway, or get underneath a sturdy piece of furniture.
  • At school, seek shelter in small windowless rooms such as a washroom instead of a gymnasium.
  • Avoid areas near high walls or large chimneys which may collapse.
  • In shopping centres, stay out of aisles and away from exterior walls and windows. Do not go to your parked car.
  • In high-rise buildings, move to lower levels, small interior rooms or stairwells. Stay away from elevators and windows.

When disaster strikes

  • Remain calm. Co-ordinated emergency services are responding.
  • Check for updates.
    • Halton Region’s Enhanced Community Emergency Notification Service (eCNS) is an emergency telephone notification service. It will be used in the event of a major disaster or catastrophe to communicate updates about emergency conditions, and other vital information, in addition to what you’ll receive from other sources.
    • Check our websites for updates about emergency conditions, what to do, where to go or other information you should know.
    • You may also receive information from television, radio and other sources, including door-to-door notification.
  • Help family members and neighbours.
  • Don’t forget your pets!

Be emergency ready – prepare for the first 72 hours of an emergency

  • Know the risks
  • Make a plan
  • Get a survival kit
  • More information

    To download Halton’s Personal Emergency Preparedness Guide, learn more about Halton’s Emergency Management program and what you can do to be prepared, visit halton.ca/beprepared, dial 311 or visit your local government website.