Tornadoes and Tornado Safety

Severe Weather Awareness Week:  Tornadoes and Tornado Safety

Article written by:  David Floyd, National Weather Service, Warning Coordination Meterologist

Severe Weather Awareness Week is a time when the National Weather Service (NWS) reminds you of the hazards associated with thunderstorms.  The topic for today is tornadoes and tornado safety.

What months do most tornadoes occur in Colorado?

The threat of tornadoes in Colorado increases rapidly in May and continues through August.  Ninety percent of Colorado tornadoes occur during this four month period but tornadoes have been reported as early as February and as late as October. 

Where do most tornadoes strike in Colorado?

Tornadoes have been reported in just about all areas of the state but historically 95% of Colorado tornadoes occur along and east of Interstate 25 where heat and moisture in the lower atmosphere are often more abundant.

What time of day do tornadoes tyically occur?

Tornadoes have occured at every hour of the day but most occur between 1 p.m. and 8 p.m.  Across the country about 90% of tornadoes are considered weak with winds under 110 mph. Winds of this magnitude will damage a wood fram construction home but may completely destroy a mobile home or outbuilding. 

How long does a tornado last?

They typically have a life span of five or ten minutes and result in less than 5% of tornado fatalities.  About 10% of tornadoes are considered strong with winds up to 165 mph.  Winds of this magnitude will cause considerable damage to most buildings.  These tornadoes may last 20 minutes or longer and are responsible for nearly 30% of tornado deaths.  Violent tornadoes account for only 1% of all tornadoes but they result in nearly 70% of all tornado fatalities because they destroy much of what is in their path.  Violent tornadoes can last over an hour and travel over 50 miles before dissipating.  The only chance of surviving a violent tornado is to be inside a safe room or underground shelter.

Tornado Safety:  Get in, Get down and Cover up.

An easy phrase to remember for tornado safety is to get in, get down and cover up.  Get inside a sturdy building.  Get down to the lowest floor or most interior room in that building and cover your head.  The best option for tornado safety is to be inside a well-built structure within a basement, safe room or underground storm shelter.

If none of these options are available move to a hallway or a small interior room on the lowest floor such as a closet or bathroom.  Cover yourself with blankets or get under a sturdy piece of furniture because the greatest risk of injury from tornadoes is from flying debris.  Abondon modular homes and mobile homes as they offer little protection from tornadoes.  If a tornado approaches leave these locations and seek safety in a nearby building or storm shelter. 

Tornado safety if you are driving or outside.

If you are driving in open country and see a tornado simply drive away from the tornado path if time permits.  Do not take shelter beneath a highway overpass.  If you are in an automobile and a tornado is fast approaching with little time for action either pull over and remain buckled in your vehicle while crouching down or abandon your vehicle and lie in a ditch or culvert away from your vehicle and protect your head.  

If you are caught outside and cannot find a safe shelter crawl into a culvert or lie down in a narrow ditch and cover your head.  Remember that the worst place to be when a tornado threatens is outside in the midst of flying debris.

Where can you get the latest weather information?

You can get the latest weather forecasts and severe weather watches and warnings from a local NOAA weather radio all-hazards station and on the internet at