Severe Weather Awareness Week: Tornado Safety

The Weather Authority
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Tornadoes are certainly no stranger to the Tennessee Valley.


From 1950 through 2018, over 2,000 tornadoes have been confirmed in the state of Alabama, per the National Weather Service in Birmingham. It's also important to note that tornadoes can occur year round in the Southeast.

In fact, while spring is often a peak season for tornadoes in the Valley, a second peak also occurs in the fall, during the months of September through December.

Tornadoes vs Funnel Clouds vs Water Spouts

By definition, a tornado is a violently rotating column of air in contact with the surface of the ground, and it spawns from a cumulonimbus cloud. Wind speeds within a tornado can reach well over 200 mph.

A funnel cloud is a condensation cloud associated with a violently rotating column of air that has not yet made contact with the ground. A funnel cloud is not a tornado until it reaches the ground.

A waterspout is a tornado that forms over water. Once the waterspout moves over land, it is considered a tornado. Waterspouts should be considered dangerous, considering the wind damage they can cause due to debris.

Tornado safety: How to protect yourself before, during and after a tornado

Tornado alerts come in two forms: a tornado WATCH and a tornado WARNING.

A tornado watch means that atmospheric conditions are favorable for tornadoes to occur. During a tornado watch, be sure to monitor your weather radio or Live Alert 19 app for any changes in weather conditions. Gather your emergency kit and get ready to take action to head to safety within a moment's notice. You should already have a designated safe place; this can either be an interior room on the lowest level of your home, or a local storm shelter.

(MORE: List of Tennessee Valley Tornado Shelters)

(MORE: Is your tornado "safe place" actually safe?)

In contrast, a tornado warning means that a tornado is imminent or is already occurring. During a tornado warning, head to shelter immediately.

  • If you are outdoors, head for a sturdy building or tornado shelter immediately.
  • If you are on the road, do not try to outrun the tornadoIf possible, get out of the vehicle and find a low-lying area or ditch; lie as close to the ground as possible while protecting your head, face, and neck. The weakest winds in a tornado are located closest to the ground, so moving to the lowest level possible is the best thing to do in this situation.
  • If you are indoors during a tornado warning, stay inside and immediately move to the lowest floor or basement level of your building, preferably in a central room or closet. Try to grab a jacket or blanket to protect your head, and make sure you have shoes on -- you do not want to walk through debris with bare feet once the storm has passed.

Stay sheltered until the warning has fully expired, then continue to monitor news coverage for important information until the storm threat is over.

If you see any storm damage due to high winds, hail or a tornado, wait until the danger passes and then snap a picture through the Live Alert 19 app (you can also email us a Please be sure to include your name and city/town/location. Your damage reports help ensure that forecasters at the National Weather Service as well as at WHNT News 19 provide the most detailed record of what occurred from the storms, which helps improve our forecasting abilities for future storms.


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