Tornadoes are widely considered as the nature's most violent storms – carrying winds up to 300 miles per hour that can level buildings and carry cars 80 feet or more through the air. They are also often accompanied by flash floods, hail, heavy rains and lightning.
If a tornado shelter is not available, go to the basement of a building. Stay away from windows, and cover yourself with a mattress, cushions or sleeping bags. If possible, get under a heavy table that can protect you from falling debris.
Stay in a windowless room on the lowest level if you can't go underground
In a building with no basement, avoid windows and go to the lowest floor. Alternatively, seek shelter in a small room that is located near the center of the house, under a stairwell, or in an interior hallway with no windows.
Regardless of where you are, crouch low to the ground or lie down, face down and cover your head with your hands and arms. Take cover under a strong table if possible, and cover yourself with a mattress, cushions or blankets.
Bathrooms can be particularly effective because they are fortified by pipes and you can lie in a bathtub.
Stay out of elevators, as you could be trapped in them if power is lost. Instead, use the stairs to descend to the lowest floor.
Know where NOT to seek shelter
The following locations should be your absolute last resort during a tornado, as they all have the potential to be severely damaged by high winds:
Buildings with flat, wide roofs, such as cafeterias, gyms, etc.
Open rooms with lots of windows
Remain in your shelter until the danger of tornadoes has passed
"Wall clouds," where the base of a thunderhead seems to lower
Drive to the nearest shelter
If you hear the warning and it is still safe to drive, get to the closest building you can find. Keep your seat belt on and get off the open road as soon as you can. Turn on your high beams and move immediately to some sort of structure, preferably with a basement.
If you can see the tornado and/or flying debris makes driving dangerous, stay put.
If your car is pelted with debris while driving, this is your cue to pull over.
Never try to out-drive a tornado in an urban environment; get into any building as shelter instead.
Stay in your car if there's absolutely no other structure nearby
Fasten your seatbelt and duck down below the window line. Take your coat, a blanket, a pillow, etc. and put it over your head and back, and hold your hands over your head to protect your skull.
Stay put until you can safely drive to a shelter.
Be on the lookout for multiple tornadoes. Again, there may be multiple tornadoes after the first one has passed.
Pay attention to tornado watches and warnings
A tornado watch means that there is a threat of tornadoes within your area and that you should keep an eye on the news. A tornado warning is much more serious and means that a sign of rotation has been detected.
Whenever you see a tornado watch, keep the television or radio on for further news.
Whenever you hear a tornado warning, get to cover immediately.
Create an emergency plan in your house
Make a plan for where to go during a tornado. Have this plan in place and practice before you need it. Everyone you live with should know exactly which room of the house to go to in the event of a tornado. Make sure that this room is stocked with all the necessary provisions.
Note the places in each room where you should seek cover if you cannot escape, like under tables or cabinets. Are there any places where you would be trapped or in extra danger, such as upstairs rooms? Are there ways to make them safe, such as stashing a cheap rope ladder?
Do you have first aid kits, crowbars, fire extinguishers or other special equipment around the house that people should know how to find?
Check your emergency supplies
Keep at least a three-day food and water supply in an emergency, such as losing power and water during a tornado outbreak.
Important documents such as birth certificates, titles, Social Security cards and insurance papers should be kept in a fire-proof and waterproof safe.
Clear your lawn of potentially dangerous debris
Cut away dead or damaged tree branches that could be ripped off in high winds.
Tie down or secure lawn furniture.
Keep your lawn free of anything that could turn into a weapon when picked up by a tornado, such as glass gazing balls.
Consider building a tornado/storm shelter
If you live in a high-risk area and tornadoes are a regular part of your local weather, buying or building a shelter is well worth the cost. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has produced a guide to building a shelter yourself as well.