First, it surprises me how many people still get confused between a WATCH and a WARNING.
A WATCH means that severe weather is possible. Use this advanced notice to plan, as the potential storms could still be hours away.
A WARNING means that severe weather is happening right now. A lot of people don’t take Severe Thunderstorm Warnings seriously: To them, if it’s not a tornado, it’s not dangerous, and that couldn’t be any further from the truth. Some high-end severe thunderstorms generate wind as strong as a tornado -- the only difference is that this wind is blowing in a straight line, and not rotating. A Tornado Warning means that either somebody has visually confirmed a tornado, or Doppler radar is showing strong indication that a tornado may be developing. You need to take cover immediately.
Where do I take cover?
The rules about where to protect yourself from a tornado are actually quite simple.
First, don’t delay! A number of years ago I did a story about two women in Novi (one visiting the other) who grabbed their children and rushed down the basement as a tornado approached. It hit the house and severely damaged it only thirty seconds after they got down there, and they didn’t suffer as much as a scratch. Seconds really do make a difference in some cases.
Second, stay away from windows! Your parents or grandparents (or maybe you) were told many years ago to open windows when a tornado threatens. That is not only wrong, but actually makes things even worse. Furthermore, windows offer you no protection from wind-whipped debris (more on this in a moment).
Third, if you have access to a basement, seek shelter down there, and further protect yourself by getting under a table or going into a small room if one’s available.
Finally, if the building you’re in does not have a basement, then get into a small interior room on the lowest floor, such as a bathroom, closest, or pantry. The reason you want to be in or near the center of the building is that this puts some walls between you and the tornado, which protects you from flying debris.
Remember: Most people who are hurt or killed by tornadoes are hit by airborne debris so, the more walls between you and the tornado, the better.