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A tornado is a violent, rotating column of air extending from a thunderstorm to the ground. The most violent tornadoes are capable of tremendous destruction with wind speeds of 250 mph or more. Damage paths can be in excess of one mile wide and 50 miles long. In an average year, 800 tornadoes are reported nationwide. Though they occur in some more often than others, every state is at risk for this hazard.

While tornadoes aren't as common in the Pacific Northwest as they are in other parts of the country, Washington County has experienced a handful of tornadoes since 1950. Knowing the basics of what to do ahead of time will help your family stay safe should one occur.

Before a Tornado


  • Choose a safe location in your home where you would shelter during a tornado. This location should be in a basement or on the ground floor and have no windows if possible.
  • Be alert to changing weather conditions.
  • Listen to NOAA Weather Radio or to local radio or television for the latest information.
  • Remember that a Tornado Watch means it is possible that a tornado might occur in your area. Remain alert for approaching storms. 
  • A Tornado Warning means that a tornado has been sighted or indicated by weather radar. Take shelter immediately once a Tornado Warning is issued.
  • If your area is placed under a Tornado Watch, monitor local news and keep an eye on the sky. Look for the following danger signs:
    • Dark skies
    • Hail
    • A dark, low-hanging cloud (particularly if rotating)
    • Loud roar
    • If you see approaching storms or any of the danger signs, be prepared to take shelter immediately.
During a Tornado
  • If you are under a tornado WARNING, seek shelter immediately!
  • If you are inside, go to the safe location you picked to protect yourself from glass and other flying objects. The tornado may be approaching your area.
  • Head injuries are a common tornado-related injury. If possible, children and adults should wear secured helmets for protection.
  • If you are outside, hurry to the basement of a nearby sturdy building or lie flat in a dry ditch or low-lying area.
  • If you are in a car or mobile home, get out immediately and hurry to the basement of a nearby sturdy building or lie flat in a dry ditch or low-lying area.
After a Tornado
  • Watch out for fallen power lines and stay away from areas that have received damage until you receive further instructions.
  • Listen to the radio for information and instructions.
  • Use a flashlight to inspect your home for damage; do not use candles at any time in case of a gas leak.




The Hazard-Specific Information section was created using information from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and American Red Cross.