National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce

Common Fears Regarding Severe Weather

These pages were created from tips provided by meteorologists at the National Weather Service in Norman, OK and Kansas City, MO

Sheltering from Storms

I don't have a storm shelter.


Most communities in our area don't have public shelters, but some do. Check with your local emergency manager or fire department to see if there are public storm shelters near you.

If you live in a well built home, there's probably a safe area in your home that would protect you from almost any tornado. If you have a basement, that's the first place to look. In general, look for a small room or closet on the lowest floor and away from outside walls, doors, and windows. There are no safe areas in any mobile home and you should not attempt to shelter from a tornado in a mobile home.

If you live in an apartment or rental housing, ask the manager if there is a shelter for residents to use, either on property or nearby. If you live in a mobile home park, check to see if there is a community shelter on the property.

Check with with co-workers, friends and family in the immediate area to see if they have a shelter that you can use, or even just a place to go where you would feel safer.

Do not assume that public buildings are storm shelters.

If you will have to drive to get to your shelter, plan ahead - you cannot wait until the warning is issued. Figure out where you will go to be safe and go there long before the warning is issued for where you are.


I'm nervous about being away from a storm shelter on a severe weather day.


Forecasters usually have a pretty good idea of what time of day to expect storms. Find a weather information source you trust and keep an eye on those timing forecasts.

When possible, plan your day to ensure you'll be close to your shelter during the time storms are expected.


I'm afraid I'm going to be driving when a tornado or bad storm happens.


On most severe weather days, meteorologists will know the general time frame when storms are expected. Use that information to help plan your day.

Think about how might adjust your schedule to reduce your chances of being caught on the road in a storm. Can you leave work early to be sure you're home in plenty of time before the storms are expected? Should you delay or cancel an afternoon or evening activity that will put you on the road when storms are expected?


I have access to a storm shelter, but I'm stressed because I don't know when I should go to shelter. I don't want to go too soon but I don't want to wait too long, either.


When you go to shelter depends on how far away your shelter is. If it's in the garage, you can wait longer than if it's in the backyard. If your shelter is down the street or across town, you will have to go much sooner to allow plenty of time.

You don't have to wait for a warning, a siren or any other signal. You can take shelter whenever you want to.

Of course, this is more complicated when you have to deal with pets, children, the elderly or others who may have trouble accessing the shelter quickly.

Do not wait for a siren to take shelter. If a tornado warning is issued for where you are, or if there's a tornado warning with a storm that's headed your way, consider going to shelter sooner rather than later.


I'm worried that I may not get enough warning to allow me to get to shelter in time.


Don't rely on just one source for your warnings. Have multiple ways to get a warning for your location.

Consider going to shelter when the storms are in the next county over from you. You don't have to wait until the warning is for your county. This may mean you go to shelter more often and sooner than you need to, but being in your shelter with plenty of time to spare will make things less stressful.

If your shelter plan involves driving somewhere else, you have to go early. You cannot wait until the warning is issued.


I’m worried I won’t be able to get my pets to shelter in time.


Pack a go-bag for your pets with everything they would need if they had to go to shelter, including food, water, medications, leash, pet carrier, toys, etc. Do this long before the storms arrive and have it ready to go so you’re not scrambling to find everything during a warning.

On a nice weather day, practice getting your pets into shelter and see how long it takes and if you’re going to have any problems.

Wherever your shelter is, be sure you allow plenty of time to go to shelter, even if it means going before there’s even a warning for your county.


If there’s a large violent tornado, I’ll die if I’m not below ground.


Violent tornadoes (EF4 and EF5) are very dangerous, but thankfully they’re also exceptionally rare. In both Missouri and Kansas, less than 1% of tornadoes ever get that strong, and well less than 1% are classified at the top of the scale - EF5. Your chances of ever being affected by a violent tornado are very very small. And even if you are impacted, a violent tornado does not mean certain death.

Every tornado deserves respect, and if you’re in the path of one you should take shelter. A basement, or underground storm shelter or engineered concrete/steel above ground safe room is the safest place. If you don’t have access to one of those, get to a sturdy building and take cover on the lowest floor. Put as many walls between you and the tornado as you can. Stay away from outside walls, doors and windows. Cover your head and upper body with sleeping bags, couch cushions, pillows or blankets. If you have a helmet - baseball, football, motorcycle, etc - wear it to protect your head.