Tornadoes pack the fastest winds on earth. While they're not nearly as large or longlived as hurricanes, they can do tremendous damage.
Like hurricanes, the winds in tornadoes can turn anything not tied down into dangerous shrapnel. It can rip roofs off, destroy buildings and uproot trees. Most thunderstorms don't spawn tornadoes, but all tornadoes ARE spawned by thunderstorms. A thunderstorm that produces large hail is capable of giving birth to a tornado and the more often seen downbursts.
Tornadoes ALWAYS come at the back of the thunderstorms that spawn them, NEVER at the front. GUSTNADOES are weak vortexes that can form at the front of thunderstorms, but rarely cause problems. If a severe thunderstorm moves over your area and it does spawn a tornado, you'll probably see these things happen:
1. The storm will bring heavy rain first...
2. There could be some hail, the larger it is (dime sized or larger) , the more potential there is for worse things to come...
3. There could be a lull in the storm as the "rainfree base" passes over...
4. A tornado would then come at the back of the storm.
If you get a tornado warning on TV, radio or see one coming and you're at home:
1. Go inside immediately and proceed to the basement it you have one. If you don't have a basement, go to the innermost room of your house, away from windows. A closet under a stairwell is a good place. Don't worry about opening windows to "equalize the pressure". That really doesn't work and the time you spend in front of a window could be better spent in the closet. If the tornado strikes you don't want to be a glass catcher either!
2. If you're in your car and can safely make your way to a safe structure do it. Contrary to the video tape many of us saw on TV, bridges ARE NOT SAFE places to take shelter. They can act as a catchall for the dangerous debris that's thrown about and you can also be sucked out from under the bridge and killed.
3. If you can't get to a safe building and the tornado is approaching, GET OUT OF YOUR CAR and get in a ditch, culvert or other low area. If you think you'd be safe in your car, try this:
Take an empty soda can and drop a penny in it. Now shake it as violently as you can. Imagine the can is your car and you're the penny!
If you'd like to find about everything you'd ever want to know about tornadoes, this is a great site: The Tornado Project
Get more tornado information from the National Severe Storms Laboratory here.