Keeping Pets Safe During Tornadoes

A picture of a tornado showing the kinds and sources of vortex infrasound generation. Attribution: NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory   Source:

Attribution: NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory Source:

Tornadoes can happen at any time during the year, yet the most common season for tornadoes starts in the spring as the cold temperatures give way to warmer.  In most cases, tornadoes happen at night, and being prepared is what will make the difference of our pets surviving and not being separated from us.

Tornadoes are violent rotating column of air that contact with the ground and a cumulonimbus, or in rare cases the base of a cumulus cloud.   They come in many sizes and shapes yet most are visible as condensation funnels in which the narrow end touches the ground resulting in damage, downed trees and flying debris and dust.  The majority of them occur  in “Tornado Alley”, a specific region of the United States.  Tornadoes have been observed on every continent except Antarctica and can occur anywhere in North America.

The U.S. National Weather Service (USNWS) uses pulse-Doppler radar to detect and recognize patterns of storms that may produce hook echoes.  The USNWS provides storm spotters classes for volunteers to be weather spotters to assist in the efforts of spotting dangerous storms.  USNWS has created a network of weather professionals and storm spotters that provide them with vital information to inform communities of approaching tornadoes.  “When thunder roars, go indoors!”

Tornadoes usually come with thunderstorms, and understanding the different alerts is imperative to protecting yourself and pets.

  •  Severe thunderstorm watch means that conditions are right for lightning or damaging winds great then 58 miles per hour, hail that can reach a diameter of 0.75 inches, and heavy rain. Start taking actions to protect yourself and your pets.
  • Severe thunderstorm warning means one has been sighted either in your area or is headed your way.  Animals, especially dogs, often hear thunderstorms long before humans, and will indicate the storm’s approach by becoming anxious, hiding, vocalizing or showing some type of stress. Horses sometimes will run around their pasture frantically.
  • Tornado watch means that conditions are right for tornadoes to develop and keeping an eye on the sky became imperative.
  • Tornado warning means that a tornado has been sighted, either by a spotter or on radar.  These warnings will give the location and the path of the tornado.  Warnings will go out immediately to areas that can be affected by the warning.  Take cover when warnings are issued in your area – and include your pets!

You can increase the chances that you and your pets will survive a tornado by preparing yourself.  This means taking several steps to keep yourself, your family and your pets safe during thunderstorms and tornadoes

  • Make your disaster plan and include your pets and practice it.
  • Designate a safe area in or near your home that will allow animals to be brought inside.  Pet-proof these areas by closing off and eliminating unsafe corners and areas where pets may hide, and move dangerous items likes tools and chemicals from these areas.
  • If you don’t have shelter from a tornado, stay in the center of your home and away from the windows and outside walls.  Take cover under solid furniture or mattresses and protect your heads.  Your pets should be in carriers to protect them.
  • If you are driving and a tornado is spotted  get out of  your car with your pets and seek shelter. If you use a ditch, be watchful for flood waters so that you and your pets do not drown.  Protect your head and stay low to the ground.
  • Teach all family members what to do if they are at home, outside, in a car when these storms approach and include teaching them how to relocate all animals to safe areas.
  • If your animals become stressed during these storms, mitigate their responses.  Contact your vet for safe solutions and remember that drugging them could actually hinder attempts at relocating them to safe areas.
  • Brings your pet inside and remember: if it is NOT safe for you to be outside it is NOT safe for  your pets to me out.
  • Create an evacuation and first aid kit for your family including your pets and keep it easily accessible.
  • Maintain emergency pet supplies as part of your evacuation kit and secure this in a tornado proof room or cellar.  Be sure these supplies can be easily transported.  Include in your kits:
    • An adequate supply of food, water and treats for your pets
    • Sanitation items which can be litter box and litter, puppy pads, bags for picking up dog feces.
    • Crates for each pet to provide a secure place for them as the storm passes.  Emergency shelters that accept pets will require these before pets are granted access.
    • Do not forget your pets medications.
    • Include copies of your pets vaccinations and current photo of them with you.
    • Make sure your pets shots are up to date
    • Each pet should have a collar with an identification tag that is up to date and visible.
    • Micro-chipping your pet will increase the changes of your pet being reunited if you become separated.  This information must be up to date.
    • Practice with your pets in getting them into the tornado safe area
      • Train dogs to go into the safe areas and to come on command during distractions
      • Learn to teach how to quickly and safely secure all your pets
      • Find favorite hiding places and learn how to safely remove pets from them.

 Never leave pets chained or enclosed outside in a way that they cannot escape danger.

 Take your pets, evacuation and first aid kits if you have to evacuate.

Tornadoes can occur anytime of the year. By taking precautions and making preparations, pet parents can increase the chances of their pets’ survival and staying with their families.  Your pets are family too! When tornado warnings are go off, take cover and take your pets with you.  Taking care of your pets after the storms will be just as important.  Your home maybe very different after a disaster; familiar landmarks and  smells are missing, things in disarray, downed trees and power lines. This can be very distressing and confusing for your pets.  Leash your pets and don’t allow them to roam in the yards.  Your pets can easily get lost under these conditions.  Keep dogs on leashes and cats in carriers until you have completed your damage assessment to prevent escapes.  Get your pets back to normal routines as soon as you can and be patient with them as they may develop behavioral issues resulting from stress.

Joyce Rheal is based in Southern Illinois and is a nationally certified pet care consultant, trainer, and the author of Preparing Your Pets for Emergencies and Disasters.

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