Tornadoes in North Carolina

— Written By NC State Extension
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photo courtesy of NSSL

The tornado season is March through August in North Carolina, although tornadoes can occur at any time of year. Although North Carolina has fewer tornadoes than the Midwest, we still face an average of 31 tornadoes a year. On March 28, 1984, tornadoes took the lives of 42 North Carolinians, and injured 801. On November 28, 1988, a single deadly tornado killed four and injured 154, leaving 982 homeless. This storm stayed on the ground for 83 miles on a path from Raleigh to Northampton County.

More recently in 2011, during the three-day period from April 14-16, more than 177 tornadoes erupted across the country. Thirty of those were confirmed in North Carolina, and left 22 dead in their wake.

Knowing what to do during a tornado may mean the difference between life and death. If you hear a tornado warning, seek shelter immediately. Stay away from windows.

• In office buildings: Go to an interior hallway on a lower floor, preferably in the basement, or designated shelter area.

• In factories: Go to the section of the plant offering the greatest protection. Someone should be responsible for disconnecting fuel lines and electric circuits. Keep a lookout posted.

• In homes: Get to the lowest level of your home in an interior room as far away from exterior walls and windows as possible. If you have no basement, choose an inside wall away from windows and sit flat against it. Central halls, bathrooms, and closets are good choices. Get under heavy furniture, if possible, to protect yourself from flying glass and debris. Then, stay away from windows. Keep tuned to a battery-powered radio for latest weather information.

• In mobile homes: Go to the nearest community shelter or other sturdy building. Mobile homes are especially dangerous during high winds and may be overturned. If you cannot get to a shelter or sturdy building, lie flat in the nearest ditch, ravine, or culvert, and cover your head with your hands.

• In schools: Go to an interior hallway on the lowest floor. Avoid gymnasiums and buildings with large, free-span roofs.

• In shopping centers: Go to a designated shelter area, or lie flat outside in a ditch or a low protected ground. Do not stay in your car. A tornado can pick it up and toss it.

• In a car: If you are in the open country, lay flat in the nearest ditch, ravine or culvert, but not where you could be trapped by floodwaters. Do not take shelter under a bridge or overpass.

Do not go outside to look for the tornado. Go to a below-ground location, if possible. If not, stay on the lowest level of your house. A storm cellar, root cellar, center laundry room, bathroom with no exterior walls or a center hallway in your house are possible choices. Stay away from windows. Do not run out into the street or turn into the path of the tornado. Protect yourself against the “sandblasting” effect of flying glass and bits of sharp metal. Cover yourself with an old rug and crouch under heavy furniture.

Know the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning.

Tornado Watch
A tornado watch indicates that weather conditions may cause tornadoes to develop in your area. A watch does not mean that a tornado has been sighted. The watch may last up to 8 hours. You should be prepared for a possible tornado. You don’t need to move to a shelter, but keep a radio or TV, be alert for threatening weather conditions and have a safe shelter prepared and accessible.

Tornado Warning 
Local weather bureau offices issue tornado warnings when a tornado funnel has actually been sighted or indicated by Doppler radar. The warning covers a short period of time and specific small areas. The warning will indicate where the tornado was detected and the area through which it is expected to move. If you are in the expected path of the storm, take shelter immediately.

Knowing what to do during a tornado may mean the difference between life and death. If you hear a tornado warning, seek shelter immediately.

Extension Factsheet attach_file


This publication offers information on tornadoes and tornado season in North Carolina.

Updated on Mar 2, 2015
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