1. What is a tornado?

It is a column of violently rotating winds extending down from a thunderstorm cloud and touching the surface of the earth.

2. What is the difference between a tornado and a funnel cloud?

A funnel cloud is also a column of violently rotating winds extending down from a thunderstorm; however, it does not touch the earth.

3. How many tornadoes usually occur in Michigan every year?

An average of 16 tornadoes occurs in Michigan each year. Since 1950, 239 persons have been killed due to tornadoes. During this same time, Michigan has experienced 830 tornadoes.

4. When do tornadoes generally occur?

Most tornadoes occur during the months of June, July and August in the late afternoon and evening hours. However, tornadoes can occur anytime of the day or night in almost any month during the year.

5. How fast do tornadoes travel?

Tornadoes generally travel from the southwest and at an average speed of 30 miles per hour. However, some tornadoes have very erratic paths, with speeds approaching 70 mph.

6. How far do tornadoes travel once they touch the ground?

The average Michigan tornado is on the ground for less than ten minutes and travels a distance of about five miles. However, they do not always follow the norm, and have been known to stay on the ground for more than an hour and travel more than 100 miles.

7. What is a tornado watch?

A tornado/severe thunderstorm watch is issued whenever conditions exist for severe weather to develop. Watches are usually for large areas about two-thirds the size of lower Michigan and are usually two-to-six hours long. Watches give you time to plan and prepare.

8. What is a tornado warning?

The local Weather Service (NWS) office issues a tornado warning whenever a tornado has been sighted or NWS Doppler Radar indicates a thunderstorm capable of producing a tornado. A severe thunderstorm warning is issued whenever a severe thunderstorm is observed or NWS Doppler Radar indicates a thunderstorm capable of producing damaging winds or large hail. Warnings are for smaller areas, such as counties, and are usually 30 minutes to one hour in length. You must act immediately when you first hear the warning. If severe weather is reported near you, seek shelter immediately. If not, keep a constant lookout for severe weather and stay near a shelter.

9. How do I find out about a warning if my electricity is already out?

In some areas, civil emergency sirens will be your first official warning. In addition, if your television or radio has battery back-up capability, you may receive National Weather Service warnings from local media.

Preparing for a tornado:

  • Have emergency supplies on hand, including a battery-operated radio, a flashlight and a supply of fresh batteries.
  • Know the location of designated shelter areas in public facilities, such as schools, shopping centers and other public buildings.
  • Make an inventory of household furnishings and other possessions. Supplement it with photographs of each room. Keep in a safe place.
  • Plan ahead. Be sure everyone in your household knows where to go and what to do in case of a tornado warning.
  • For more information click here to view FEMA's Be Prepared for springtime severe weather!

What to do when a tornado threatens:

  • Get into a shelter, preferably a permanent structure, in the basement or lowest floor.
  • Stay away from windows, doors and outside walls. Protect your head with a pillow, blankets, or even a mattress.
  • In homes and small buildings, go to the basement and get under something sturdy. If no basement is available, go to an interior part of home of the lowest level. A good rule of thumb is to put as many walls between you and the tornado as possible.
  • In schools, hospitals and public places, move to designated shelter areas. Interior hallways on the lowest floors are best.
  • Mobile homes and vehicles offer virtually no shelter. Leave them and go to the nearest shelter. If there is no shelter nearby, the best alternative is to lie in the nearest ditch and shield your head with your arms.

After a tornado:

  • Inspect your property, including motor vehicles for damage. Check for electrical problems and gas leaks and report them to the utility company at once.
  • Watch out for fallen power lines. Stay out of damaged buildings until you are sure they are safe and will not collapse. Secure your property from further damage or theft.
  • Use only approved or chlorinated supplies of drinking water. Check food supplies.


  • Listen for NOAA Weather Radio, or local radio, television and cable stations for the latest weather updates. To insure a continuous flow of weather information, make sure the NOAA Weather Radio, or another radio or television has a battery back up.
  • For NOAA Weather Radio information, including a station near you, click here to visit the NOAA Weather Radio page. The National Weather Service, American Red Cross and Federal Emergency Management Agency produce these publications.


What to do when thunderstorms approach:

  • Move to a sturdy building.
  • If too far from shelter, find a low spot away from trees, fences and poles, but not in a place subject to flooding. If you are boating or swimming, get to land and shelter immediately.
  • If you feel your skin tingle or hair stand on end, lightning may be about to strike. Squat low to the ground on the balls of your feet. Place your hands on your knees with your head between them. Minimize contact with the ground.
  • Telephone lines and metal pipes can conduct electricity. Unplug appliances not necessary for receiving weather information. Use telephones only in an emergency.


Lightning Protection

Lightning can provide a spectacular display of light on a dark night. This awesome show of nature also causes death and destruction. Lightning is the visible discharge of electrical energy. It is often accompanied by thunder – which is a sonic boom created by the same discharge. If you hear thunder, lightning is a threat, even if the storm seems miles away and the sky is blue. Lightning’s electrical energy seeks a path to ground – your home, the trees in your yard or even you can be that chosen path!

Protect Yourself

Lightning threatens much more than property. When there is lightning nearby:

  • Do not use the telephone except in an emergency.
  • Stay away from electrical appliances, TVs, fireplaces, metal objects, windows or doors.
  • Seek shelter immediately in an enclosed building or vehicle.
  • Avoid isolated trees, high ground, and bodies of water or large open areas.

What does a lightning protection system do?

A lightning protection system has two objectives:

  • Provide a direct path for the lightning to follow to ground.
  • Prevent destruction, damage, injury or death as it travels that path.

It is important to note that a lightning protection system does not attract lightning. It also cannot prevent a lightning strike; a lightning protection system does provide a safe path to ground for the electric current.

What Does a Lightning Protection System Look Like?

Lightning Protection Key

  1. Minimum of two ground rods (electrodes) at least 10 feet deep
  2. Down conductors
  3. Connect gutters or other grounded metals as required
  4. Air terminals (lightning rods) located within two feet of outside corners of chimney
  5. Antenna mast connected to roof conductor
  6. Air terminals (lightning rods) spaced 20 feet apart along the ridges and within two feet of ridge ends
  7. Dormers protected
  8. Roof projections such as weather vanes or satellite dishes should be connected to lightning protection system
  9. Surge protection devices installed at main electrical panel or meter
  10. Surge protection devices installed at electronics in house

Information from the Michigan Committee for Severe Weather Awareness.