Tornado Survival 101: Tips to Stay Safe During a Tornado

PHOTO: Apparent tornado in Springfield, Mass.
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Multiple tornadoes unexpectedly tore through several cities in western Massachusetts Wednesday afternoon, leaving at least four people dead, according to the state's governor Deval Patrick.

Funnel clouds were confirmed in the Massachusetts communities of Springfield, Wilbraham, Westfield, Monson and Oxford, ABC News' Boston affiliate WCVB reported.

Tornadoes are fierce storms that can not only be incredibly powerful, but also unpredictable, making them devastating weather machines.

Residents of Joplin, Mo., a town that was flattened by a monstrous EF-5 tornado almost two weeks ago, are still searching for victims of the storm as dozens remain missing. Tuscaloosa, Ala., was hit by a tornado over a month ago and the town still looks like a wasteland.

The key to surviving a tornado is to be prepared and to act quickly. Here are some tips you can follow to stay safe before, during and after one of these intense storms.

Tornadoes 101: Before the Storm

Tornadoes are quick-moving, fierce storms that can strike with little or no warning, and can change direction at any moment.

Know the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning: A tornado watch means weather conditions are right for a tornado to form in your area, whereas a tornado warning means a tornado has been sighted and may be headed your way.

Pay Attention to Warnings

When the National Weather Service sends out tornado alerts or warnings, tune to NWS radio. The station is dedicated to giving 24/7 updates on current weather conditions. Your local radio and TV stations will also announce NWS alerts.

Even if a tornado watch is issued for your area, stay inside and be aware of changing weather conditions.

Visit the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's website to track the country's most dangerous storms.

Watch the Skies

Sometimes it's as simple as looking out your window. FEMA advises that as long as the storm hasn't already hit, check the sky for the following danger signs:

Dark, often green sky
Large hail
Large, dark, low-lying cloud (particularly if rotating)
Strong wind that sound like a loud roar. It's often been described as similar to a freight train

Tornadoes 101: During the Storm

What you should do during a tornado could change depending on where you are. Nonetheless the Red Cross suggests having a family preparedness plan head of time so everyone knows what to do when a storm hits and where to meet.

If you're in a structure with sturdy walls, you should go to any pre-designated shelter if there is one, like a storm cellar or basement. If there is no pre-designed shelter, head to the lowest floor of the building and find the most central room. Be sure to stay away from windows, doors and outside walls.

If you're in a vehicle or mobile home, FEMA recommends getting out immediately and heading for a more secure building or storm shelter.

"Mobile homes, even if tied down, offer little protection from tornadoes," FEMA says on its website.

If you're outside and there's no shelter available, get as low as you can. Head for a ditch or land depression and cover your head, FEMA recommends. Do not go under a bridge or overpass.

One thing FEMA says not to do that could be a natural instinct for most: Do not try to outrun the twister if you're in a congested or urban area.

"Instead, leave the vehicle immediately for safe shelter."

Keep an eye out for flying debris.

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