Tornados in California? It can happen.

Growing up in the midwest, Tornados happened.  It was our equivalent of the earthquake, the tsunami, the typhoon.  It was that one dreaded weather event that scared me to death as a kid.  And more than once, I remember drills in elementary school - getting in the hallways and tucking our heads between our legs.  I remember sirens going off somewhere in the distance, the sky turning green and running to our farmhouse basement with our dogs, wondering if the cows and horses would still in the barn when this monster was done with us.  

While we had barns knocked over, and trees uprooted, we never actually experienced a direct hit at my childhood home.  But I remember driving just a few short miles with my dad, to find completed and utter destruction.  Towns simply vanished.  Water pouring in to streets and people digging through rubble, looking for any resemblance of their life.  

As much as hollywood likes to sensationalize things, Tornados always felt exactly as scary as the movies.  Something you couldn’t predict, yet something you had to plan for.  Last year, 35 people were killed and 230 injured by tornadoes nationwide.  The worst: Moore Oklahoma, which killed 24 people and had winds over 207 mph.

And the best way to protect yourself from a Tornado?  A basement.  

But good luck finding one in California!

Thanks to fast-paced development after World War II, not to mention antiquated earthquake, waterproofing, draining and ventilation issues, most homes in California are without basement.  Yet according to the National Weather Service, California averages 11 tornadoes a year.  More than any other state west of the Rocky Mountains.  

Thunderstorms help create tornadoes.  

“There’s so many winter storms and so many different kinds of atmospheric setups (in California) that, sometimes, everything comes together right somehow,” Grazulis said. “But you don’t get the supercells.”

In total, California has seen 127 tornadoes since 1996, according to the National Weather Service. The worst incident Grazulis has recorded for California is a tornado that touched down in Sunnyvale on Jan. 11, 1951, which injured 30 people and damaged 150 homes. It was considered the third most damaging tornado in the U.S. that year.

The worst in Sacramento, according to his data, struck on Oct. 26, 1921, when a tornado injured five people and damaged about 35 homes.

The Los Angeles basin also seems to be a hotspot for tornadoes in California. Grazulis said this may be related to topography: The region, surrounded by mountains, is a kind of funnel that can draw moisture in from the ocean, where it then collides with warm, dry inland air to form twisters. This would seem to be backed up by National Weather Service data,  which show that Riverside County has seen 14 tornadoes since 1996, more than any other California county. Its neighbor, San Bernardino County, ranks second with 13 tornadoes.

According to the CDC, here's the best thing you can do if you find yourself in this kind of situation:


Pick a place in the home where family members can gather if a tornado is headed your way. One basic rule is AVOID WINDOWS. An exploding window can injure or kill.

The safest place in the home is the interior part of a basement. If there is no basement, go to an inside room, without windows, on the lowest floor. This could be a center hallway, bathroom, or closet.

For added protection, get under something sturdy such as a heavy table or workbench. If possible, cover your body with a blanket, sleeping bag, or mattress, and protect your head with anything available--even your hands. Avoid taking shelter where there are heavy objects, such as pianos or refrigerators, on the area of floor that is directly above you. They could fall though the floor if the tornado strikes your house.

In a mobile home

DO NOT STAY IN A MOBILE HOME DURING A TORNADO. Mobile homes can turn over during strong winds. Even mobile homes with a tie-down system cannot withstand the force of tornado winds.

Plan ahead. If you live in a mobile home, go to a nearby building, preferably one with a basement. If there is no shelter nearby, lie flat in the nearest ditch, ravine, or culvert and shield your head with your hands.

If you live in a tornado-prone area, encourage your mobile home community to build a tornado shelter.

On the road

The least desirable place to be during a tornado is in a motor vehicle. Cars, buses, and trucks are easily tossed by tornado winds.

DO NOT TRY TO OUTRUN A TORNADO IN YOUR CAR. If you see a tornado, stop your vehicle. Do not get under your vehicle.


Do the following if you are caught outside during a tornado and there is no adequate shelter immediately available:

  • Avoid areas with many trees.
  • Protect your head with an object or with your arms.


A long-span building, such as a shopping mall, theater, or gymnasium, is especially dangerous because the roof structure is usually supported solely by the outside walls. Most such buildings hit by tornados cannot withstand the enormous pressure. They simply collapse.

If you are in a long-span building during a tornado, stay away from windows. Get to the lowest level of the building--the basement if possible--and away from the windows.

If there is no time to get to a tornado shelter or to a lower level, try to get under a door frame or get up against something that will support or deflect falling debris. For instance, in a department store, get up against heavy shelving or counters. In a theater, get under the seats. Remember to protect your head.


Extra care is required in offices, schools, hospitals, or any building where a large group of people is concentrated in a small area. The exterior walls of such buildings often have large windows.

Do the following if you are in any of these buildings:

  • Move away from windows and glass doorways.
  • Go to the innermost part of the building on the lowest possible floor.
  • Do not use elevators because the power may fail, leaving you trapped.
  • Protect your head and make yourself as small a target as possible by crouching down.


Advance planning is especially important if you require assistance to reach shelter from an approaching storm (see specific instructions in the next section).

  • If you are in a wheelchair, get away from windows and go to an interior room of the house. If possible, seek shelter under a sturdy table or desk. Do cover your head with anything available, even your hands.
  • If you are unable to move from a bed or a chair and assistance is not available, protect yourself from falling objects by covering up with blankets and pillows.
  • If you are outside and a tornado is approaching, get into a ditch or gully. If possible, lie flat and cover your head with your arms.

Christian Schauf
CEO / Founder of Uncharted Supply Co.

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