What Happens When You’re Picked Up By A Tornado? (Health And Safety Advice)

Many people will have seen scary scenes in movies where people are picked up by tornados. Thankfully, a lot of viewers will never even think of this as a possibility in real life.

However, for some people it can be a worrying reality. There are plenty of tornado heavy areas all around the world, especially in America. As a result, you might be wondering what happens if you’re picked up by a tornado – how can you stay safe?

What Happens When You’re Picked Up By A Tornado

We’ve got the answers for you. In the informative and helpful guide below, you’ll find out about what happens when someone is picked up by a tornado. 

What Happens When You’re Picked Up By A Tornado?

To begin with, let’s get to the crucial question. Though the answer we’re about to give is not very reassuring, you should keep in mind that the chances of a person getting picked up by a tornado are actually quite rare unless you are a storm chaser perhaps. However, it isn’t at all impossible. 

If you were picked up by a tornado, then the chances of survival are sadly slim. There are a handful of ways to not survive being picked up by the tornado.

For one thing, if it lifts you high and lets you go, then the fall will likely kill you. Secondly, tornados pick up a lot of other things, not just humans.

This means that there is often lots of bits and debris in the tornado, such as trees, and these can then hit you as you’re sucked up. Being hit by those will likely kill you too, sadly. 

What Is A Tornado?

A tornado is like an enormous funnel of air, visually at least. They are created when humid and warm air comes into contact with dry and cold air – opposites.

Warm air is not as dense as cold air, and so the warm air is displaced and pushed over the cold air. As it rises, sudden changes in the speed of the wind (or the wind’s direction) can then cause air to start swirling around. This creates an updraft.

The funnel-like clouds of a tornado come from mesoscale convective systems, which are collections of thunderstorms that can spread across entire US states.

More specifically, the funnel clouds come from the “supercell thunderstorms” that are found in the middle of these systems.

How Strong Is A Tornado?

Given their enormous, furious size you are probably guessing that a tornado is very strong – and you’d be right. The winds are ceaseless and pounding, with immense force and strength.

Given that the winds have swept up other objects, those can then be blasted into you with the extreme force, which is what will kill most of the people swept up into tornados. 

How Quick Is A Tornado?

The speeds of a tornado are known to reach very quick heights. At their top, they can achieve winds that are blowing at over 300 mph (miles per hour).

The combination of their speed and strength allows them to easily sweep lots of things up, such as people and debris. In fact, it is the speed that helps to give them their strength, because it makes them more forceful. 

Safety: How To Protect Yourself From A Tornado

Given that it can be very difficult to survive being lifted up into a tornado, we need to look at a wider range of health and safety precautions.

By this, we are referring to the fact that you need to plan ahead and make sure that you don’t end up close to a tornado in the first place. That will be the easiest way to survive being picked up by a tornado – not being picked up in the first place.

Therefore you must plan ahead and notice the warning signs of an incoming tornado, or know what to do when you are unexpectedly close to a tornado. 

What To Do When You Are At Home

Especially if you live in an area heavy with tornados, then a tornado can hit you at any point. This means that you could be anywhere and in any situation. 

One of the most common places for a person to be under the threat of an incoming tornado is when they are at home.

The best advice to take when you are at home is safely find shelter at a building that is sturdier. You don’t want a building that will be blown down or uprooted easily.

Be very careful when switching buildings, and only do so if it is absolutely safe. You don’t want to leave your house when the tornado is raging on the road outside. 

Once you’ve found one, go to the middle of a room. Corners collect lots of debris when a tornado strikes, so it’s best not to get caught in them.

On top of that, avoid any windows in a room, for obvious reasons. You don’t want to be showered in broken glass, or sucked out of the window. 

You should also go for the lowest floor. If there is a basement, that is even better. In the event that you cannot get to a cellar type room, a small room without windows will do well, such as a bathroom – or even a closet. 

It’s also a good idea to get yourself underneath really sturdy furniture, the kinds of things that are unlikely to get uprooted easily by the tornado. Things like workbenches or large, bolted down tables are a good choice.

Part of the point of being under them is that they can protect you from falling debris, which could kill you in one hit. You can kneel under the sturdy furniture – or you can lie down.

If you choose to lie down, do it with your face down and your neck and head covered by your arms. It’s also worth holding onto the furniture. 

What To Do When You Are At Work 

If you’re at work, then there is some similar advice. You should get yourself under a sturdy piece of furniture, like a strong table, and hold onto it. Like at home, use your arms to protect your head and neck. 

It depends on the place you’re at, but always find the smaller rooms. If you’re in large and open spaces, it can be very dangerous, and there’s plenty of space to get swept around with or hailed by debris.

Rooms like cafeterias and auditoriums are bad choices, as are shopping malls if you work there. 

Additionally, avoid wide open hallways for the same reason. 

What To Do When You Are At School

If you’re at school, then you should follow all the same rules above that we listed for when someone is at work. 

What To Do When You Are In The Car

When the tornado siren goes off, immediately get out of the car and find shelter in the closest building. Try to find one that is sturdy. You don’t want to be in a car, and you should never drive towards or against the tornado.

This is because they can change direction rapidly, so you need to not even attempt driving.

If there’s no shelter to hide in, immediately leave your car and lie down in low-lying areas that are far from the car. Ditches are a good start. Additionally, watch out for lightning and floods when you’re outside. 

What To Do When You Are Outside

As we just said, people outside of buildings should shelter in low-lying ground like a ditch. If nothing else can protect your neck and head, use your arms as a last resort. 

What Happens When You’re Picked Up By A Tornado

How Can You Survive Being Picked Up By A Tornado?

As we mentioned at the start, it is rare that someone can survive being picked up by a tornado. The odds are about 1 in 60,000, which isn’t too promising. However, that does mean that it isn’t impossible.

Some reports suggest that you could survive being shifted a quarter of a mile and only get minor injuries – though I still wouldn’t try. Tornados are rated, and anything “Three” and above is likely to kill you in it. 

What To Do Inside The Tornado

The best thing, as we’ve mentioned before, is to avoid the tornado altogether. If you hear that one is going to be approaching, take all the proper tornado safety precautions and plan to avoid even being remotely near it.

This involves taking shelter in durable buildings and hiding underneath sturdy furniture, while covering your neck and head with your arms as well. 

However, if it does pick you up, then there is little that you can do to protect yourself. With that being said, there is not nothing that you can do.

If you’re swept up into a tornado, you need to immediately calm yourself and cover your essential parts: your neck and head. 

We have referred to these parts an awful lot now, and it’s for good reason. If these parts of you get hit, it can instantly kill you – for example, by a snapped neck.

For this reason, you should use your hands to protect these areas. Though debris will still hurt you, it may not be fatal. However, it is not only your neck and head that can be hit, obviously. Other vital areas and organs might be struck by debris.

If you do get hit, but you survive the tornado and are returned to the ground, then you should immediately go to a doctor and be checked over. 

What Is It Like Inside A Tornado?

Being inside a tornado is not only difficult because of the debris and strength, but because of a bombardment of senses too. We’ve listed them below.


There are a variety of noises that you will hear while inside a tornado, and they’re all terrifying (also see ‘What Distance Can You Hear A Tornado From?‘). Loud roars and low rumbles are constant, which can be maddening.

It can be deafening when you’re getting blown around, and can disorientate you even further. However, try to remain calm, and protect the important parts of your body mentioned above. 

Air Density

The density of the air at the bottom of tornados is reported to be 20 percent less than the air pressure is when you’re at high altitudes. This is quite thick, and certainly more thick than air should normally be low down. 

This will make breathing more difficult than it is. When air density increases, like when you’re high up in a plane, it makes it more difficult to breathe because there are less air molecules to help with the lungs. 

You will probably be breathing very quickly out of fear from being blown around, so breathing will be even more difficult with the change in air density. 


Tornados do not form at a specific temperature, because they are more to do with how the surface temperature compares to the temperature that is higher up in the atmosphere. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Do Tornados Have An “Eye”?

There is a myth that tornados have an “eye”, a bit in the center where they are calm. This is not true and was mostly spread by the movie “Twister”. 

Final Thoughts

Always plan ahead and shelter safely from tornados. 

Andrew Capper