Improving Tornado Forecasts


Tornadoes left at least 17 people dead across much of the U.S. the past week. The devastation is a reminder that forecasting still needs to get better, says a leading government scientist. (National Geographic News)

Learn more about preparing for tornadoes and other natural hazards.

Click to enlarge and print this handy emergency-kit checklist, from the good folks at FEMA.

Emergency Kit Checklist for Kids

Discussion Ideas


  • How can you best be prepared for a tornado before it strikes? Take a look at this FEMA website, linked to from our “Preparing for Extreme Natural Events” activity.
    • Build an emergency kit: Print out the list above!
      • non-perishable food—peanut butter, canned tuna, canned fruits, pancake mix, Spam, granola bars
      • first-aid kit
      • batteries
      • toothbrush and toothpaste
      • water: at least a gallon per person, per day
      • battery-powered radio
      • flashlight
      • local maps
    • Make a family communication plan:
      • choose one person for all members of the family or community to contact to say they’re OK
      • choose a meeting spot, and practice getting there
      • keep your contact information and meeting spot in your backpack, wallet, or with your school supplies
    • Know the danger signs:
      • during tornado season, listen to your local weather forecaster, and know the lingo
      • dark, greenish-grey sky
      • large, low-lying thundercloud
      • loud roar
      • large hailstones


  • Part of being prepared is listening to your local weather forecaster and understanding what they’re talking about. Read through the Nat Geo News interview with top-notch meteorologist Louis Wicker. What is the difference between a “tornado watch” and a “tornado warning”? What is the average time in which meteorologists can predict a tornado? How will better or earlier tornado prediction help people prepare?
    • A tornado watch means forecasters are watching the situation. Atmospheric conditions favorable to tornado generation are present in a certain area.
    • A tornado warning is more serious. It means that evidence of a tornado has actually been spotted.
    • Meteorologists can predict tornadoes about 12-15 minutes in advance.
    • Earlier warning could help people contact their family or community, grab their emergency kit, and get to a safe storm shelter. Earlier warnings could also allow more people to help at-risk members of their community prepare for tornadoes. Such at-risk groups include schoolchildren, the homeless, and those in the hospital.

Leave a Reply