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A tornado is heading your way, what should you do?

Ontarians may be more accustomed to snow storms than tornadoes, but as Thursday’s terrifying storm in Barrie reminded us, Mother Nature can be cruel and unpredictable.

According to provincial statistics, Ontario averages about 12 tornadoes a year. The odds are, you won’t encounter one.

But you should know what to do in the rare event that you find yourself in a twister’s destructive path.

CityNews spoke to Environment Canada’s warning preparedness meteorologist, Steve Flisfeder, about tornado safety tips under a variety of scenarios.

What should you do if you are in a home with a tornado approaching?

“If a tornado warning is issued for your area you want to seek shelter as soon as possible obviously. If you’re already in your home you want to get to the safest place possible, so in a home a basement is the safest place, if you have a basement.

“You especially want to get away from windows and basically put as many barriers between yourself and a storm as possible. Other options in a home, if a basement isn’t available — an interior room such as a washroom with no windows is preferable. A closet is another option as well.”

What if you live in a condo?

With downtown condos and apartments it might be a bit trickier. They usually would suggest going to a stairwell, they are usually very solidly constructed with concrete, so that would be another option if you’re in a high-rise building.

“You would want to get as low as possible, so in a (high-rise building) if you are able to get to a lower floor, if possible, that’s preferable as well.”

Homes damaged in Barrie, Ont., after a tornado on July 15, 2021. TWITTER/@InquiringEd

What about pets?

“Pets are members of the family so you want to protect them as much as possible. I think it would be personal decision if you think you can save them, absolutely do so.

“If it were me and I could save my pet I would. If I didn’t have time to grab my pets and bring them to safety, I would unfortunately have to protect myself and my family first.”

What should you do if you’re driving when a twister hits?

“In a car it becomes a little tricky trying to determine what the best option is. There is no 100 per cent guaranteed solution, I should say that’s true of all scenarios. In a car if you hear the alert you want to get to shelter if you can. If you are on the road, pull over, get to a shelter that’s available.

“If you see the tornado, if you’re within eyesight, again if it’s possible, you want to get out of your vehicle and seek shelter. That’s only advisable if you truly believe you have time to do so. I can’t say that you should run out of your car, because I don’t know how fast you can run or how far the building is from you, so if you think it’s possible that’s advised.

“If you don’t think it’s possible (to find shelter), another option is driving away from the tornado. We don’t know what the track will be with any given storm, so you want to make sure you can get away safely for yourself and passengers and other vehicles.”

Damage caused by the tornado that touched in Barrie on July 15, 2021. CITYNEWS/Rick Helsinki

What if you can’t get away from the twister in your car?

“Another option if you don’t think you can get away is pull over at the side of the road, duck down and crouch low underneath the dash or backseat. Again you want to protect your head, so duck down, cover your head with your arms. If you don’t think that’s an option you can get out of your car and get into a ditch at the side of the road.

“Again, you want to make yourself as low as possible. With tornadoes it’s not just the tornado itself, but debris that is flying through the air and that’s why we advise ducking down as low as possible so you’re not in the path of any debris that is being flung.”

What if you’re stuck outdoors, or camping?

“Make the best of the situation as possible. Say you’re camping for example, oftentimes there are washrooms facilities and they are usually made of concrete bricks So they would be a solid structure. You want to avoid any trees or power lines because they can obviously come down with the storm.”

Severe storm damage in Barrie, Ont., on July 15, 2021. TWITTER/Adam Clarke

What else can people do to be prepared for a tornado?

“It’s always a good idea to have a safety kit prepared not just for tornadoes but any kind of significant event, even a power outage, you would want to have an emergency kit in your home. I believe the guideline is at least three days of supplies. So that includes canned foods, things that won’t spoil, water, also having any medications that are necessary.”

“It’s always good to stay aware of the weather,” he advises. “So having a reliable weather source is always encouraged. Being able to say informed so if the warnings do go out, you have a way of receiving them.”