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Tornadoes are extremely rare in the City of Roanoke, due to the city's location in a valley. Nevertheless, tornadoes can occur anywhere and at any time of the year. Most tornadoes in Virginia occur from April to October, between the hours of 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. Tornadoes are always born out of severe thunderstorms. They can be stationary or travel at speeds of up to 70 mph. When they're moving, tornadoes generally tend to travel from southwest to northeast and could be on the ground for over an hour. Virginia's record for the most tornadoes occurring in one day is 18. On August 6, 1993, these twisters struck the cities of Petersburg, Hopewell, Colonial Heights and other localities to the east. Four people were killed and over 200 were injured.

In June, 2008 an EF0 rated tornado impacted southwestern portions of the city. Winds reached 60-70 mph as the storm traveled approximately 1.4 miles and caused $450,000 in dmages. Click here to view the June 3 Tornado map (pdf).

While most tornado damage is caused by the violent winds, most tornado injuries and deaths result from flying debris. Environmental clues that may indicate tornadoes are imminent include a dark, often greenish sky; large hail; and a loud roar similar to a freight train. Preparing yourself now, by knowing a few facts and safety tips, can save your life.

Tornado Safety Tips
  • The best shelter from a tornado is a basement. If you don't have a basement, go to an inside room without windows on the lowest level of the house (a closet, bathroom or interior hall). Protect your body with a heavy blanket or sleeping bag.
  • Avoid windows. Opening windows to equalize pressure is ineffective in reducing damage during a tornado. Don't worry about the windows; worry about finding shelter and protecting yourself.
  • Mobile homes are extremely unsafe during tornadoes. Seek shelter elsewhere.
  • If you are caught in an open building like a shopping mall, gymnasium or civic center, get into a restroom, if possible. In larger buildings, restrooms are usually made of concrete block and will offer more protection.
  • If there isn't time to go anywhere else, seek shelter right were you are. Try to get up against something that will support or deflect falling debris. Protect your head with your hands and arms.
  • If you are outside when a tornado strikes, try to find shelter immediately in the nearest substantial building. If no buildings are close, take cover by lying flat in a ditch or depression.
  • If you are in your car buckle your seat belt and, if safe, try to get to a shelter. If you can't you have two options: 1) Remain in the car. Keep seat belt on, bend as low as possible and cover your head and body from debris; or 2) Leave car and seek shelter in a ditch, depression, or culvert area. Get as low as possible and cover yourself to protect from debris.