Funnel Clouds vs. Tornadoes And What To Do When A Tornado Approaches

According to a couple of Calgary weather people, the recent number of funnel clouds and tornadoes around Calgary are not that uncommon. However, I have lived in the Calgary area all of my life and have never seen as many funnel clouds in person or on the news, nor heard as many tornado warnings as I have this year. Other long-time Calgary area residents have echoed the same thoughts. Tornadoes and warnings may have been common elsewhere in the province in past decades but only now seem to be a regular occurrence in the Calgary area.

So for those of us that are not used to tornadoes and funnel clouds, below is a brief comparison and overview of what to do if one is bearing down. According to the sources, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Wikipedia:

1) Tornadoes are violently rotating columns of air that extend from a cloud to the ground. They do not always remain visible.

2) A funnel cloud is a visible rotating column of air that does NOT make contact with ground.

Most people either remember from school or have read or heard that in a tornado's path, they should seek shelter in a structure and head for the basement or innermost/most central room in a building (unless you live in a mobile home, in which case, get out.) Most experts agree that due to the uncertainty of what a tornado will do, there are no clear safety guidelines that should be followed. However, the Government of Canada has come up with the following (courtesy of

If you are in a house:

  • Go to the basement or take shelter in a small interior ground floor room such as a bathroom, closet or hallway
  • If you have no basement, protect yourself by taking shelter under a heavy table or desk
  • In all cases, stay away from windows, outside walls and doors

If you live on a farm:

  • Livestock hear and sense impending tornadoes. If your family or home is at risk, the livestock will be a non-issue. If your personal safety is not an issue, you may only have time to open routes of escape for your livestock. Open the gate, if you must, and then exit the area in a tangent direction away from the expected path of the twister.

If you are in an office or apartment building:

  • Take shelter in an inner hallway or room, ideally in the basement or on the ground floor
  • Do not use the elevator
  • Stay away from windows

If you are in a gymnasium, church or auditorium:

  • Large buildings with wide-span roofs may collapse if a tornado hits
  • If possible, find shelter in another building
  • If you are in one of these buildings and cannot leave, take cover under a sturdy structure such as a table or desk

Avoid cars and mobile homes:

  • More than half of all deaths from tornadoes happen in mobile homes
  • Find shelter elsewhere, preferably in a building with a strong foundation
  • If no shelter is available, lie down in a ditch away from the car or mobile home. Beware of flooding from downpours and be prepared to move

If you are driving:

  • If you spot a tornado in the distance go to the nearest solid shelter
  • If the tornado is close, get out of your car and take cover in a low-lying area, such as a ditch

In all cases:

  • Get as close to the ground as possible, protect your head and watch for flying debris
  • Do not chase tornadoes - they are unpredictable and can change course abruptly
  • A tornado is deceptive. It may appear to be standing still but is, in fact, moving toward you
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