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One of the most common misconceptions people hold about tornadoes is that they will have plenty of time to prepare and get to safety.

After all, they reason, there will probably be terrible weather or thunderstorms that alert us to an impending tornado in the area. While this is certainly true some of the time, tornadoes can and do occur at any time of day, and they often come with very little in the way of warnings.

Tornado signs can be especially difficult to discern in the evening hours if there are clouds or rain masking those signs. As such, don’t make the mistake of thinking a tornado can’t come if there isn’t a thunderstorm or clear tornado signs in your immediate vicinity. That is the type of thinking that will get you caught “with your pants down”, so to speak, so stay vigilant and watch for tornado signs.

Despite the advice that you should never assume a tornado isn’t coming because you don’t see signs of a tornado, there are certain things you can look for to alert you of a tornado. These signs are particularly helpful, due to the fact that the majority of tornados do occur in the afternoon hours. Some telltale tornado signs include low and dark clouds, wall clouds and a green sky.

If a tornado is fast approaching, the NOAA Storm Prediction Center informs us that there are key signs we can look for to help us determine whether a tornado is nearing. If there is a cloud base, look for whirling dust or debris on the ground directly beneath the cloud base. As surprising as it seems, tornadoes can exist without the typical funnel that we associate them with having. Also, look for strong, steady rotation in the cloud base itself for another sign that a tornado could be imminent.

Other things to look for include:

  • Hail and/or heavy rain that is followed by complete calm or fast wind shifts. Tornadoes within heavy precipitation are often invisible to our eyes.
  • A loud and continuous rumble that lasts far longer than thunder would.
  • In the evening, look for bluish-green or white bright flashes at ground level in a thunderstorm. This suggests power lines are snapping, which is often due to the wind effects of tornadoes.
  • If the cloud base is lowering while being illuminated by lightning, this could suggest an imminent tornado.

Knowing all of these warning signs will give you the necessary time to get to your shelters and safety resources in the event of a tornado.