In conjunction with the Commonwealth of Virginia, the Office of Emergency Management has established the month of March as Tornado Awareness Month within the Virginia Tech community.

In partnership with the student-run Meteorology Club, the Office of Emergency Management is hosting an evening of tornado awareness and preparedness along with showing the blockbuster feature film, "Twister," starring Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton. The movie, which has had a cult following since its 1996 release, follows storm chasers working together to develop an advanced weather alert system by placing themselves in the destructive path of violent tornadoes. 

“The movie is a fun way to draw attention to the necessity of considering the impact of a potential tornado and what we can do now to minimize its effects,” said Kendall Woodard, event coordinator. 

The movie will be shown Wednesday, March 6, at 7 p.m. in the Graduate Life Center Auditorium. Admission is free and open to the public. Each moviegoer will automatically be entered into a raffle to win a number of prizes, including a football signed by Coach Frank Beamer, an emergency preparedness kit, MAG flashlights, and more. “Twister Trivia” will also provide the opportunity to win additional raffle tickets. 

Additionally Tuesday, March 12 at 9:45 a.m. is the designated statewide tornado drill time, as established by the Virginia Department of Emergency Management. Participating in the drill is optional, however, the Office of Emergency Management encourages individuals, departments, and university organizations to organize their own drill and practice the actions required in the event of a tornado. VDEM recommends designating one or more people in your department or organization to coordinate the drill in advance. 

Before the start of the drill, all participants should be aware that a tornado drill is taking place and understand what is expected of them. Each participant should take some time to consider the safest locations in areas and buildings they frequent often. At 9:45 a.m., the drill coordinators should announce the start of the drill to all participants. At this time, participants should act as they would if a real tornado touched down nearby. The drill coordinator will announce when there is an “all clear” and the drill is over. 

After the drill, the coordinator and participants should reflect on the effectiveness of their current tornado procedures and determine if any changes need to be incorporated. For information on conducting your own drill, see the Virginia Department of Emergency Management’s online guidance on drill participation or call the Office of Emergency Management at 540-231-2438.

"Tornadoes are dangerous and destructive. They can and have occurred in southwest Virginia,” said Michael J. Mulhare, director of the Office of Emergency Management. "We all need to take time to learn how to be prepared and safe should a tornado touch down," said Mulhare.

Tornado Terminology

  • A Tornado Watch means tornadoes are possible, given the current conditions. When a watch is issued, continue to closely follow the weather and be prepared to shelter-in-place.
  • A Tornado Warning means a tornado has been sighted or has been indicated by National Weather Service Doppler radar. When a warning is issued, shelter-in-place immediately.
  • Shelter-in-place means to take cover in the safest possible place, depending on the event.


Shelter-in-place events are usually severe weather related emergencies. When it is necessary to shelter-in-place, you will be safest by moving inside to a building space that protects you from the danger. Do not lock doors behind you as others may also need to shelter-in-place. If a shelter-in-place alert is issued:

  • Remain calm.
  • Immediately seek shelter inside the closest sturdy building. Do not wait until you physically see a tornado or severe weather event to react.
  • Resist the temptation to go outside and check the weather conditions yourself.
  • Once inside, stay away from windows, glass, and unsecured objects that may fall.
  • Seek shelter in interior rooms and corridors.
  • Avoid large free-standing expanses such as auditoriums and gymnasiums.
  • Do not use elevators.
  • Await further instruction from VT Alerts and emergency personnel.
  • Do not leave until an “all clear” is received.

Remember, always use common sense. There are exceptions to all guidance and prescribed directions.

Sheltering-in-place during a tornado

Stay tuned to your local radio or television station for weather reports or listen to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather radio for more detailed information on when weather conditions are favorable for the formation of tornadoes. Follow these recommendations if there is news of a tornado in your area:

  • If you hear about a tornado in your area, do not wait until you see it to take cover.
  • Seek indoor shelter in the lowest level possible, in an interior room or hallway away from windows and doors.
  • Crouch near the floor or under heavy, well supported objects. Cover your head.
  • Avoid windows, corridors with windows, or large free-standing expanses (such as auditoriums and cafeterias). Do not use elevators during a tornado warning.
  • If you are caught outside with no shelter, lie flat in a ditch or depression and cover your head.
  • Watch out for flying debris. Flying debris from tornadoes causes most fatalities and injuries.

For more information on what to do before, during, and after a tornado, visit the Office of Emergency Management's tornado preparedness guide and FEMA's tornado preparedness guide.

Dedicated to its motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech takes a hands-on, engaging approach to education, preparing scholars to be leaders in their fields and communities. As the commonwealth’s most comprehensive university and its leading research institution, Virginia Tech offers 240 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 31,000 students and manages a research portfolio of $513 million. The university fulfills its land-grant mission of transforming knowledge to practice through technological leadership and by fueling economic growth and job creation locally, regionally, and across Virginia.


Share this story