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7 mobile tools to help you survive tornadoes

The Red Cross Tornado app has radar maps and lists of how to prepare for an incoming storm.

Story highlights

  • Mobile apps offer timely warnings about impeding storms and tornadoes
  • Learn how to recognize signs of tornadoes and report your own sightings
  • Be prepared before a tornado and know what to do after, including basic first aid

Storm warnings in Oklahoma this week remind us that tornado season is upon us once again.

Tornadoes kill 70 people and injure 1,500 more every year in the United States, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The average forward speed of tornadoes is 30 miles per hour and they can produce wind speeds anywhere from 40 to more than 200 miles per hour, leaving huge amounts of destruction in their wake.

Getting the latest warnings when tornadoes are headed your way and knowing what to do before, during and after one hits are all key to staying safe. A handful of apps can help you stay on top of impending dangerous weather. Keep in mind that you'll want to save power on your smartphone in case the electricity goes out, so use it sparingly.

Here are some digital tools to help you through a storm safely.

NOAA Weather Radio

Getting advanced warning of impeding tornadoes is key. If the electricity goes out and you can't watch weather updates on TV, you can switch to a battery-powered radio or fire up the NOAA Weather Radio app ($3.99). This app streams more than 200 NOAA broadcasts and adds in additional information including radar, push notifications, emergency warnings for your state and detailed weather reports.

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    NOAA warns against depending entirely on the Internet to receive warnings and recommends having a radio that can receive the Weather Radio band (between 162.400 MHz to 162.550 MHz) to ensure you always have the latest information. Android users can download a a similar NOAA Radio app ($0.99).

    Tornado by American Red Cross

    Just as important as knowing when a tornado is coming is knowing what to do to keep your family safe. The free Tornado app from the American Red Cross is a thorough app that includes advice on what to do to prepare for and recover from a tornado. In addition to clear step-by-step instructions, there is a quiz on preparedness, live tornado warnings with a map, tools like an alarm and a flashlight and historical information on tornadoes in your area.

    After the storm has passed, you'll know how to handle flooding, electrical outages and find Red Cross shelters. This app also uses data from NOAA. Available for Android and iOS devices.

    TornadoSpy+: Tornado Maps, Warnings and Alerts

    For a more proactive, crowdsourced approach, try the TornadoSpy+ iPhone and iPad app ($2.99). In addition to getting official weather reports from professionals, this app lets you report and upload photos of any tornado or hail activity you spot yourself. You can see reports from other people in your area, track storms on a map, rate other spotters, and receive real-time alerts.

    Local weather apps

    In states where severe weather is common, many local news channels have dedicated weather apps that show live radar, constant updates, local maps and more. For example, people in Cincinnati, northern Kentucky and southeast Indiana can download the storm tracker app for the local Fox19 news station. Look up your local stations to find the best option in your area for either Android or iOS.

    First Aid by American Red Cross

    If something does happen to you or your family, this free app will walk you through administering proper first aid. There are easy-to-follow instructions for treating bleeding, burns, heart attacks and other injuries. You can use the numbered instructions or watch videos to learn basic first aid.

    While a useful app for any situation, it also includes safety tips specifically for bad weather and natural disasters, including tornadoes. It's all downloaded with the app so you don't have to have an Internet connection to use it. Its 911 integration allows you to make emergency phone calls directly from the app. Available for Android and iOS.

    Tornado Chasers

    Know how to read the signs that come with dangerous weather. The Tornado Chasers app ($.99) is a crash course on how tornadoes work. It includes diagrams of the inside of a twister and a visual guide to all the types of clouds you might spot in the sky.

    This iPad app also includes maps of national weather warnings for the United States, United Kingdom and Canada, and you can drill down to find the latest information for your specific area. There are detailed photos and videos showing the signs of tornadoes along with written descriptions.


    A one stop app for all alerts, Nixle pushes the latest advisories from more than 5,000 public safety agencies, such as your local fire department. Messages are given different priority levels and mapped out. Alerts within a certain proximity to your home, or any other locations you choose, will be pushed through. The service can also be used through a free iPhone app, online, via text or by e-mail.