Tornado Weather: How do I Know When to Worry?

Spring is here in Oklahoma, and that means Tornado season! Interestingly, Oklahomans are used to severe tornado weather. Many of us see storm clouds, hear the wind whistling outside, see debris blowing around and never blink. That can be ok, but it can also be dangerous.

We like to say we are “weather-wise,” but are we? Do we know the signs of dangerous storms? Do we know when to be concerned and take action to protect ourselves and our families? Well, there’s a group of heroes that risk their lives to help predict these deadly storms. They’re known as Storm Spotters.

What do Storm Spotters Spot?

What do storm spotters look for when trying to identify  tornado weather or a dangerous storm? These guys are experts, and this article won’t make you one, so don’t get too confident. But we can take some cues from these wild heroes. They look for several different things.

Inflow Bands

Inflow bands show a storm spotter an important piece of information. They signal that the storm is taking in low-level air from several miles away. These are loosely organized groups or “trains” of low cumulous clouds coming out of the storm. They usually extend from the main storm tower to the southeast or south. If they appear to have a spiraling shape, watch out! That’s a sign of rotation.

The Beaver’s Tail

The beaver’s tail is another element storm-spotters look for to indicate rotation. To locate it, look at the eastern, or leading edge of the storm front. At the base, where there is no rain, the beaver’s tail would appear to extend out to the north or north east. Then it seems to wrap around the southern edge of the storm, usually staying outside the rain area. This circular pattern indicates rotation in the storm, and a possibility of a tornado. This means this could be a dangerous storm!

A Wall Cloud

The wall cloud is the most classic sign of a tornado weather storm. It’s the one we’ve probably all heard of. Why? Because it almost always appears before a tornado! It is an isolated lowering of the clouds attached to the base of a thunderstorm. In contrast to the beaver’s tail, it usually appears behind the visible rain area.

A wall cloud may visibly rotate, making it an obvious sign of a tornado. These usually appear for 10–20 minutes before a tornado. The wall cloud may also have strong surface winds. In addition, you may notice clouds from below being drawn up inside the wall cloud. This is caused by upward moving air, or “updraft” which is another sign of tornado activity.


If you see a wall cloud, and behind it (to the southwest), a “clear slot” or “bright slot,” take cover! This is called a rear flank downdraft. It is a downward rush or air that descends along with the tornado. Problem is, sometimes this may be wrapped in rain and be difficult to see, so don’t count on this one.

Condensation Funnel

This is a funnel cloud. It is basically a tornado that has not touched down yet. It is a funnel-shaped formation of water droplets. In layman’s terms, this is a cloud shaped like a funnel. If you see this, don’t wait. Take cover! Especially if you see a cloud of debris at its base. This is a sign that it is already on the ground.

Tulsa Tornado Shelters

At southern safe rooms, your safety is our primary concern. If you see any of these signs, please take cover immediately! Professional storm spotters put their lives at risk to protect us all. Don’t put your family’s lives at risk trying to be an amateur storm-spotter! Instead, use this information as an additional tool to help keep your family safe!

And if you don’t already have one of our EF5-tornado-rated safe rooms, call us at 918-584-3371
today for a free estimate and consultation! Or email us at We’ll schedule a time to measure your space, discuss your options, and give you a free estimate. Spring is here and tornado weather is coming, so call now!

A excellent comprehensive list of questions and answers about tornadoes can be found here:

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