Surviving a Tornado

I spent a good part of my childhood growing up in Oklahoma, square in the middle of tornado alley.   My neighbor was a storm chasing photographer for the local newspaper, and I wanted to be a storm chaser, “when I grow up” for at least 5 or 6 years.

The season started early this year, with 15 confirmed tornadoes touching down across Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Kentucky and Indiana earlier this week.  1 fatality and a couple dozen injuries. Tornadoes are not something to mess around with if you live in the Midwest.  Those of you on the East coast aren’t totally out of range either, last year saw a couple of tornado watches out that way, and Massachusetts had some confirmed twisters on the ground.

Learn the signs – Growing up, I learned how to read the cloud formations, and listen to the storms to tell when tornadoes were brewing. I was so proud the day I spotted a tornado before my neighbor.  I got to watch it for another 5 minutes before my mother caught the newscasters’ emergency broadcast and started hollering for me to get my behind inside. To this day I have a fairly good track record for knowing when there are tornadoes around, even without turning on the radio. The flip side of that, is I know when the danger is past, which is useful in the middle of the night when I’m tired and wanting to go to sleep. If you aren’t in the habit of studying storms as they approach, or listening to the different sounds they can make, I suggest you get in the habit. Your own intuition will give you a much quicker warning than an emergency broadcast will.

The best thing to do – Is to be underground when the tornado hits your town. Period.  Check out some of the before and after photos of Joplin from last year. Above ground structures just don’t stand a chance in a direct hit.  Even a ways away from the direct path, debris can rip through windows and cheap drywall without even slowing down. If you don’t have a below ground refuge, consider adding in a safe room.  Enlarge a closet or bathroom so that you have a place large enough for your entire family to shelter. If you can afford to line it with some metal sheeting or thick lumber, all the better. The walls, ceiling, and door should be able to withstand winds of up to 250 miles per hour, flying debris, and wind borne objects. Make sure it’s anchored onto a concrete pad.  Your safe room doesn’t have to be wasted space, as long as you leave enough room for your family, you can add sturdy shelves to hold first aid and other SHTF supplies. I remember my great-Uncle’s below ground storm shelter doubling as the food storage for his house.  Aunt G. would pop down there to grab cans of veggies when she hadn’t pulled out enough for dinner. A cot wouldn’t be a waste of space, if you have one that folds up. A lot of tornadoes hit at night, and sheltering can be easier on children if they have a place to lay down.  FEMA has some guidelines for safe rooms, ( these can be excellent starting points for discussion with a contractor, or as starting points for a DIY setup.

The bare minimum to keep in your safe place – Water and food is obvious. It can take days or even weeks to get electricity restored after a serious tornado. A way to cook said food, even if it’s just heating water and MRE’s. Tools to deal with rubble. Something like the Fubar , a saw, some rope and heavy duty gloves can help you get a handle on the destruction and secure your property to avoid any further risk of injury. Medications, diapers, important documents, and a bit of cash can all help round out your tornado shelter.

It won’t work if you aren’t in it! Warnings and watches are not to be ignored. And, just in case you need a primer on the difference between the two –

“A warning is issued when a hazardous weather or hydrologic event is occurring, imminent or likely. A warning means weather conditions pose a threat to life or property. People in the path of the storm need to take protective action.
A watch is used when the risk of a hazardous weather or hydrologic event has increased significantly, but its occurrence, location or timing is still uncertain. It is intended to provide enough lead time so those who need to set their plans in motion can do so. A watch means that hazardous weather is possible.”


Keep safe , protect your family and your preps from destruction.  All the preps in the world won’t do you any good if they are scattered over a 2 county swath after a tornado.

– Calamity Jane