Humans have, in many ways, learned how to study nature and deal with its extremities. However, some occasions still remind us that nature can be an unstoppable force capable of massive damage. Tornadoes are a prime example of nature’s wrath. These winds of destruction are capable of laying waste in vast spaces in a short time. You don’t want to be outside in the eye of one of these spinning cycles of furious winds.
Generally, the safest spot during a tornado is in your basement or the lowest floor of your home. Stay away from any windows or doors. Other safe spaces in your home include bathrooms, closets, some crawl spaces, and other locations near the center of your house, away from outer walls or openings.
No one should be caught flat-footed during a tornado. We’ll give you a few pointers on how to stay safe during a tornado.
Where is the Safest Place to Be During a Tornado?
During a tornado, the safest place in the house is the lowest level of the house, usually the basement, away from any windows. Most houses have underground basements. Tornadoes often don’t have the adequate speed and strength to rip your home clean off the ground.
In such cases, the tornado will wreck the uppermost parts and destroy most things inside the house.
Basements are underground. When a tornado strikes, it might blow off the roof, the siding, and any support structures above the basement. While you may be safe in the basement, there is still the possibility you may pick up injuries. Therefore, here’s how you can minimize your chances of injury.
Go to the center of the basement. Move away from the walls as far as possible. Any valuables such as tools in the basement can quickly turn into projectiles. Therefore, make a thick barrier between you and the wall.
If you live in a tornado-prone area (also known as tornado alley in the US), have some mattresses in the basement to keep you safe from any projectiles when it’s tornado season.
You can also use heavy furniture and make a barrier between you and the outermost walls.
1. Is the Basement Safe During a Tornado?
Basements are one of the safest places you can hide during a tornado. There are fewer chances of injury, the space is adequate for the whole family, and you might have an exit if the building collapses.
Also, most people keep emergency supplies in the basement. You can survive being trapped in the debris of a wrecked house before there’s an evacuation effort. Also, it protects you from exposed powerlines which are common in the aftermath of a tornado.
2. Is the Crawl Space Safe During a Tornado?
A crawlspace is an area under the house between the ground and the first floor of the building. It’s a limited space that’s hardly enough to crouch. It’s left to provide underground access to powerlines or plumbing.
Ideally, crawl spaces are safe during a tornado. However, they are not 100% safe. You should not be in a space as confined as that when there’s the risk of house collapse looming above you. Also, the piping and wiring down there are dangerous if it’s exposed and you are close to it.
A crawl space is marginally safe if there is no alternative. There is also a possibility that you are under heavy furniture. In this case, a crawl space built on a house with concrete foundations might be safer than one built on a house with cinder block foundations.
3. Is the Closet Safe During a Tornado?
The closet is a safe space during a tornado. However, you have to make sure the closet is farthest away from the exterior walls. Usually, most closets are far from the walls. Most are built to look like a box within a home, so you know they’re structurally safe places.
Walk-in closets are great. They have extra clothing you can use as cover from debris, and there are no windows.
Also, if your house has a closet under the stairwell, count yourself lucky. The under-stairwell closet is usually a strong point in the house, and it could shield you from potential damage during a tornado.
It would be a great idea to keep a small emergency pack in every closet in the house. You never know when you need to hide in the closet.
4. Is the Bathtub Safe During a Tornado?
The bathtub remains one of the safest places you can hide if there are any disasters. Whether it’s a tornado or a hurricane, most bathtubs are so secure in the house’s floor that it would take an EF4 or EF5 wind to blow it off.
Bathrooms already make a safe space during a tornado. There are three possible reasons why a bathroom is safe.
- The compact nature of most bathrooms makes them structurally strong.
- Most bathrooms dont have windows. They are in the interior parts of the house with no close windows or outward-facing doors.
- Additional plumbing might add to the structural strength of the bathroom.
Blankets, mattresses, and cushions are essential to cover you from debris and projectiles if you’re using the bathroom as your refuge during a tornado. Also, it helps that homeowners have medicine cabinets in the bathroom. Grab the kit and keep it near you. The winds might destroy the cabinets, so you might want to have the emergency kit as close as possible.
5. Is the Stairwell Safe During a Tornado?
Stairwells are a safe space during a tornado. If the tornado strikes while you are under the stairwell, you would have an extra protective layer. Some contractors will tell you to build a safe room under the stairwell specifically for disasters like these.
If you decide to follow their advice and build a safe room under the stairwell, here are a few pointers that could make it more secure.
Use Thick Wood as Reinforcement.
You can opt for replacing your stairs with hardwood such as oak. Alternatively, you can add hardwood beneath the stairs to make the staircase as structurally strong as possible. Reinforce the floor as well.
Use rubber tiles as the base of your floor. You can add memory foam or other forms of cushy material to reduce any chances of injury. Also, it makes the area more comfortable.
Leave Enough Room for Air Circulation.
Create spaces that allow air circulation but are small enough to keep debris out. The location of the stairwell safe-room makes it easy for you to get trapped if the house collapses. You need to make sure the enforcements can withstand a collapse of the house and keep you there until you can get help.
Under-stairwell saferooms are a viable solution for storied houses. Like other rooms, keep a handy emergency pack in the stairwell safe-room.
BONUS: Is the Garage Safe During a Tornado?
The garage is not a safe spot during a tornado. There are a few reasons why garages are a big disaster waiting to happen if you use the garage as a shelter.
- Sometimes the garage has only one wall between itself and the outside world.
- Unless it’s an underground garage, it’s a prime spot to be hit by a tornado.
- Garages have all sorts of tools and equipment that could potentially hurt you.
- Garages have garage doors. A garage door is too big a risk for you to seek refuge in the garage.
Although it’s not safe for you, you can ready your garage before the next tornado hits. Most homeowners in the ‘Tornado alley,’ for example, have installed wind-rated garage doors. Wind-rated garage doors are heavier than ordinary garage doors. They have also reinforced their walls to be as secure as possible.
You can also secure the garage door with a hurricane brace.
If you get an early warning about a tornado, make your garage as safe as possible for your equipment. Make sure most stuff is off the ground. Water damage during a tornado isn’t uncommon.
The Safest Place In an Apartment Complex During a Tornado
Some apartment complexes are disaster-ready. They have underground safe spaces for weather disasters. If you live in an apartment complex at the time of a tornado alert, quickly head to the lowest level of the complex. Underground parking is a safe space during such an event.
The next best place is the first floor of the apartment complex.
However, if you cannot get to the lowest level of your high-rise apartment complex, go to the lowest level of your apartment. Lie down in the middle of the room and cover yourself with cushions, blankets, or mattresses.
Go to your bathroom and get in the tub. Grab anything soft and heavy such as seat cushions, and cover yourself from falling debris. However, stay alert to avoid being trapped in your safe space.
The hallway of a high-rise apartment building is also a safe space. It is away from the outermost walls of the complex. It might not have enough cover inside your house, but it’s a better place when trapped inside the complex.
Avoid elevators since power can go off anytime while you’re in one.
What Should You Not Do During a Tornado?
Below are a few of the things that you should definitely NOT do during a tornado.
1. Never Open Your Windows
It’s a common misconception that opening your windows equalizes the interior pressure in the house. Opening your windows only allows debris to come in freely into the house. Tornadoes don’t depressurize the house. Keep the windows closed and get away from them. Shards from broken windows can be fatal if they come flying at you during the tornado.
2. Never Stay in Your Mobile Home
Mobile homes are one of the worst places to be during a tornado. Since most mobile homes don’t have anchors connecting them to the ground in any way, even an EF2 tornado can blow it off the ground. The moment your mobile home takes off from the ground, everything in the house becomes a danger to you.
3. Never Ignore a Tornado Warning
There is a reason tornado warnings sound early. It gives you time to report to a certified safehouse or prepare as adequately as possible.
What Essentials Do You Need in Your Home During a Tornado?
- Portable radio
- First aid kit
- Dust masks
- Duct tape
- Wet wipes, disposable garbage bags, and plastic ties for personal sanitation
- Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities.
- Dried and canned food.
- Local maps
- Cell phone with chargers, inverter, or solar charger
For extra safety, helmets and hard hats offer great protection to cover your head.
After the tornado, carefully exit your home and salvage important things first. Keep your emergency kit handy while you look around your home for neighbors that might need help. If possible, head to the nearest state-approved tornado or storm shelter.
Also, you can document the damage in pictures. It might help if your home insurance covers’ Acts of God’.
How Tornadoes Work and the Science Behind Them
Summer is a fun time, where most people want to spend their time soaking up some sun. Yet, summer is the prime tornado season.
The ground heats up and sends hot air upward. However, the rising hot air finds thunderstorm supercells that bring winds. The thunderstorms carry rain, and they send heavy cold air downwards. The cold air is known as downdrafts.
The updraft from rising hot air collides with the heavy downdraft. Since none of the opposing forces can go up or down, they form a spinning cloud below the heavy thunderstorm clouds.
As the spinning air gets stronger, it sucks in any debris in the vicinity. The spinning winds pick up speed and form a funnel that goes downward. Now you have a tornado.
Tornadoes can have a 2-mile diameter, with rotating speeds of up to 300 miles per hour. They can move on land with speeds of between 25 miles per hour and 40 miles per hour. In extreme cases, speeds can reach 70 miles per hour.
Fortunately, there are people dedicated to spotting the signs of tornadoes. Disaster preparedness saves lives. Early detection is your best bet against the ruthless nature of this weather monstrosity.
Most people at risk of tornadoes in the US live in the southeast and Mid West. Areas from the Dakotas to Texas and from Colorado to Illinois experience most tornadoes during summer.
Tornado spotters issue alerts to weather departments when they get the first signs of a tornado. The departments issue continuous state-wide warnings, which usually give people ample time to get to verified shelters or make any changes to their homes and property.
If you are indoors, an underground bunker is the best place to retreat.
Tornadoes can wreck everything in their path, and that includes your home and peace. However, you can minimize the risk by being disaster-ready and staying safe within your home. Consider priming the safe spots in your home in preparedness for tornadoes before such disasters become imminent.