On Monday May 20th a savage tornado ripped the town of Moore, Oklahoma in half. The National Weather Service rated the tornado as an EF-5 (over 200 mph). At one point the path of obliteration was 1.3 miles wide.
This destruction is a grim reminder of the meat hook realities that can and do happen on a regular basis. Sadly at least 24 people lost their lives, 9 of which were children.
Moore was also destroyed 14 years ago by an EF-5 tornado. The winds in that storm set the fastest wind speed record at 318 mph. That storm killed 36 people, injuring hundreds and caused $1 billion in damages much of which was insured.
Luckily more people did not perish thanks to the deep rooted preparedness of the Oklahomans. After many generations of living on the great plains people have come to a set of best practices to follow in order to survive a tornado, they are outlined below.
Before a Tornado
First off, don’t live in tornado alley.
Secondly, if you do live in an area prone to tornados, get a robust home insurance policy because your home may at some point face one of these monsters. We all know the first thing that races through your mind when you are hunkered down in your bathtub with a matress over your head and listening to your roof get torn off is “oh crap, does my homeowners insurance policy cover that?”
Seriously though, the first step to being prepared is building up and keeping an emergency kit on hand. Also, make a plan for communicating and meeting up with your family.
The most reliable source for severe weather information is through the NOAA Weather Radio, get one and turn it on during a tornado warning.
Be alert and read the skies for danger. Signs to look for include a dark and ominous green sky. Look for large hail and look for a large dark low lying cloud. Anything that starts rotating is definitely not a good sign.
Many times a tornado rolls up before the sound alarms go off. Don’t wait for an alarm, trust your senses. If you hear something like a screaming freight train run for shelter.
During a Tornado
If you are outside with no shelter, then run. Your first option is to get to your car and drive to the nearest structure that looks safe. Don’t forget to buckle up, it could be a bumpy ride.
If a tornado jumps up on you, don’t try to outrun it because you probably can’t. You might be able to get away if there is an unblocked country road. It all depends on the tornado’s trajectory. Things aren’t like the movie Twister where you can have a tornado-car chase sequence and live to tell about it.
If your car is getting nailed with debris, pull over and tuck down under the dashboard, cover yourself with whatever you can. If there are no structures nearby you will be better off locating and getting to the lowest spot you can find on the earth lay in. Lay face down and cover your head.
A mobile home is not considered a safe structure. Get out of a trailer if you are in one and crawl into a ditch or a culvert or even a creekbed.
If you can get to a structure, go into the basement or the lowest point you can get to. If there is no basement or access is blocked then go to the center of the building to a small room, closet or hallway with no windows. If the center of the structure still has a window visible do not open it. Get under a strong table or anything that can give protection from falling debris, duck down and cover up.
The absolute best place to be to survive a tornado is in a storm cellar. Storm cellars are usually accessible from outside and are safely located underground. The best storm cellars are made from steel rebar reinforced concrete. Secure a steel door on storm cellar like that and it doubles as a bomb shelter. The benefit with storm cellars is that they are below ground. Being embedded into and covered with earth makes the shelter wind resistant.
Another effective option is a safe room. Safe rooms are convenient because they are located within a home. Safe rooms also can add value to a home. Essentially a safe room is a reinforced structure anchored within the center of a home or building. FEMA construction plans for building a safe room can be found here. A safe room can be modified to withstand more than just high winds. If you line the room with layers of heavy gauge sheet metal or lead it then gets upgraded a fallout shelter.
Whether you have a basement, safe room or storm cellar be sure to have your supplies stocked up and in place for use. At a minimum, store things like bottled water, food like MREs, batteries, flashlights and a radio.
You might want to store valuable belongings and documents in your safe room as well, anything you don’t want blown away.
Think about what you will need on hand for the aftermath. You will need sturdy boots, work gloves, a medical kit and a large crowbar.
After surviving the tornado you will want to go out and start trying to help the injured and the people buried in debris, this is when a medic kit and crowbar comes in handy. Be careful though, 50% of injuries happen after a tornado during rescue efforts and cleaning up.
The prepared and alert citizen will always have the advantage during times of disaster.
About the Author
Rich Coffman lives and writes from the front range of Colorado. He designed and produced the Boulder County, Colorado Office of Emergency Management’s Emergency Preparedness Guide.