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Thursday, April 11, 2013


Well, here we are again.  Coming into the heart of tornado season.  Here are some helpful facts and tips that will help you survive another year.

Most every state in the U.S of A. has tornadoes.  Some have more, some less.  Some have stronger ones, some lesser ones.  They all have tornadoes that can kill you given the right circumstances!  Be ready to take the necessary precautions and ready to seek shelter whenever the need arises.  Even if you are in an area of the map below that "never" has tornadoes, at least take a second or two and "What if" it.  Where would you take shelter right now?  I mean where exactly, RIGHT NOW!  See?  That wasn't so hard was it?


What goes into a good tornado plan?  Just like a school has a tornado drill and a tornado plan, you should have one for your home too.  The very first step in developing this plan is to designate your safe room.  This needs to be the smallest, strongest room without windows on the very lowest level of your house.  If you have a basement, it will be down there.  If not, it will probably be a closet or bathroom on the ground level.

Inside your safe room, you should have prepared and stowed your tornado kit.  You did make one of these right?  If not here's what you should prepare for a kit:  First thing, a crank type weather radio! Got to stay informed!  At the very least a battery powered weather radio, that is pre-tuned to your area's weather warning center.  Next is a few emergency candles with several boxes of weatherproof matches, and a large LED Mag-lite.  You will also stash several blankets and pillows, a First Aid kit of sufficient size for your family, sturdy shoes (preferably boots) and leather gloves for each family member, whatever stash of small bill cash you can afford and are comfortable with (Banks may not be open and credit card lines may be down), a couple gallons of water, two MRE's per person, and lastly, a spare set of keys to every vehicle you own.  Keys to your truck that remains mostly untouched in the carport that still stands right where it was, those keys that are in the house that just blew three miles away aren't of much use!  Also toss in an entertainment package with a book or two, a board game, and a deck of cards.  One more thing you might consider is putting all your medication into a zipped shower bag that you can grab at a moments notice, or even putting a couple doses in a separate bottle that is stored inside your tornado kit, just remember to rotate them when you get a new bottle.

While we are talking about preparing, if you live in one of those red areas above, or even an orange one, you should consider building an underground tornado shelter or a purpose built safe room.  FEMA has regulations for both shelters and safe room designs, and fines to go with them.  They also have designs for them but you are looking at two to five thousand bucks to build one of those.

Some of us can't afford that.  If they can recommend "getting into a ditch or low lying area", I can recommend putting a length of three foot concrete pipe into one and covering it over with dirt. I can also recommend putting an elbow onto one end so that debris cannot fly right into the shelter portion.  I can also recommend closing the far end of it up with a poured four inch reinforced concrete slab and covering that with dirt.  You must close that end, even if that is just covering it over with two pieces of 3/4 inch marine grade plywood and piling dirt against that.  I'd also recommend two feet of length per person on the long side of the "L" plus about three feet to get away from the 90 degree elbow.  Couple of tips here... Make sure there is a bit of slope to it so there isn't a lake in the end, and be aware that critters and wasps will love this... check it for residents often during storm season.  Unless you don't mind sharing your space while waiting on the tornado to go away.  That is the most basic, safe design for a shelter.

While the most common mantra is the one written above about the small central room or an underground shelter, I have seen several homes that were completely gone after a storm, but the block foundation was still there and intact!  If you don't have an underground shelter option, then that small, central room is your only option.  Do it!  But if you have a minute, you can give yourself a safer option.  A small, central room is great only as long as it stays anchored to your foundation.  Another option that is often overlooked is the crawlspace of the house.  If you have a house that is not built on a concrete slab, and is not a trailer, then you most likely have a crawlspace.

This paragraph and the next are completely my opinion:
Almost all tornadoes come to you from the southwest traveling toward the northeast.  If I were to use the foundation, or the basement for shelter, I would be a bit more worried about the house landing on me than the tornado blowing me away.  Think about it for a second.  You know that a hole in the ground (Basement or crawlspace) is not going to blow away.  The house might completely blow away, or it might be blown five feet and collapse.  Problem is this: five feet means it is no longer sitting ON the foundation, which means it can fall inside.

Now, since tornadoes approach from the southwest, if the house is going to get blown off the foundation it will be toward the northeast.  I want it to go away from where I am sheltering.  That means I want shelter in the southwest corner of the crawlspace or basement.  If I am under the northeast corner, and the house blows five feet and collapses, then that is right on top of you.  It was once pointed out that after the tornado passes, the wind comes from the other direction.  My answer was that if the tornado didn't blow the house down from one direction as the winds built to max speeds on approach, then it surely would have a very good chance of withstanding the diminishing wind speeds from the tornado as it moved away.

Back to the real world...
Now you are prepared.  We wait.

Always be aware of the forecast and look for these indicators of tornado weather:
Dark, greenish sky
Wall clouds that soar straight up
Cloud rotation and swirling winds
A loud roar that is often said to sound like a freight train
A ground level dust and debris swirl (not all tornadoes have a visible funnel)

The weather siren has sounded!  Head for your safe room or shelter!!!
Once you are inside your safe room, turn on the weather radio and listen for additional information.  Have everyone change into their boots.  Then, I would suggest that you try to remain calm and just wait it out.

In the off chance that you discover that you are indeed about to become Dorthy, have everyone cover their heads with the pillows and their bodies with the blankets and curl into a ball. Good luck, you have done what you could do to be ready for this.

Wow! That was INTENSE!  Now what?  Activate your aftermath plan.  Have an area designated where everyone will meet up.  Treat the injuries that you can and do not move anyone seriously injured.  Cover them with a blanket and make sure they are the first ones visited by EMS once they arrive.  Once you have attended to your family, see if you can help any of your neighbors. If you smell any chemicals or gas, leave that area immediately!  Once serious injuries are treated, look around for any collapsed structures and take a census of who might have been there.  Only if it is a dire emergency should you attempt the try to excavate or extricate them, but this is also a priority area that emergency crews should be directed to when they arrive.

Stay calm both before, during, and after a tornado.  This will help you make better decisions quickly that could save lives!

A few more tips here...
Always know your building's plan where you work... assuming you can get a job in this economy.
Never try to shelter inside a vehicle during a tornado, get out and get into the ditch.  Images of Evil Knievel unsuccessfully trying to jump the Grand Canyon comes to mind.
Never try to shelter under a bridge or overpass.  These are wind funnels and will subject you to much more intense winds and becoming a Human Cannonball.
Never try to out drive a tornado.  They are wily and will track you down.
Never, unless you are a protected class of redneck, go outside to watch a tornado.  Watch some other redneck's video on TV later.
And don't drink beer during a tornado.  The pressure changes make it foam up and it spews everywhere.



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