In yesterday’s blog I talked about the importance of NOAA weather radios. They are a life saving tool. But what do you do when there is a tornado warning in effect for your area?
Know where you are
I know this may sound silly but you would be surprised how many people do not know the county they live in. It’s a great idea to get out a map or use one online to find out what county you live in and whether you’re in the middle, northwest or southwest part of the county. Also learn the towns that are around you. I remember getting a phone call from a youth director at my church. She was taking a group of middle school students on a youth ministry trip. There was severe weather possible that afternoon. I told her while she was driving to watch the road signs and remember what county she just left and the county she was in along with remembering what cities she just passed. The good news is the severe weather stayed to the west of her and the weekend trip was a great experience for the kids. Bottom line is she was prepared.
Know where to go
Schools do a great job of having practice tornado drills. The alarm goes off and kids know where to go and what to do. Just the other day I spoke at Friendship Village Retirement/Assisted Living Facility about tornado drills. They had one that morning. I was so excited to see a facility like this take severe weather seriously. They had all of their staff help each resident get to their safe spot. So I’ll pose this question to you – have you practiced a tornado drill at work or home? Do you know where to go? I once had a meteorologist tell me he did a tornado drill with his family. It was a good thing he did because they found out not all of them could fit in the bathroom (they didn’t have a basement). Because they practiced this drill they found out they needed to have a couple kids go with mom in the bathroom and a couple go with dad in the hall closet. Had this been a real tornado warning it would’ve been a chaotic moment trying to figure out what to do next. So I encourage all of you to practice a drill at home or at work. Know where you would go if severe weather occurs.
The best place during a tornado warning no doubt is in the middle of the basement underneath a staircase. However many homes don’t have basements. The rule of thumb is to put as many walls between you as possible. An interior room like a bathroom or closet with no windows is acceptable. I can’t stress this enough – if you live in a mobile home you have to get out and get some place safer. These types of homes are not sturdy enough to withstand the winds a tornado packs. Find out from the mobile home park if there is a tornado shelter or if they have a common space with a basement.
I learned at the severe storms conference I attended that most buildings/homes are built to withstand 90 mph winds. (In hurricane zones these parameters are different) Keep in mind many tornadoes exceed 90mph. Tim Marshall who is a meteorologist and engineer spoke about building construction. I found out that many buildings are made with CMU’s or concrete masonry units. These are those cinder blocks – some of them are strongly reinforced with re-bars while others are not. When they are reinforced with re-bars there are extra anchors to support stronger winds. I saw photos of a high school in Joplin where the concrete walls fell right into the hallways. Luckily school was not in session.
I also heard from a meteorologist who survived a tornado last year in Huntsville, AL. Gary Dobbs had been working all morning long at WAAY and went home during severe weather coverage to get some sleep that afternoon before he had to return dark and early the next morning. He came home and it wasn’t too long before a tornado warning was issued for his town. He got on the phone and did a live report from the porch of his house. He saw the tornado coming straight for him, he ended his live report and headed for his storm shelter. The twister was moving fast and he didn’t make it to the shelter. He stopped short and went into an interior room. He heard the roaring winds and at one point was lifted off the ground. A few minutes later he realized he was under debris – a dryer had fallen on top of him and broke a few of his ribs. He crawled out from under the debris and tried to get to his storm shelter. A group of workers from a nearby restaurant had taken refuge there. They were ok. Gary was safe, and so where these workers. Here’s the story he shared after the storm.
After listening to both of these talks there was some discussion at the conference about storm shelters. Should people build them? Are they worth it? I’m not sure I have a great answer for that. I would hope if you live in a tornado prone area you would invest in one – like Gary Dobbs did. However does everyone need one? I don’t know the answer to that. They can cost almost two thousand dollars to install. Should we get these or build structures better? It’s a discussion I think we need to have in the future.
In the meantime I encourage all of you to be aware of severe weather. Get a NOAA weather radio, sign up for for WDTN Text alerts, download the WDTN news app, follow Brian, Jamie and me on Twitter, or on Facebook. The more ways you have to get vital information the better.