40: Tornado Safety
Updated: Apr 7, 2022
Howdy! On 03/22/2022, we had a tornado watch progress to a warning, so we hid accordingly. Living in Texas, most folks don't have basements. As for why—Caves. Texas has a ton of caves. That's why Austin can't get a subway. They actually have to check for caves before building new roads.
Generally, wherever you get your weather news will give you a heads up that the upcoming supercell might become tornado producing. I get that some parts of the USA get these warnings constantly and it's a pain to drop everything every time there might be a twister. Cool. But if you're caught in one, you'll die. So. Get your errands done before the tornado watch is declared or wait until the following day. While you're out, also consider where you will take shelter if the watch escalates to a warning while you're at the grocery store/wherever. If it's a giant open space, it's not offering a ton of protection. If the watch is declared while you're out, head home if it's super close. All errands should be brief that day. On the off chance you're in a very secure structure, preferably with a built in tornado shelter, feel free to stay put. Some administrative buildings, governmental and the like, will have shelters available. How safe they are depends. I worked in a building that was all flat and sprawled about a block. The tornado shelter was a big open room without windows that used to be a school gym. I can't see that offering much protection, but I guess it was better than some other options.
Keep your phone charged. Keep your loved one's phones charged. Should the tornado drop a tree over your safe room later on, that phone is your way out. It's also how you check on any loved ones also in the storms path, but not beside you the day of.
If you live in a mobile home, cool. I grew up in those. However, when a tornado came through our area, we hid in the hallway. Don't do that. A tornado will wreck your home if it's in its path. Look online for the nearest tornado shelter to you. Either head there or stay with family/friends who have a non-mobile-home abode with a first floor/basement. Crashing with apartment renters who live on the upper floors is also unsafe. The idea is to get to a potential safe place before the watch becomes a warning. You and your loved ones should have a regular plan for where you go when tornados are likely, especially if they're a seasonal hazard in your area.
If you live in an upper floors apartment, meaning any but the first floor, I suggest that like those living in mobile homes, you also make a plan. Know where you're going, because it's inadvisable to stay put. Hopefully you have friends or family in the area who have a first floor/basement. Make sure you and they know you're going to be there, and head out as soon as the watch is declared, if not before. You don't want to be driving during a tornado warning.
Before the warning is the tornado watch. The watch gives you time to prepare for a potential warning. Once the warning starts, you'll have to hide, ideally in a cellar/basement, but an interior windowless room can suffice. Bring any medications, necessary for yourself, loved ones, pets, into the safe room for later, in case the watch becomes a warning. Bring important documents and IDs into the safe room. I suggest also bringing your wallet into the safe room. You might get stuck there for a while, so put out snacks and beverages too, especially if you've got kids. Maybe a bowl of water for your dog. Or treats, to bribe them into the room when it's time to hide. Our dogs hate the bathroom because that's where we trim their nails. We needed greenies and still had to catch and carry them into the bathroom.
I own a buggout bag of emergency supplies for a prolonged crises (like when we went without power and water for a week during the Icepocalypse of 2020). If you can fit it, feel free to bring that in too. On the very off chance the house collapses and you get trapped in the bathroom while cell phones are knocked out of service, it could help.
Tornados and hail go together so it's probably a good idea to invest in a car tarp if you haven't already (if tornados frequent your area). Look for one that says it helps against hail. Wrap the car. If you've got a truck, you might need a bigger tarp, or multiple tarps, and you'll have to sort a means of tying them down. You want this handled before the watch becomes a warning, and only if you already own the tarp. It's a bad idea to run errands with a tornado producing storm coming your way.
So what are you supposed to do during a tornado warning, when ideally, your town's siren starts wailing? Or you get the blaring alarm on your cell phone? Take cover.
If you are in your car or outside when the warning comes, seek the most substantial shelter you can find. You don't want to be uncovered out in the open. Knocking on a stranger's door is a way better plan than staying put. I promise, most people will let you shelter in place during a tornado warning. Your car is not a shelter.
If you have livestock, get them to a shelter as quickly as possible. That'll probably mean a barn, but if you can herd them into anything sturdier, like your house, that will keep them safer. The same rules for you apply to them, in that you want them away from windows. This goes for the barn and where you keep them inside your home. They need plenty of food and water where they will wait the threat out.
If you've got a basement or a cellar, hide there. If you do not have a basement or a cellar, find an interior room of your house that is away from windows. For most of us, that's the bathroom. Hide in the tub. Worried about comfort? Cover the tub in pillows and blankets. Once you're all in the bathroom, try to stay put at least until the warning has concluded. Usually, this shouldn't take too long. Tornado producing storms are often fast-moving, but plan for a wait to be safe.
My neighbors suggested lying in the bathtub with the mattress above you. While, I imagine that will diminish the tornado's pull of you should it break through your house, I feel like breathing might be difficult, and you don't want to suffocate while trying not to get twistered. Unless you genuinely believe the tornado is in your neighborhood, I wouldn't hide under a mattress period, but including while in the bathtub. Also, unless you live alone or only have an infant with you, you probably won't all fit under a mattress in your bathtub. You know your bathroom layout better than me though. If you can find a way to get the mattress over the tub without creating a seal, sort of like a curved canopy of mattressy protection, go for it.
When the warning is over, which hopefully your cell phone will tell you, in case you can't hear that the siren has stopped, wait a little longer before coming out. It's probably safe but staying put another ten, twenty minutes maybe, won't hurt. Those weather radars, at least in Texas, are mostly only positioned in cities. That means rural areas have less accurate, less timely, information regarding storm tracking. That extra twenty minutes in the tub are taking that information into account.
Even after the storm has passed, and you've left the safe room, keep your phone on loud. There could be more extreme weather on the way, or flooding, and you want to be able to react as quickly as possible. I personally leave all the emergency supplies in the safe room overnight, just in case another tornado warning occurs. Obviously, if a flood warning occurs after the tornado warning has passed, it's best to clear your basement/cellar of hard-to-replace documents, IDs, money, etc. I'm not going to make this post about flood warnings but another tip is never to try to escape flooding by hiding in your attic, and that if you must, to bring an ax with you. The concern is that you'll become trapped by rising waters, and that breaking through a roof to get to safety, once the way down is blocked, is actually pretty hard.
Hopefully you'll never need any of this info, but if you've read this far, it'll be because it might come in handy. Thanks for stopping by and stay safe! I put out a new blog post every Monday. Toodles!