Tornado Talk

Well, most of our readers will probably remember that I live in NW Iowa.  We’ve been dodging more than our fair share of bad weather the past week.  In fact, this post is being typed up in Word, because we haven’t had internet since Monday. Storm after storm, floods on top of floods, and of course, tornadoes. Thankfully, most of the tornadoes have stayed on the Nebraska side of the river. I have friends on that side that I’ve been keeping close tabs on, but so far me and mine have escaped harm.  I’ll be headed to a fun mix of sandbagging, clean ups and benefits this weekend (and next) as our communities rally around those that got hit hard and try to protect those that are still facing down the rising water.  Pilger got wiped off the map.  I know we have readers from the coasts here, do y’all hear about it when a small city in the fly-overs gets its clock cleaned?  The saddest news is the 5 year old girl from Pilger that died from injuries. She was sheltering in her family’s trailer home when it was hit by one of the tornadoes.

Which brings me to my first bit of advice for tornadoes: Choose your shelter wisely. I have explained to my husband flat out, that I will not live in a place without some sort of underground shelter. Period.  I don’t care how poor we get, I don’t care if I have to dig it myself. It’s the height of stupidity to think that anything less than underground shelter will save you and your loved ones if a twister is roaring its way towards you. Have you ever seen what a trailer home looks like after a brush with a tornado? Kindling. Exploded kindling.  Most wood frame houses with vinyl siding will only fair marginally better, and even they won’t provide much shelter for anything larger than an F2.  I have to have my rule, because a surprising number of houses in tornado alley are not equipped with shelter.  Like so many other safeguards in our so called modern America they are deemed too expensive, or too troublesome to bother with. Some companies are offering homeowners the choice to build a tornado safe room into a house that otherwise wouldn’t offer proper shelter. The rooms are enclosed in steel usually, and bolted to the foundation.

Check out some of these models to get a feel for what’s on the market. FEMA even has grants, if you live someplace like Oklahoma or Kansas or Iowa.tornadofrequency

If you are in a community (mobile home or otherwise) that offers community shelters, make sure you examine them with a skeptical eye. Are they large enough to fit EVERYONE? Everyone and their dog? Because you know most people will bring the dog if they can.  Is the shelter normally locked? Who gets the key? Who gets to decide when to unlock it? Is it close enough to your house?

It’s important to make sure you can get out of your shelter. This is one instance where OPSEC could get you killed. If no one knows you have a shelter, it’s possible no one will know where to look for you. There was a gal in Moore, OK that was stuck in her pre-fab buried shelter for days after the tornado because her door handle failed and no one knew where she was.  Doors can also be buried by rubble, or downed trees.   Don’t let this risk deter you though, trust me, your neighbors will happily dig you out if they know/suspect you’re there. They’d much rather dig you out alive from your shelter than they would dead from the rubble.  (Well, don’t trust me, trust your neighbors, you do trust your neighbors, right?) Annually inspect the opening and closing mechanisms for your shelter door. Let your kids practice getting in and out of it.

Things to keep in your shelter? The basics for any shelter, of course, food, water, and medicine top the list.   Tornadoes are often in the evenings, so a place for young/old to lay down would be nice.  If you want to plan for the “after” of a tornado, I would suggest Personal Protective Equipment.  Hard hat, long sleeves, work gloves and steel toe boots.  That’s the minimum that disaster relief groups require for people headed into a tornado aftermath zone to help. Refer back to my exploded kindling remark.  Houses, trees, cars, everything is likely to be broken, smashed and tossed around and flip flops won’t cut it if you’re trying to salvage what you can from the wreckage.  If you work a job like I do, where PPE is required, this can be easy to stash. Just toss your worn out boots/gloves in the shelter kit when you get new ones. Sure they won’t cut it for a 40 hour week at a job site, but most of the time, they’re not so worn out you couldn’t strap them back on during an emergency.

Another part not to overlook is communication. Y’all might remember that I don’t have a TV in my house, no cable, no local, nothing. With our internet down all week, we’ve been relying on radio to keep up with all the watches/warnings and whatnot. We have our big plug in radio in the living room and a couple of smaller ones that run on batteries and hand crank. The local stations don’t mess around and they’ll interrupt programming constantly to keep everyone in the loop as situations and warnings change.  And of course we still had our cell phone, with which to keep close tabs on our friends in the path of harm, and for them to keep tabs on us.  If you can afford it, a good solar charger for vital communication tools will come in extremely handy if you ever find yourself on the flip side of a tornado with all the power lines down and the nearest shelter with charging stations 20 minutes away.  Hubby and I have been drooling over some lately. They get pricy fast, but I like these. Look for watts to see how quickly they will charge things, a 5W charger will work slower than a 15W. solar chargerMake sure you know if they have battery packs or not. Battery packs are needed if you want to store the solar energy to charge devices at night, or in caves, or whatever.

Here’s a 16W one. It has no battery. But it’s faster than the one below, and can produce considerable charge power just in an afternoon of direct sunlight.

This one has a battery. But it’s a bit smaller than the solar collector above, so it takes about 40 hours of sunlight to get a full charge on a large 7200mA battery.

My final bit of advice for tornadoes is this: Reach out to your neighbors, especially if they are new to the area to make sure they know what to do for tornadoes. I heard about some guys dying in a ditch where they tried to hide from a tornado and the flood waters drowned them. People from other countries especially can be unfamiliar with tornado safety.

Stay safe out there y’all! Sound off if you have more tornado talk to share!

- Calamity Jane
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  • Semper Gumby June 20, 2014, 1:29 pm

    All good advice. And one of my biggest worries when bad weather moves in. Living in S.E. Louisiana we are SOL! Just the mention of a Tornado gets me freaking. No place to go and we don’t have basements or shelters. Sure would like one though. They always say “move in doors to a sturdy room”, I’ve seen what those things do to houses!

    Reply
  • Michael June 21, 2014, 12:00 am

    I’m still a big fan of little weather radios. They don’t take much power, have an “alert” setting and broadcast on a VHF frequency that’s hard to knock out.

    I have a few of these around.

    http://tinyurl.com/ogcc4b3

    Reply
  • Spud June 21, 2014, 4:47 am

    Other than just passing thru the state. My wife and stayed in Knoxville for a week once when her dad was inducted into the Sprint Car Hall of Fame. Excellent time had and loved the town ! Never even thought about tornadoes and it was in June. Poor stuational awareness eh .

    Reply
  • Walt June 21, 2014, 10:00 am

    ICF home owner. Not that any home could be considered “tornado-proof” but ICF is very tornado resistant, even when pieces of your neighbors homes are flying around at 200mph. See youtube for some tests of how different walls stand up to cannon that fires 2X4′s at tornado speeds. Being bullet proof up to .50 cal with AP ammo is another prepper perk :)

    Reply
    • Calamity Jane June 23, 2014, 9:11 am

      Yes, we did ICF for the Doomstead. That is one house where I won’t have to dig another shelter, the whole house is a shelter.

      Reply
  • SigmaJayOmega June 21, 2014, 1:24 pm

    Keep tools and equipment inside shelter that would allow you to
    break out if necessasry. Low-cost items like crowbar or other wrecking bar comes to mind. Store your sledgehammer in the shelter. Mine is usedso seldom that this makes real sense. Your deep-cycle battery bank can also live underground, where a small solar panel keeps it fully charged all the time. If 12 volt, there are many car chargers available for electronic devices. Nice and cheap.

    Reply
    • Shootit June 26, 2014, 5:03 pm

      Being a contractor living in tornado ally on storm warning days I stash a set of cordless tools(sawsall, circular saw, screw gun, extra batteries, 3″ screws, nails, impact gun, drill, grinder and assorted blades) besides the assortment of hand tools in our basement. You may have to stabilize the structure as you cut your self out of your basement/shelter. Another thought is you may need a ladder or the ability to build yourself one to get out of the hole you find yourself. The other good items are a 5 gallon bucket for a temporary bathroom, fire extinguisher, and a deck of cards.

      We have many more suggestions as living survivors of multiple tornado encounters.

      Reply
  • Pierce June 21, 2014, 6:23 pm

    Good article as always CJ, one thing I would add to PPE is maybe a dust mask, I’ve never been involved in cleanup but the exploded kindling makes me think of all the chemicals in the walls and such. My dad and stepmom live up in south Illinois and just a small storm they had while I was visiting scared the crap out of me, and I deal with hurricanes here in Florida, they have a neighbor with a shelter, but the wife and I already decided together that if we ever moved up there we would have to have a shelter in/under our house.

    Reply
  • Mikel June 22, 2014, 2:37 pm

    As a retired Iowa meteorologist (now living in Central Texas), your comments are spot on!

    Reply
  • Pineslayer June 22, 2014, 9:05 pm

    When designing your shelter, make sure a strong door opens in. At least you can open it and start hacking your way out or yell like a banshee. A small solar panel hooked to a deep cycle in the shelter should keep plenty of power ready to go.

    Have some friends in Texas, have shelter, it started to flood during a surge. Dig in a good spot.

    Reply
  • Bill June 25, 2014, 8:09 pm

    I live exactly where that red dot is on the map. I can tell you for sure you better take full advantage of Calamity ‘s advice. My business location was about 300 yards north of the Moore tornado path. HOLY CRAP BATMAN

    Reply