Surviving a Tornado

I spent a good part of my childhood growing up in Oklahoma, square in the middle of tornado alley.   My neighbor was a storm chasing photographer for the local newspaper, and I wanted to be a storm chaser, “when I grow up” for at least 5 or 6 years.

The season started early this year, with 15 confirmed tornadoes touching down across Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Kentucky and Indiana earlier this week.  1 fatality and a couple dozen injuries. Tornadoes are not something to mess around with if you live in the Midwest.  Those of you on the East coast aren’t totally out of range either, last year saw a couple of tornado watches out that way, and Massachusetts had some confirmed twisters on the ground.

Learn the signs – Growing up, I learned how to read the cloud formations, and listen to the storms to tell when tornadoes were brewing. I was so proud the day I spotted a tornado before my neighbor.  I got to watch it for another 5 minutes before my mother caught the newscasters’ emergency broadcast and started hollering for me to get my behind inside. To this day I have a fairly good track record for knowing when there are tornadoes around, even without turning on the radio. The flip side of that, is I know when the danger is past, which is useful in the middle of the night when I’m tired and wanting to go to sleep. If you aren’t in the habit of studying storms as they approach, or listening to the different sounds they can make, I suggest you get in the habit. Your own intuition will give you a much quicker warning than an emergency broadcast will.

The best thing to do – Is to be underground when the tornado hits your town. Period.  Check out some of the before and after photos of Joplin from last year. Above ground structures just don’t stand a chance in a direct hit.  Even a ways away from the direct path, debris can rip through windows and cheap drywall without even slowing down. If you don’t have a below ground refuge, consider adding in a safe room.  Enlarge a closet or bathroom so that you have a place large enough for your entire family to shelter. If you can afford to line it with some metal sheeting or thick lumber, all the better. The walls, ceiling, and door should be able to withstand winds of up to 250 miles per hour, flying debris, and wind borne objects. Make sure it’s anchored onto a concrete pad.  Your safe room doesn’t have to be wasted space, as long as you leave enough room for your family, you can add sturdy shelves to hold first aid and other SHTF supplies. I remember my great-Uncle’s below ground storm shelter doubling as the food storage for his house.  Aunt G. would pop down there to grab cans of veggies when she hadn’t pulled out enough for dinner. A cot wouldn’t be a waste of space, if you have one that folds up. A lot of tornadoes hit at night, and sheltering can be easier on children if they have a place to lay down.  FEMA has some guidelines for safe rooms, ( these can be excellent starting points for discussion with a contractor, or as starting points for a DIY setup.

The bare minimum to keep in your safe place – Water and food is obvious. It can take days or even weeks to get electricity restored after a serious tornado. A way to cook said food, even if it’s just heating water and MRE’s. Tools to deal with rubble. Something like the Fubar , a saw, some rope and heavy duty gloves can help you get a handle on the destruction and secure your property to avoid any further risk of injury. Medications, diapers, important documents, and a bit of cash can all help round out your tornado shelter.

It won’t work if you aren’t in it! Warnings and watches are not to be ignored. And, just in case you need a primer on the difference between the two –

“A warning is issued when a hazardous weather or hydrologic event is occurring, imminent or likely. A warning means weather conditions pose a threat to life or property. People in the path of the storm need to take protective action.
A watch is used when the risk of a hazardous weather or hydrologic event has increased significantly, but its occurrence, location or timing is still uncertain. It is intended to provide enough lead time so those who need to set their plans in motion can do so. A watch means that hazardous weather is possible.”


Keep safe , protect your family and your preps from destruction.  All the preps in the world won’t do you any good if they are scattered over a 2 county swath after a tornado.

– Calamity Jane

8 comments… add one
  • Jason March 1, 2012, 6:48 pm

    I grew up as a surfer in Southern California. Over the years I had seen 2 waterspouts, which are tornados in the ocean. Granted they were a couple of miles out, it was spooky as hell.

  • Spook45 March 1, 2012, 10:45 pm

    I stand out in the drive way with binos and look for it…..

  • Zoomer March 1, 2012, 11:49 pm

    I grew up in OK as well, and even did a bit of tornado chasing when I worked for a radio station (not recommended). A lot of people don’t know that you cannot always see the tail of the tornado until the air picks up dirt and debris. Thus you may think it is still just a funnel cloud or may not even see a funnel cloud at all. I learned this lesson once out on the farm where I pointed out the developing features of a funnel cloud to my wife. As I was speaking, trees 100 yards away began to snap. It was then I realized that it was already a tornado and we were too close.

    BTW – #1 cause of death from tornadoes is head injury. Wear a bone dome (bike helmet, motorcycle helmet, etc.) if you have one and hunker down.

  • j.r. guerra in s. tx. March 2, 2012, 8:42 am

    Don’t forget good sturdy boots with nail protection in sole, all that debris has many sharp pointy objects underfoot, getting cut would be a real possibility. Long sleeve shirt – fiberglass insulation is VERY ITCHY stuff to come in contact with. And a small canteen – its hard work and having something to drink without having to climb or descend every now and again would be very helpful.

  • noisynick March 2, 2012, 10:23 am

    Our house was hit a Tornado in ’08’ it destroyed 8 buildings including the house one shop was left standing. We’ve just now finished getting everything cleaned up. Our preps for the most part survived except our motor fuel storage it blew 500 gallon tanks over and they split open lesson learned leave them on the ground, and use a pump. We live on a farm In missouri, I was the only one home at the time.
    The best prep we had going for that was good insurance and cash in our safe which allowed us to purchase things we needed and stay in a motel
    for a month on our money before the insurance checks started rolling in.
    Like i said our preps survived under a mountain of debris. Our tractors got ruined so moving stuff took awhile becasue all the equipment around was being used to handle downed trees and such on the roads.
    This was an F2 by the way………….Tornadoes are local as a rule not wide spread damage for 100’s of miles so most things you’ll need are relatively close. Other than the usual work related items that most have for preps i can’t anyhting extra one would need…….

  • jqfrederick March 2, 2012, 10:35 am

    Your thoughts on these as above ground shelters? Looks pretty sturdy, especially if bermed as in some of the pictures/video. Pretty expensive, but…

  • SHTF March 5, 2012, 6:47 pm

    Tell you what, nothing can make a man nervous like a Tornado. No matter how tough, or strong, or prepared you are. Unless you have a tornado specific shelter, you’re going to be nervous every creak, whine, snap, and howl you hear out there. I’ve been seriously considering a real tornado shelter, prob will take the plunge after the fact knowing me

  • Chef Bear58 March 8, 2012, 2:05 am

    Here in VA we get tornadoes once in a while… increasingly frequent in recent years. The things I have noticed about them around here (it might be different in other places I don’t know) is that the sky gets a green tinge to it, and even the clouds start looking like a green-gray smoke (for lack of a better description). The last few times we have had them I also noticed a strange metallic smell to the air, kinda like when somebody says “smells like snow” when it smells crisp and clean right before a snowfall. This kinda smelled to me like tinfoil when it comes out of the oven.

    I have become better at judging the weather around here in recent years, what I found that helped to accelerate my learning process, was being on the water fishin’ alot. Especially in the VA Beach/Sandbridge area, the storms can seem to be staying offshore by miles and then quickly close in. Trust me, being a few miles from shore in a 28′ FLAT BOTTOMED Center-Console (Skiff for the “old salts” out there) boat during a small craft advisory…. IS NOT FUN! Learning how to read the combination of the sky, the clouds and the water can save you a lot of headache & dramamine!


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