Tornado Preparedness in ‘Tornado Alley’

Tornado Alley

“Tornado Alley” is traditionally located in the middle of the United States in Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. Many of the people living in Tornado Alley, have never seen a tornado nor have experienced property damage from a tornado. As a result, people may become desensitized and complacent about tornado watches and warnings during the spring and summer months.

The severe tornado that hit Joplin, Missouri, on May 21, 2011, was preceded by 20 minutes of tornado sirens and TV and radio announcements that this was a ‘tornado warning’. This means the weather conditions were such that a tornado could easily develop; or a tornado was on the ground, sighted and approaching an area. The Joplin tornado was the deadliest single twister since the weather service began keeping official records in 1950 and the eighth-deadliest in U.S. history. Scientists said it appeared to be a rare “multivortex” tornado, with two or more small and intense centers of rotation orbiting the larger funnel. Many people did not heed the warnings and were not in their own tornado shelter when this killer tornado struck.

With winds over 200 miles per hour, many structures in Joplin did not withstand this wind velocity, as would be the case in most cities. Trees, houses and commercial structures in the path of the tornado were leveled. In one of the buildings, everyone on the second or higher stories was killed. People on the first level had a chance to get to the interior hallways and they survived. One of the fast food restaurants had all the customers crowd into the meat freezer, and all these people lived.

With the recent killer tornado in Joplin, people in the mid-West are becoming very heedful of tornado warnings. In the Kansas City area today, there was a tornado warning while we were shopping at Whole Foods Store. As we drove into the parking lot with the tornado sirens wailing, policemen cruising in a car with flashing lights and siren were telling everyone to take cover. We ran through a heavy downpour of rain into the store. The employees escorted all the customers to the back of the store. We were standing inside a long hallway in the back of the store, in offices and a break room. There were no exterior windows in this area. A large walk-in refrigerator was also in this area. We watched the TV in the break room and saw tornadoes developing and touching down briefly just a few miles away.

What to do During a Tornado Warning

A concrete basement under a home with no windows and doors is the safest place in a tornado. People need to keep a supply of bottled water, an emergency kit, a flashlight and a hand crank radio in their own tornado shelter. A small supply of canned food, extra clothing and blankets should be stored here as well. If possible, a several day supply of prescription medication should also be placed here.

If there is no basement in your house or apartment, go to the first level and climb into a bathtub and put a mattress over the tub. A first level enclosed bathroom without windows may be the safest place. If you live in a mobile home, leave immediately and seek shelter in a nearby sturdy building.

If you are driving a car and there are no buildings nearby, it is okay to park your car under an overpass, but don’t stay with your car as this is an old wive’s tale. Immediately, lie down flat in a low lying area or a ditch at the side of the road and wait. Keep a blanket in the car year-round, in order to cover yourself in the ditch.

What to Take to Your Personal Tornado Shelter

Everyone needs to put on shoes and socks quickly and go into their shelter. Shoes protect the feet when getting out of the shelter in the case of damage to the home. The winds may easily shatter windows and there may be broken glass everywhere after a tornado hits.

Take a cell phone to the tornado shelter. Some of the survivors in Joplin were able to ‘text’ friends that they were alive and buried in their own home debris. Cell phones may still be used to text messages, even if the power on the phone is too low to place a phone call. This saved some lives in Joplin this week.

Women should take their purse with checkbook and credit cards to the basement. Men should have their wallets. Car keys should be brought and cars should be placed in a garage if time allows. And only if you have time, turn off the gas and electricity to your house.

Your Personal Plan during a Tornado Warning

After the Joplin tornado this week, we made some NEW decisions about what we would be doing during the next tornado warning. We decided that our house would not withstand 200 mile per hour winds. Our shingles are rated for 100 mile per hour wind head on. Our basement has 3 glass windows and a door on the south side.

We took inventory of nearby buildings. There is a government building two blocks from our house that is open during the daytime. We know it has a basement and many long interior corridors with no exterior glass windows. We decided to go there during the daytime. If there is a tornado warning at night, we will go to a 24 hour grocery store located 3 blocks from our house with a large meat locker on the first floor, if we have time to drive there.

Otherwise, we will be in our own basement and hopeful that we survive if there is a mega-storm tornado. We are considering constructing a small interior room in one corner of our unfinished basement to protect ourselves better.

So, what is your plan when your area has its next tornado warning? It is time to develop your plan before the next warning takes place if you live in Tornado Alley. This planning NOW could potentially save the life of your family.


Video of 6 tornadoes in 2011