Sunday, June 5, 2011

What a Tornado "Safe Room" Can Do

The post below was originally published on 5-1-11, shortly after the tornado outbreak across the Deep South.  It has been one of the most viewed posts on the blog this year, and with recent interest in the events in Joplin, I thought I'd bump it back up for our new readers.

While the "primary" tornado season is winding down for 2011, its never too early to plan for a shelter installation for next spring.  Also, keep this fact in mind:  one of the Joplin survivors (Sam, you can see his story here) had a safe room in his basement.  It saved is life, because a significant part of his home crumbled down into the basement, which would have crushed him if the extra support had not been available.

The original post is below:

The very gripping photo above shows the Harrison family of Athens, Alabama.  According to the person taking the photograph, Gary Cosby Jr., the family had literally just stepped out of their "safe room" (to the left) on Wednesday to find the remainder of their home completely gone.

Judging by the complete destruction surrounding them, I think it is a very safe bet that the entire Harrison family would have perished had it not been for their tornado safe room.  Thank God they had that available.  I wish that every person that perished on Wednesday would have had a shelter option like that one.  If they did, and if you assume that they had a way to receive the warnings and get to shelter before the tornado struck, I don't think we would be sitting here today talking about 300+ deaths and scores of injuries from this tragic event.

A tornado safe room is built especially to withstand very strong, tornadic winds.  As you can see, the Harrison's safe room is made out of large concrete masonry block (and probably reinforced by steel bars) with a steel reinforced door.

In many "run of the mill" tornado situations, you can seek shelter in an interior room that is not specifically built as a tornado safe room, like a bathroom or closet and come out fine on the other side of the event.  However, in cases like the 4-27-11 outbreak in Alabama, where many tornadoes were of EF-3 to EF-4 intensity (which equates to winds of 136-200 mph) or higher, a specifically designed above ground "safe room" or a below ground shelter are really the best (if not the only) options available to increase your chances of survival.

I don't know if the Harrison family had that shelter installed, or if it was already in place when they moved into their home, but I know they are very grateful that it was there when they needed it on Wednesday.

***Editorial note:  I have also included this posting in my "Joplin Tornado in Review" series, as it has enormous application to that event (as pointed out in Sam's story as referenced above).  For more on the Joplin tornado event, click here to return to the table of contents post, which contains a chronological listing of all related posts, and will be updated with new links as additional posts are made.

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Shamrock said...


Shamrock said...

Rob, we were hit up here in NE Tennessee by a tornado Wednesday night at about 11:45. I had been watching the storms all day because we were at an 8 on the tornado index and every hour the forecasters, YOU and spotters had been posting detailed information that the storms were insanely nasty and were coming towards East TN. Thank God for you. I thought of you when the tornado passed and praised God that there are others who watch these storms and warn others as necessary. I have to say THANK YOU! Now I live in a mobile home...we have no basement, no storm cellar and I thought, up until the very last moment that we didn't have a sturdy building to go to either. When our tornado warning came up and said it was going to hit us at 11:45 I grabbed my family and we ran to the ditch.The sky was filled with cloud to ground lightning and mammatus clouds. The lightning struck so fast and so often that it had a strobe effect. At 11:41 I heard a voice say, "Get to the cellar" WHAT CELLAR??? You mean that building made of wood? Heck no! I am staying in this ditch. The voice said, "GO THERE" so I did. We ran across the yard and I had just enough time to realize that the building was made of cinder blocks and it was about 4 feet in the ground! PRAISE GOD! I had no we got in there. I was worried because the wooden door on the building wasn't securable from the inside. My Husband insisted that if the tornado blew it open we would be wouldn't suck us out. I pushed my daughter to the back wall and made her squat down. The thunder stropped. It was deathly quiet. I heard a transformer pop, the lights went out and it hit us. It ripped that door right open. I got down on my knees and I FELT God spread his hands over us and protect us. I was not afraid An immense peace came over me. It was God. The tornado seems to have passed very quickly. I'd say it was only on top of us for 30 seconds. Others around here said it felt like forever. The tornado uprooted massive trees. It destroyed mobile homes. You couldn't get your car out and drive down the road 3 ft in either direction for hours...too many trees down. My Mother in Law had 2 huge maple trees fall on her house. Lots of damage. 2 people down the road from us were killed. They were in mobile homes. The police came house to house to check on people about an hour and a half after we were hit. My Husband as well as other neighbors immediately got out there and started cutting up and removing trees from the road with a chainsaw. Our power was off for 16 hours. I am surprised it came back on so fast. We still have no water. Fema is here. They haven't categorized our tornado yet but the police and firefighters said it could possibly be an EF2 but they think it's probably gonna be an EF1. I feel blessed that my family is safe. Our home also was not destroyed. We're lucky...many weren't. My heart and prayers go out to those less fortunate. Rob, thank you for keeping us posted and for explaining the maps/radar during severe weather. People like you are the main reason we know one is coming. Thank You and God Bless.

Shamrock said...

I almost forgot. Other than the lightning and thunder and clouds there was not a drop of rain or hail or anything. The thunder and lightning died-it got deathly quiet-then the tornado hit. It didn't sound like a freight train. It sounded like a huge blow torch. I looked up the clouds on the internet today. When the storm was blowing in I looked for a beaver tail/funnel/shelf/wall cloud....there was none of these. It was just mammatus clouds. I learned today that those are not always a sign of severe weather but they are when they're the underside of an ANVIL CLOUD! If walking out of a shelter alive and well after a tornado, and seeing what it did outside of that building doesn't give you faith in God I don't know what will....We took damage photos. I will upload them when we have high speed again-the tornado knocked out the verizon tower so all we have is dial up and I am not uploading hi def pics on that!

The Planet Pink said...

Thank you for posting this. I've been very curious to hear how safe rooms fared in this storm. It's been enough to get us to pull the trigger on one.

Rob In Texas said...

Shamrock, thank you for your very kind words. I'm just glad to hear that you fared well.

I'm very glad to hear that you and your family were safe and that your home was not damaged. I'm sorry to hear about some of your neighbors who were less fortunate. We will certainly keep them in our thoughts & prayers.

I'm also very happy to hear that you found a reliable shelter that you know you can depend on in the future (not that I hope you have to use it!)

Rob In Texas said...

Planet Pink, thanks, I'm glad to hear you found the article helpful!

The 'tornado safe room' company that I linked to on the posting is just one of many that does that type of work, but I know that they are Texas Tech University windtunnel certified and based in Collinsville, OK.

thetippetsfamily said...

Thank you for reposting this picture. I am teaching a class on emergency prepareness and have been trying to locate this picture to show the class. If this picture doesn't say it all about emergency prepareness then nothing will. thanks again Rob.

safe rooms said...

We were up surveying the damage in Joplin last Tuesday and our team was speechless. With a tornado like that, your best bet is to be underground in a storm shelter!

Edwina Sybert said...

“I think it is a very safe bet that the entire Harrison family would have perished had it not been for their tornado safe room.” Indeed. It certainly looks like a miracle happened taking from what was shown in the picture. They survived amidst the total destruction around their safe room. Safe rooms or panic rooms are indeed resistant to fire, lightning, tornadoes, and blasts. Also it would be wise to stock it with flashlights, portable radios, sanitary products, food, towels and blankets.

Edwina Sybert

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