Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Midwest City, OK (OKC Metro) Votes to Close Public Tornado Shelters...

Residents of Midwest City, a suburb of Oklahoma City, who have come to rely upon the city's three public tornado shelters over the years will have to find a new place to take cover this severe weather season.

The city council voted to close the shelters, primarily citing a concern that if they were to reach capacity, some folks might have to be turned away during the middle of a severe weather situation.

I wasn't satisfied that the quote from Assistant City Manager Tim Rundel indicated that people had, in fact, been turned away in the past.  A quick check of the internet couldn't find any specific evidence of that either, so I guess the city views this as a preemptive move.

I'm sure the media in the OKC area is all over this story and that the city will make sure that all citizens are informed of the closures.  At the same time, I can't help but wonder what type of situation a citizen could potentially be placed in if they take off for the public shelter during a tornado warning this spring only to find the doors locked?

Reed Center - 1 of Midwest City's (now former)
public tornado sheltering locations

Other than contacting your councilman, congressman or senator, what are you to do?  There are two main choices, I suppose:  (1). build your own shelter or (2). make friends with someone who has extra space in theirs!

The article (at the link above) stated that FEMA grants have assisted 800 residents of the city in obtaining personal storm shelters, and some 1300 other residents have registered a tornado shelter with the city in recent years.  While I agree that a personal storm shelter is clearly the way to go, the grants were apparently distributed on a first come, first served basis and have already been exhausted.  Therefore, they will be of little help to those who are faced with the news that their public shelter resource is now unavailable.

As I've pointed out here on the blog over the years, statistically speaking you have a very good chance of surviving the "average" tornado in a frame built home or similar structure, by seeking shelter in the smallest interior room on the lowest floor (like a bathroom or closet).

Small 1st floor closet is all that remains
standing after a tornado hit this home.

If, however, you live in a mobile home, you must leave it without question in a tornado situation.

While public shelters have always been a nice option in the mobile home situation, I've always suggested that if you live in a mobile home and you know that there is a threat of tornadoes (via forecasts and/or a Tornado Watch is issued for your location) that you should try and contact a friend or relative that has a more substantial shelter.  I would make some sort of arrangement to stay with them until the threat has ended.  Other than going outside and getting in the ditch if a tornado threatens, that is probably your best option.

Mobile homes are no match for a tornado

I would never use a vehicle as a form of shelter either (I know some sources are making that recommendation now, but I am not convinced that it is safe).  If you find yourself caught outdoors in a tornado with no substantial shelter nearby, the best thing to do is lay as flat as possible in a ditch or other low spot until the tornado passes.

As we head toward the spring severe weather season, we'll have additional updated information on the latest safety and sheltering tips for this year here on the blog, as well as on our new site, The Tornado Chronicles, which launches on March 1 (see below for details and to follow the new site).

For more information from 'The Original Weather Blog', including shorter, more frequent posts during rapidly changing weather events, please be sure to follow me on facebook and twitter:

Coming March 2013:  The Tornado Chronicles full website!
Including information on every U.S. tornado since 1950, tornado safety, preparedness and education as well as interactive radar, tornado outlooks, watches and warnings, and much more!  Please show your support and follow The Tornado Chronicles on twitter and on facebook for the latest updates on tornadoes and the upcoming website!

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