• Find a sturdy structure such as a workbench or hefty table to protect you from debris. • If time, climb inside a bathtub and grab a mattress or heavy blankets to protect against debris.
Last year was an active year for tornadoes across the United States.
Take, for instance, Kansas. The sunflower state set a record with 187 confirmed tornadoes in 2008, which is 95 more twisters than the average over the last 20 years, according to the National Weather Service.
The amazing part about those 187 tornadoes? There were only four deaths, and most of those deaths occurred when the storms struck their home at night.
The detection and warning process has come a long way over the last several decades. Radar technology has enhanced how quickly meteorologists can detect these storms, the warnings are more precise and the Internet has sped up how quickly this information gets out to the media and emergency management offices.
Most tornado deaths happen when people are in their home. The basic tornado safety has been embedded in our brains since we were children. We know the drill; go to an interior room in the lowest level of the building, stay away from windows and shield yourself from any debris that the tornado creates.
But going to the basement isn’t always enough.
“Certainly the basement is the absolute best place you can be,” said Dennis Cavanaugh, a NWS meteorologist out of Topeka. “The winds at the surface of the house could be 150 mph, but in the basement, the winds are still zero, so the basement is going to be the safest place to be during a tornado.”
Cavanaugh investigates damage and rates the strength of these storms after a tornado is reported with the familiar Fujita scale or F-Scale. His job and training give him a ground-zero perspective of what the storms can do.
The typical storm track of tornadoes in the United States is from the west or southwest. With that information, you would expect the west and southwest walls of your home to sustain the most damage, which can often be the case. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the north and east part of your basement is the safest.
“To my knowledge, there is no research that states that one part of your basement is safer than the next,” Cavanaugh said. “Even if the worst happens and you get a large tornado that hits your house, then something can still fall on you.”
That means that location in your basement relative to the storm path should not be your main concern, but rather your location to the objects in your house that could fall on you. You should take note of where the large items in your home are, such as a piano or washing machine, and try to avoid being directly beneath them in case the twister tosses those objects into the floors below.
You should find a sturdy structure such as a workbench or hefty table to help protect you from debris. Cavanaugh suggests that you climb inside a bathtub and grab a mattress or heavy blankets to shield you from debris, if you have time.
Regardless of where you take shelter, it is important to have plenty of lead time going into the storm. The best option for that is to get an all-hazard radio with a battery backup to alert you when there is a dangerous storm. You should also already have a plan in place and your shelter picked out before the storm happens.