Safe shelter in a tornado - WAFB 9 News Baton Rouge, Louisiana News, Weather, Sports

Safe shelter in a tornado

Question:

My Mother and sister and I was talking this evening about where the safest place in your house would be when it gets very rough outside. I told them both in the bathroom in the tub with something over You. Am I right or wrong?

Answer:

First -- although a large twister can toss people 100s of yards, the #1 cause of tornado deaths and injuries is "flying debris."  You're much more likely to get hit in the head by something than to actually be tossed by the winds.  So the first thing you want to do is try your best to get out of the way of the free-flow of objects being tossed around by the extreme winds.

So, where to go in the house?

Truth is, every house is unique and should be considered independently.

But yes, the bathroom is considered one of the "first options" for a couple of reasons:

(1) Pipes running through the bathroom tend to serve as an anchoring system that most rooms don't have.  That adds both protection and a little stability to the bathroom.  (Think about it: how many tornado aftermath pictures have you seen where the house is essentially gone, but the bathtub and commode remain exactly in place!)

(2) Yes, the tub adds added protection if you climb inside, and pulling a mattress or a stack of blankets overtop helps.  The sides of the tub will deflect flying debris, and if you lie flat, even a collapsing ceiling will have a little less impact due to the sides of the tub serving as a suppoort.  (Now don't be fooled, while the inside of the tub is better than nothing, you'll still likely get struck by debris -- but possibly not a fatal blow.)

When are bathrooms NOT the best option?  When the bathroom is on an outside wall, which is indeed where many are built, especially in smaller homes.

Why?  Because tornadic winds tend to shear-away walls, potentially leaving the bathroom on an outer wall fully exposed.  I saw exactly this in the St. Gabriel tornado a couple of years ago -- the wall had been ripped away and the fiberglass shower stall remain in place, but wholly exposed to the elements.

So where else then?

An interior room .. or better still, and interior closet.  By "interior,"

I mean something towards the center of the home, as far away from the outside walls as possible.

Although not as "stable" as the pipes system in a bathroom, small interior closets are often relatively well-framed (a decent 2x4 "box" frame).  And by being in the center of the house and enclosed in the small space, your threat from flying debris is greatly reduced.

In fact, in some tornado-active parts of the U.S., the building of tornado cellars is being replaced by "designed" safe rooms in new houses.  These rooms are often little more than a modified linen closet, but are extra-fortified (cement block, brick, even steel) and centered in the home-- like a large safe built into the heart of the house.  Survival rates in these, even with a direct hit, are extremely high!

Why get out of my mobile home?

Several reasons, including:

(1) Even anchored trailers are easily rolled by intense winds, and that can occur without a direct hit.

(2) Whether rolled by the winds or tossed by the tornado, these structures simply aren't designed and can't stand-up to the wind's peak energy.  I've seen mobile homes opened-up like tuna cans and crushed like Coke cans by straight-line winds, let alone tornadoes.

(3) Once compromised, the threat to life in a mobile home is actually doubled by flying debris and the tossing effect as the structure rolls.

Hope this helps.

Jay Grymes
Chief Meteorologist
WAFB Storm Team

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