Nine fine tornado tips most people don’t know

By Doug Bardwell, American Red Cross volunteer

As tornadoes began touching down around my son’s home in Nashville again this year, my mind wandered back to the massive spring tornado damage I saw there last year. It also made me start thinking more about tornado preparedness for Northern Ohio.

Photo credit: Doug Bardwell, American Red Cross

We live in a development of all frame homes, built on concrete slabs, with no basements. If you had asked me where I would head in case of a tornado, my answer for years would have been our interior master bathroom.

WRONG –and since I’ve started researching it, I’ve compiled a list of myths and mistakes most people make about tornadoes.

  1. Huddle in the southwest corner of your basement because most tornadoes come from that direction.  Actually, tornadoes can come from any direction, including circling back on themselves.
  2. Basements are the safest places to be. Generally true, but consider this: when picking a location in the basement, don’t let it be under something huge on the first floor, like a piano, refrigerator or giant entertainment center which could crush you. I saw lots of homes in Tennessee where everything that didn’t blow away went straight down to the basement.
  3. Open your windows to equalize the pressure. Wrong. Scientists suggest that just isn’t the case. Rather, it can allow more wind inside causing even more damage. Better to spend your time dragging a mattress to put over you wherever you decide to hunker down. Bicycle or motorcycle helmets are also great protection.
  4. The average tornado warning gives you just 13 minutes to prepare. Surprisingly, that’s the best-case scenario. In Tennessee, the massive EF4 tornado hit those homes about 60 seconds after the sirens began to blare.
  5. I don’t need a NOAA weather radio because I’ll hear the sirens. Many people have reported not hearing the sirens at all due to  thunder and strong winds blowing the opposite direction, pushing the sound away from their homes.
  6. A great safe spot is your interior bathroom with no windows.  That’s what I thought until I inspected it more closely. We have a counter-to-ceiling, eight-foot-wide mirror above our vanity that could become  one giant guillotine if that wall were to buckle in a tornado. Secondly, we have two glass sliding doors on a walk-in shower. Bad location.
  7. Packing candles in your emergency bag since batteries can die of old age. Bad for two reasons. Should your house get hit by a tornado, there’s a good chance that the gas lines in your home have been compromised and you don’t want to chance an explosion. Secondly, a wind-up NOAA Alert radio/flashlight/cellphone charger like this or this, is much more useful.
  8. Many people keep their emergency kit in the garage near their cars.  A better place might be to keep the bag in your designated safe spot since you’ll probably have less time to leave in case of a tornado than you would a pending flood or wildfire.
  9. First thing to do in your safe spot is crouch under something heavy and cover your head.  Absolutely a great idea, but first, text a loved one with your exact location in the home, so should your home be hit, they could tell first responders exactly where to look for you.

So, here’s to hopefully never needing these safety tips, but just to be safe, send this link to your friends, and read more tips for taking care of your older friends and family here.  Last suggestion, read more about preparing for all emergencies with the American Red Cross apps.