How to survive a tornado
On the eve of the anniversary of the Barrie tornado, which killed a dozen people and decimated many parts of the community in 1985, a severe weather researcher advises the single most important thing a person can do to protect themselves is to be prepared.
These words of advice may come too late for the residents of Joplin, Mo., where a tornado killed 89 people last week and flattened everything in its wake.
“Surviving a tornado means planning ahead,” said Harold Brooks, research meteorologist at the National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, Okla. The laboratory is part of the U.S.-based National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Brooks and his family have such a plan, which includes going into a specially built shelter/walk-in closet he had constructed as part of an addition to his family’s house in 2004. “The walk-in closet is a reinforced concrete. And it has a door with three deadbolts on it.”
Obviously, not everyone has access to such a shelter or a nuclear-bomb shelter, another option that Brooks said will withstand tornadoes.
There are, however, some basic rules to follow if you’re looking for shelter in your home or workplace.
“You want to get as low as you can and put as many walls between you and the tornado as possible,” says Brooks. “You’d like to be in a small room when you do that; that means small interior rooms like closets and bathrooms are great. Small rooms have more framing in them.”
For those in multi-storied buildings, the same rules apply: Get as low as you can. “Multi-storied buildings are designed for the lowest floor to withstand a lot of force,” he explained.
If you do seek refuge in a residence shelter or an interior room in your house, such as a closet or washroom, make sure you have what you need: food, water, shoes, documents, cheque books. And make sure you put on a hockey, bicycle or football helmet if you have one, Brooks adds. “People get killed because they get hit by objects. Every little bit helps.”
If you’re in a fast-food restaurant or a mall, one of the best places to seek refuge is a walk-in freezer. There is a lot of material in them to keep the food cold and secure door with a latch.
If you’re driving, don’t drive into the storm. If you’re on the highway, don’t park under an overpass. People think they’ll be protected there from things falling on their heads, Brooks explains, but “The winds are stronger in the gap under the overpass than they are at ground level.” When you see the storm coming, drive out of the path of a tornado.
If you’re caught outdoors during a tornado, find a sturdy building and get as low as you can. And if that choice isn’t available to you, lie down in a ditch and cover your head.
Most importantly, if you live in a part of North America where violent tornadoes do occur routinely, pay attention to the weather forecast daily. “The forecasters are good enough to know the day it’s going to happen,” Brooks says. “People need to know to be aware of the forecast for the day (and) that they may need to be thinking about tornadoes today in the late afternoon or evening.”
But, he cautions, even the best laid plans can go awry. “Sometimes people were doing everything they could but were killed anyway. And there are people who survived in the midst of a violent tornado because they were doing the right thing. It improves your odds.”