This graphic tells quite a story. Based on tornado tracks over the last 61 years, there is no longer much of a delineation between the traditional Tornado Alley (the Great Plains into parts of the Midwest ) from Dixie Alley (much of the Southeast). Tornado Alley seems to be just one large area from the nation’s central region into much of the east. Actually, the Southeast sees more tornado deaths on average in any given year than the Plains. Here are the top three reasons:
1. The Southeast has a higher population density than the Plains
2. The Southeast sees more nighttime tornadoes which tend to kill more people
3. The Southeast has a high number of mobile homes which can be destroyed even in smaller tornadoes causing injury or death
If you live in the Southeast, Midwest or Great Plains, you absolutely should have a tornado safety plan for your family. Here’s are some tips for your plan:
1. Identify a safe area – generally a small, centrally-located interior room on the lowest floor of your home. Closets and bathrooms generally work well because the walls in smaller rooms tend to stand up better in the high winds of a tornado. Try to put as many walls between you and the outside as possible. Also, make sure you are away from windows as they easily break in the high winds of a twister. Closets and bathrooms under a set of stairs in a two-story home tend to work well, especially if the stairs are toward the middle of the structure.
2. In your safe area, place a box with useful items you would need in a weather emergency such as a flashlight and extra batteries, a first aid kit, work gloves, a few bottles of water, some non-perishable food items, a can opener, a couple of days worth of prescription medications, a whistle (so rescuers can hear you if the building collapses) and a bicycle or sports helmet (head injuries are common in tornadoes due to flying debris).
3. Take tornado warnings seriously! Any delay between when the warnings are issued and your going to your safe place is an opportunity for injury or death. Go to your safe place immediately when you hear the warning. Don’t look out the window or wait for a neighbor to call to say it’s on the way – just go. Many communities in the most common areas for tornadoes may only go under a tornado warning once or twice a year. This isn’t much of an inconvenience to spend 10-30 minutes in your safe area waiting for the storm to pass.
4. Have a way to hear warnings. Nearly all tornadoes that touch down in the U.S. have a tornado warning as or before they touch down. The warnings are coming out – it’s up to YOU to hear them. Every home should have a weather radio or some other source of weather warning information that will alert you, even when you are asleep, such as a smartphone warning app (two good ones are iMap Weather Radio and MyWarn) or use a service such as WeatherCall which will automatically call you on up to three phones if your home address is located in a tornado warning.
5. If you live in the Southeast, the Great Plains or the Midwest, consider investing in a tornado shelter. Two of my favorites types of shelters, an in-ground garage unit and an above-ground steel safe room, are built and installed locally in Middle Tennessee by a company called National Storm Shelters, LLC (www.NationalStormShelters.com). These shelter are specifically built and tested for occupants to survive tornadoes. Another one of my favorites for mobile homes is a unit called SafePorch which is constructed of concrete and buried 2/3rds in the ground with the top part serving as the front porch (www.SafePorch.com). A storm shelter can ensure your safety when a closet, bathroom or even basement may not be enough such as in many strong EF-3s, EF-4s and, of course, Ef-5s.
Everyone living in the areas with lots of red tornado track on the map above should be vigilant when it comes to severe weather. Have a plan, take warnings seriously and know what you’ll do when the next tornado warning is issued!