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April 26th, 2018
Some say the best advice you can give people when it comes to tornadoes is to keep your insurance paid up and update your will.
I prefer to be a little more optimistic. Still, my advice is just as simple and straightforward: At the beginning of March, dig a big hole in your back yard, then get into it while wearing a helmet and one of those "Red man" protective suits that a police dog can't penetrate. Then have the hole lined in concrete and covered with an armored steel plate. Now, the order of this is very important: Get in the hole before you have it sealed off with concrete and steel. You might want to bring in some water, snacks, a portable toilet, maybe a book to read, and, of course, a bottle of oxygen.
(I would suggest you take along my novel Storm Chaser. 'Cause--theme.)
Take a dog along for company and padding. If he looks worried, you should, too.
Then, wait until, say, November. Since that means winter is approaching, but hurricane season is past, I would suggest you then move to the Gulf Coast. But, because tornado season down there is pretty much year round, you'll have to dig another hole and buy more concrete and steel. Vicious cycle, there.
Okay, so a quick review of weather terms. A severe thunderstorm watch means you might get severe thunderstorms. A severe thunderstorm warning means the light show has already started. I don't really get what's hard about that, but it still confuses people.
Similarly, a tornado watch means conditions are right for a tornado to form, and you should, you know, watch. In the novel The Wizard of Oz that's quite literal, as Uncle Henry goes outside, watches, and announces, "There's a cyclone coming, Em ... I'll go look after the stock".
How exactly he plans to protect the stock remains unclear, but if there's one thing the movie Twister taught us, it's that you have to watch for low flying cows. Meanwhile, in the time it takes for Toto to hide under the bed and thus endanger Dorothy (man's best friend--hah), the cyclone is upon them and the next thing you know ... witch pancake.
Before you think you're safe from tornadoes, remember what one did to this chick.
If Henry only had a radio, TV, internet, alert scanner, or nearby siren, he might have had enough warning to both look after the stock and make sure Em and Dorothy got the the cellar. The witch would still get smooshed, so--happy ending for all. Except for the Scarecrow on his pole and the rusted Tin Woodsman and the Winkies being terrorized by the other witch ... okay, bad example.
But hey, it was 1900. The point is, you don't have to literally watch anymore. You don't want to be under that cow when it drops in. Or a house.
Now, a tornado warning means that if you go outside, you will die.
Actually, a tornado or funnel cloud has been spotted in your area, so technically it just means you may die. Over the years I've managed to take a few pictures of funnel clouds, which puts me firmly in the camp of people who are too dumb to metaphorically (and sometimes literally) come in out of the rain. There are now millions of photos and videos of tornadoes; is it worth having one of your own? It is not.
Remember this easy rhyme: Red Sky In the Morning: You're Screwed.
So, what should you do if a tornado warning is declared? First, don't be a trained weather spotter on a fire department responsible for watching the skies and reporting the situation; that's my job. Even though I'm a volunteer, I get paid $7.50 an hour for this task, plus my formal firefighter funeral will be fully funded. Say that three times fast.
No, a better idea would be to go to a windowless interior room on the lowest level of your house. If you're in a building with no basement--what were you thinking? But lower is always better, anyway.
Windows are bad. Tornadoes, hurricanes, meteor strikes--it's amazing how many people get cut up by glass during natural disasters. (I'm not even kidding about the meteor strikes: just ask the people in Chelyabinsk, Russia.)
Old timers will tell you to crack a window to equalize pressure, or go to a specific corner of a room, but those have been proven to be unhelpful. Besides, the tornado will take care of cracking all the windows. You're better off under a piece of sturdy furniture--Toto had the right idea--that you can hold onto. A small center room, such as a closet, or under a stairwell is good, and a bathtub might offer some protection.
Well, that can't be good.
So, let's review: Your safest location is in a bathtub that's in a closet under a stairwell in your basement. My bathroom is the size of a closet, so that's a start.
Actually, your safest location would be in the states of Alaska, Rhode Island, or Vermont, which each average less than one tornado a year. But we're in the Midwest, under the tourism-attracting nickname of "Tornado Alley". Indiana ranks #14 in states for the number of tornadoes. I suspect, if adjusted for square miles, our rank would be higher.Okay, I just checked. When it comes to total tornadoes per 10,000 square miles, Indiana ranks three. When it comes to killer tornadoes we're eight, and when it comes to the total length of a tornado path we're also eight. So there you go. Be afraid. It's only smart. And train your dog to go straight to the storm cellar.
Now, since tornado safety is really a serious subject, here are a couple of links to websites that treat things way more seriously than I do: