I’ll always remember the day the Joplin tornado hit. The sky looked especially bad, the sky was lit up in that scary green color, and the clouds were darker than normal.
It was one of those storm fronts that you knew was bringing bad news. We quickly left our apartment and headed towards the nearby tornado shelter, just to be safe.
As we searched the news for a weather update, we heard the news about Joplin. They had just been hit so hard that it picked up the hospital and moved it off of the foundation.
I’ve never been so glad to see a storm pass by.
Likelihood of Getting Killed By A Tornado
In Missouri, where I grew up, most people just hide in their bathtub and pray. Most of the time, you’ll get lucky. The storm will either miss your house or take the roof off.
However, just as often, there is someone who wasn’t so lucky. There is a greater chance of getting killed by a tornado than of winning a lottery ticket.
The National Weather Service has placed the odds of dying in a tornado at 1 in 60,000. (Tornado Odds). However, that doesn’t paint an accurate picture as tornados tend to be concentrated in certain areas.
Oklahoma City, for example, has been hit by 140 tornadoes since the weather service began keeping records back in 1890.
When you live in a tornado alley, you need to come up with a plan.
What Is The Best In-House Tornado Shelter?
A lot of folks think you have to sink the tornado shelter underground. And while a below-ground shelter will often give the best protection, they often aren’t practical for your situation. An above-ground tornado shelter is just as durable as below-ground systems.
Storm Cellars have the added costs from digging a hole. Depending on your cities restrictions, you may be unable to dig a hole in your backyard.
Additionally, outside storm shelters require you to go out into the rain in order to access your shelter. An in house shelter is great for kids as they can stay dry.
Texas Storm Shelter
This shelter is considered one of the best in the industry. Their in-closet shelters are designed to withstand an EF-5 storm while taking up the least amount of space possible. (For reference, the Joplin tornado was an EF-5).
As a bolt-together system, these are excellent DIY projects as they can send them to you by mail, and then you assemble them in your home without outside help.
The 12-inch panels go together tightly with an excessive number of bolts (even their small systems will use over 600 bolts) to establish the highest rating. Since these are 12-inch panels, they will fit through any door and can go into just about any closet.
The bulletproof window is a unique feature that lets you see out and assess the danger before you leave the shelter. It also does a lot to help the shelter feel more open and spacious than other units.
The rating on this one is better than the rest. It exceeds the FEMA 320 and 361 ratings (as set up by the Federal Emergency Management Agency), where the shelter is tested by hurling 200 mph projectiles at the side of it.
Once you close the heavy door, you can secure it into place with the multiple 1-inch-thick deadbolts.
As with the other units, you will need a concrete floor that you can sink the anchor bolts into.
They also offer this in an outside unit that has added powder coating.
While I love the Texas Storm shelter and how the narrow panels make it easy to install in any nook or cranny of your house, there are a lot of competitors for this spot if you have a lot of space in which to mount it.
This structure can also be disassembled and moved to your new home, making this a true, lifetime investment.
Safe Harbor Storm Shelter
The Safe Harbor has a few things going for it that set this storm shelter apart from the competition.
For one, the walls are 1/4-inches thick. This is the minimum thickness needed to stop a bullet from an assault rifle (thicker is preferred if that is the threat you are worried about). I mention this because when you have nails and other shrapnel being blown about at 200 mph, you want to know that the walls will protect your loved ones. More importantly, it meets the rating to withstand an EF5 tornado.
The other nice feature is that this shelter is over 6 feet tall. This allows six adults to stand inside of the shelter, or they can sit around the edges for more room and comfort.
With some of the smaller shelters, I tend to get claustrophobic, and this one gives you plenty of airspaces to make your short stay as enjoyable as possible.
The Tru-Vault door handle makes locking it easy. With one motion, six locks instantly engage, protecting you and your loved ones from the storm outside.
As with all of these steel shelters, you need a concrete slab that you can bolt it into, such as in a section of your garage.
It’s not going to fit as well inside of a closet as the Texas storm shelter would.
Twister Pod Shelter
The Twister pod is one of the industry-leading options for in-house safe rooms. Made from 3/16-inch steel, this pod could take some pretty significant impacts before it showed signs of cracking. This thickness is almost the same level that is used to harden trucks before they are sent to the battlefield.
This one is sized for four people, so it is one of the smaller ones. At the same time, you’ll appreciate that it takes up a minimal amount of room inside your home. On the roof is a 4-inch vent for ample airflow, even if something were to fall in front of the door and trap you inside.
And the Type 4 NSSA (National Storm Shelter Association) Seal means that it is designed for homeowners to install and have the shelter meet full levels of safety.
If you have a slab of concrete that you can mount this shelter to, this one is an excellent option for keeping your family safe at a moment’s notice.
Steel Safe 4×6 Handicap Accessible Tornado Shelter
This is one of the simplest designs. This walk-in shelter is basically a heavy-duty steel box that you assemble and bolt to the concrete floor.
At 4×6, it is a little larger than some of the other models that I have included on this list. This added width — and the 36-inch-wide door — makes this one suitable for wheelchair users. Simply add a low ramp to make it easy to roll over the lip and up into the shelter.
This one uses a simple vent system in the doors to allow for good airflow for the occupants inside. The added side vents are shielded from the rain but allow for good cross-flow of air.
The one thing I don’t like about this one is that it uses a single deadbolt to secure the door. I would prefer to see more of the redundant systems that we see being used on the other models.
The unique feature with this shelter is that it has a small access port so that the owner can wire it for power. This can provide more comfort and peace of mind for the users until the power goes out (which is going to be most of the storms you use it for).
There are a lot of shelters to choose from, so it makes it hard for the steel safe to stand out. But if you want a simple design that will work well with wheelchairs, this one deserves a closer look.
Where Is the Best Place To Hide From A Tornado?
If you don’t have a shelter, you need to find the safest place to hide inside your house. Here are some suggestions for tornado safety.
An underground shelter like a basement or cellar is always going to be your best bet. In a walk-out basement, you want to be away from any windows and as close to the concrete wall as possible.
In a weird, counter-intuitive tip, you don’t want to hide in the corner of a room, as those tend to attract debris. Staying in the middle of the space is better.
If you don’t have the luxury of going underground, you will want to move to an interior room of your house in a space without windows.
Covering your head with a blanket or mattress is still recommended to protect yourself from flying debris.
When severe weather is on its way, the ultimate luxury is a basement with concrete on four walls. A few houses in the midwest are built with them, which lets the family relax in a room of their house while the storm passes by.
While hanging out in your basement is safer than hiding in an upstairs bathroom, you should consider adding a tornado shelter to the basement to keep from getting sucked out of your basement with your house if a tornado goes over.
Safest Place To Hide From A Tornado In A Mobile Home Park
Mobile homes are light enough to be easily picked up and turned over by a tornado. Even when properly tied down, they can be toppled in high winds.
You want to choose a mobile home park that offers a solid building to which you can escape in the event of a storm. Most of the lots in our town are close to commercial businesses such as Walmart, where their residents can flee for more safety.
If you don’t have a structure to run to, then get out of the mobile home and head for the nearest ditch. You want to get on low ground to give you a chance at avoiding a tornado.
For all of the money that you save by living in a mobile home, you’ll want to save up for a tornado shelter.
Safe Places To Hide From A Tornado When Driving
When the tornado warning goes off while you are driving, you will want to get out of your car and into a building.
Just as with a mobile home, your vehicle is the perfect target for a tornado. It can easily be picked up and crushed.
If a structure isn’t available, you can get into a ditch that is away from your vehicle.
Don’t try to outrun a tornado. They are fast and unpredictable. In the high winds and blinding rain, driving too fast will result in an accident.
Tornado Watch Vs. Tornado Warning
If a tornado watch is in effect, it means that the storm has a high likelihood of producing tornados. However, if the tornado sirens go off, you now have a tornado warning, which means that tornadic activity has been observed either by storm spotters on the ground or through rotation signals on doppler radar.
Most people stay near their shelter and use a weather radio to hear the NOAA alarm go off, signaling them to move into their shelter.
These shelters are a little tight, and most people only want to spend a few minutes or an hour in them — not the entire night.
You could spend $5,000 on an epic vacation, or invest that same amount into a structure that will protect your family for decades to come.