Survive a Tornado, What You Need to Know and Common Myths

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The alarm was followed by the announcement that a "Tornado Warning" (different than a “Tornado Watch”) had been issued for most of Southern Ontario. The highest risk area was just south of me and I had friends and family in the "red zone".

A friend of mine called to say, "I don't have a basement. Where do I take shelter?" 

I'll finish that story in a moment. 

To skip to the 10 Tornado Survival Myths & Tips scroll down to the title below

But first,

  • Have you thought about where the best place to shelter in your home during a Tornado is? 
  • Do you know what specific tornado survival gear you should bring with you into that place?
  • What about if you are at work or if you are driving?
How to survive a tornado

There are a lot of common myths around Tornado Safety and what to do. "Are you supposed to open your windows first? If you're driving, is going under a concrete overpass really a good idea?"

Ontario Tornados have not been super common in the recent past. This article will dispel some of the myths and fill in the gaps with some lesser known Tornado Safety tips and tactics. 

The night before the the tornado I got a Facebook Message from my friend Correne Susanne from Spiraea Herbs & Snail Trail Homestead. She also lived in the predicted “Red Zone” for the  (at this time) Tornado Watch.

She lived in a house without a basement and was wondering where the safest place to take cover was. We discussed her situation and we were able to map out a solid game plan to keep her family safe. This is what she had to say about our call:

As a homesteader & a Mom, Correne is a naturally aware and prepared person. She did an excellent Facebook live the morning after the storm to share some of her lessons. It is well worth taking a few moments to have a watch. 

How to Survive a Tornado, 10 Less Known Tips & Tactics

1. Know the difference between a Tornado Warning and a Tornado Watch

A Tornado Watch - Remember it like this, we are watching for Tornados because the conditions are favorable. At this point, it is NOT inevitable, but it is POSSIBLE. Thus we are “watching.” Monitor weather and news alerts and get your gear and plan ready just in case.

A Tornado Warning - Warning you that a Tornado is expected. You can translate this to take action NOW!

2.  Know what Tornado specific gear to prepare

You may need to take shelter fast. Your grab and go bag, or home emergency kit is useful to have on hand, but there are a few extra considerations for a Tornado.

Your emergency kit is of no use to you if it is in another room you can no longer access due to debris and structural damage. If you get trapped in your safe room, you will want some extra gear to help ppl find you and to help you escape.

Tornado Safe Rooms

Here are a few recommendations of most essential items or things often missed (this is not an exclusive or full list, do your research to see what else you should include):

* A Whistle - to call for help if you get trapped
* A crowbar & ax - to use as escape tools
* Leather work gloves - for traveling through debris
* A bicycle, hockey or other helmet to wear while in the safe room
* Extra warm clothes in case it gets cold, and you need to stay in that place for a while
* Drinking water 
* A headlamp 

* A battery powered light
* A 5-gallon bucket, garbage bag and toilet paper for emergency toilet
* First Aid Kit
* Hand Crank Radio

** Check out 
our gear store for recommendations on the specific gear we use.

3. Designate a Tornado "Safe Room" to hunker down

A "safe room" is the safest room in your house to weather a Tornado. In Tornado alley in the United States, many homes have professionally built tornado safe rooms built underground with reinforced concrete walls. If you search “Tornado Safe Rooms” you can find lots more detailed info.

During this recent Ontario Tornado, many people were scrambling to figure out the safest place to take shelter. 

Tornado Safe Room

Here are some of the basics to consider:

  • Your room should ideally be below ground level such as in a basement. This in case the tornado damages the upper part of the building.
  • If you can not get below ground, go to a neighbors house where you can. If that is not an option, get to the middle of your home away from exterior walls and windows. A central washroom or closet could be a good option.
  •  The room should not touch an exterior wall or have any windows where debris and extreme wind from outside could blow through and cause damage.
  •  The room should be small, having a small and solid frame around you better protects you if there is structural damage on the floor above. 
  • If possible get under a very sturdy table or a mattress. If you have a solid cast iron bathtub, you could get in the bathtub and put a mattress over top of it.
  • If you live in a trailer or single story home without a basement, it is likely best to get to a better-suited house to hunker down in well before the Tornado touches down.

4. Tell Family and Neighbours where in your house the safe room is

If you do happen to get trapped in your safe room, make sure many people know where it is. That way they can direct Search and Rescue as to where to find you. Also, ask your neighbors & family where their safe rooms are. You could have these written down in your emergency plan binder.

** If you do not have an adequate safe room in your home, prearrange a safe place to hunker down with neighbors. Just remember, once the winds get strong enough to start blowing lawn furniture and other debris around, it may no longer be safe to travel outside. Not even a short distance.

 Tornados can also come on very fast. You will want to travel to you emergency location before a tornado is barreling down on you and the winds make travel dangerous. Be proactive as soon as year hear that a tornado watch has been issued.

5. Know these Tornado Safety Myths

  • Large Tornados CAN and have struck major cities. Theoretically, Tornados can strike almost anywhere even if tornados are unheard of in your area it does not mean they are impossible.
  • Do NOT open your windows before the storm. This used to be considered a good practice as it was thought that the difference in pressure inside and outside of your house could cause structural damage. Time has shown that opening your windows to depressurize your house is likely to cause more damage as now you have strong wind blowing inside your house and it could help to tear your roof off.
  • Being in the South East corner of your home when hunkering down does NOT have any additional advantage. Just choose a safe room that meets the most of the criteria.
  • Do NOT go under a concrete overpass if you are in your car. Overpasses act as wind tunnels and can increase wind speed. They also do NOT protect you from flying debris.

6. Be Careful of Gas, Propane and Water Pipes after a Tornado

Turn Gas, Water & Propane off before you head into your safe room (assuming it is still safe to take the time to do so). After the tornado has passed, if there is any structural damage to your home, have these inspected before turning them back on. Explosions can happen if pipes are damaged and then turned back on.

7. What to do in a Tornado in a Car

How to Survive a Tornado

Your best option is to get into a well-built building using the safety principals of step 3. If that is impossible and a tornado is coming towards you, it is unlikely you will be able to outdrive it in a straight line. It may be possible to travel perpendicular to the path of travel, but this is risky if it changes direction. If you are in your car and can see a Tornado, all your options are risky. Remember a Tornado can toss a car like a baseball. If you can’t get to shelter you are better to get out of your car and into a ditch below ground level then to stay in your car.

8. The Majority of Tornado deaths often occur to people outside trying to escape.

When scrolling through all the stats I could find on Tornado fatalities, I came across countless stories of people dying while fleeing in their cars from a Tornado.

Unfortunately, in many of these incidents, the houses of these same people remained standing after the Tornado had passed. They likely would have survived if they has just hunkered down. There is no guarantee of your safety almost anywhere, but statistics seem to suggest hunkering down in your safe room in a house is often the best place to ride out a Tornado.

Mobile Parks do have a high fatality rate as well due to the lack of protecting these light buildings with no basements provide. If you live in a mobile park, find a building you can get to relatively fast, and get permission to hunker down there as part of your tornado preparedness plan.

9. Learn to read the weather (without an electronic device) and listen to your instincts

Emergency Alert apps and the weather stations updates are great and can help to save lives. But, they are also not a substitute for our innate awareness and ancestral ability to read the weather and the subtle signs of nature. This ancient skill set seems to becoming a lost are in the digital age.

Learn to read the weather
yoga for awareness

When discussing Correne's plan, she asked me when she should evacuate her place?

Even the best meteorologists are often unable to predict precisely when and where a Tornado will form based on all their weather models. If you are waiting for them to warn you to move to your emergency shelter, it could be too late.

Monitor the weather yourself, use all of your senses, and listen to your instincts.

  • What color is the sky (it often gets very dark with an almost greenish hue just before a tornado)?
  • How strong is the wind now and strong is it when it gusts? What are the birds and wildlife doing?
  • What about your dog, is it hiding under the table?

Use all your senses and all the information available to you when making decisions.

The more you watch and learn about the weather, the better adept you will be in a disaster scenario at reading the early indicators. Learn to Survive Tornados, Read This Post!  #Tornado #Survival

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10. Take an evening off Netflix. Have some Fun Educating Yourself. Do you know about Tornado Alley Canada & Tornado Alley Ontario?

It’s Quite Fascinating to Understand the Ecology of Tornados, Tornado Alley Canada & Tornado Alley Ontario.

I love the study of ecology and geography and how the landscape impacts our lives, culture, and physical environment.

If you search for Tornado Alley Canada, Tornado Alley Ontario and Tornado Alley United States, you can get some great maps that explain why Tornados are more common in specific areas across North America.

The short and sweet of it from my understanding (disclaimer, I’m not a meteorologist and am not pretending to be one, thus the exact explanations could be slightly off, but the basic concepts align) Tornados in North America often form coming out of the South East.

There is a massive plateau area across the central states; this is where places like Kansas are and where Dorthy and the Wicked Witch of the West taught us all about Tornados as kids. 

To the far south-west, we have a large dry and hot air producing area including Mexico, Texas, and the surrounding area. As you move East, you get more cooling air masses coming off the Atlantic Ocean.

How to Survive a Tornado

These two areas meet in the middle where the land is relatively flat and is in a massive valley of sorts between the mountain ranges on the east and west sides of the continent.

Thus the air gets funneled up the central states (same reason not to hide under an overpass) towards the Canada Tornado alley which is the southern and central parts of the prairies.

Another interesting ecological and geographically piece here is how the Ontario Tornado valley is formed.

As these winds approach the Canadian border, we have the great lakes, which create another micro wind tunnel. This directs some of those winds to the North East up into Detroit, Windsor Essex county all the way up to Barrie and Oro in the North.

This is partially why Southern Ontario gets most of Ontario's Tornados. The other place Ontario gets a higher number of tornados is the small land mass in between Georgian Bay and Lake Ontario.

This is why winds often wallop the Barrie and Oro area along with ice storms, and some of the worse Tornados Ontario has ever seen. There is another micro wind tunnel being created across this stretch. With the Algonquin & Haliburton Highlands hills to the North, and the Escarpment & Oak Ridges Moraine to South, you have another sort of valley with a large water body on each side, Georgian Bay & Lake Ontario.

I Love ecology & geography! I also believe the better we know our bioregions and the ecology that supports the more tools we have to support us in a Changing World.

** IMPORTANT, Please Read**

Please remember, any disaster scenario will have unique variables. This list is meant to be a guide. It is not a replacement for your research and common sense when making decisions. Only complete recommended tasks from the list if it makes sense in your scenario and feels safe to do so.

Share with Those You Care About!

I hope you learned something useful from this post. Please share your thoughts and comments below and share with friends who would value from it!

Tornado Preparedness Checklist

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