General Question

Lunar_Landscape's avatar

What's it like to live in Tornado Alley?

Asked by Lunar_Landscape (167 points ) February 25th, 2014

I don’t live in Tornado Alley, so I don’t know:

How often do tornadoes happen?

How often do tornado related deaths happen?

What do you do if you’re outside and far from home when a tornado forms?

How readily available is shelter from tornadoes? Is everyone set, or are only some?

Is there much of a way to tell when a tornado is coming?

Are tornado alley residents forced to go outside less often?

How much property damage do tornadoes cause?

How much time do residents spend worrying about tornadoes?

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16 Answers

WestRiverrat's avatar

How often do tornadoes happen? It varies, just like there are not the same number of hurricanes or snowstorms every year, the number of tornadoes varies.

How often do tornado related deaths happen? http://www.norman.noaa.gov/2009/03/us-annual-tornado-death-tolls-1875-present/

What do you do if you’re outside and far from home when a tornado forms? If we can’t find cover we were taught to lay in a ditch.

How readily available is shelter from tornadoes? Is everyone set, or are only some?
It varies just like every other disaster scenario, I doubt there will ever be 100% preparedness. But the more recent a catastrophic event the more likely people are to be aware and prepared.

Is there much of a way to tell when a tornado is coming? The NWS has gotten pretty good at predicting tornadoes and if you listen to the radio you generally have sufficient warning to get to cover.

Are tornado alley residents forced to go outside less often? No.

How much property damage do tornadoes cause? Depends on the size of the storm and where it hits. An F0 tornado will not usually do any significant damage regardless of where it hits. An F5 hitting a corn field will not do much damage, but if it hits a city center it can do billions.

How much time do residents spend worrying about tornadoes? Not much. People that live in hurricane territory have hurricane parties, same happens in tornado alley.

filmfann's avatar

My daughter lived in Oklahoma City for a while, and she told me about the tornado alarms that went off.
Whenever a tornado was reported, she and her friends would put on football helmets and go outside.

I am glad she is back in California.

JLeslie's avatar

I lived adjacent to Memphis, TN which is in the broader definition of tornado alley. It isn’t as bad as parts of Kansas and Oklahoma. We didn’t really think about tornadoes unless they were happening. I had a tornado shelter in my garage underground. My county would sound the sirens if there was a tornado warning anywhere in my county, which was annoying. We would turn on the TV and then decide if we should go to the shelter. From the shelter I could still receive wifi so I could follow the storm.

In TN the flipping news stations would interrupt shows constantly, not just a minute break, I mean an entire TV show during tornado season with bad storms that were coming through. Some had tornadoes, but most didn’t. Really annoyed me! In FL we have violent storms every day for three months straight and they don’t interrupt shows for it unless there actually is a tornado citing and still they don’t spend a tremendous amount of time on it to warn, they spend a reasonable amount of time.

I didn’t worry about or pay attention to tornado watches at all, but I took tornado warnings very seriously.

If a tornado forms in front of you the recommendation is to lie down in low lying land like a ditch. If you live in a mobile home or trailer you are supposed to exit the structure and lay in a ditch. Can you imagine?! In your regular brick and mortar house you should go to the lowest level and an interior room.

Tornadoes wreak havoc. The wind speeds are so high. 50 people can die in a matter of minutes. A house can be shredded and a few hundred feet away another house untouched.

Jonesn4burgers's avatar

Tornadoes get dangerous, and sometimes deadly. They can be quite a rush too. I was in one once, years ago, in a sturdy structure. All sorts of mayhem took place outside. I was travelling, and stopped for fast food. Someone said no-one should leave because tornado sightings were being reported. Suddenly they got a call. One was down, nearby. They told everyone to get into the walk-in freezer, which was sturdy and heavy. Before we all got in, hail came down the size of tennis balls. I was afraid, but I didn’t lose my head. We had been inside the freezer a while, hearing all hell pounding away outside. We began hearing a different kind of pounding. Someone was at the back door. The manager went out to let them in. It turned out to be the husband and two kids of a woman who worked there. I got a brief glimpse of them in the flashlight beam. The kids looked like they were in shock, and their hair was littered with twigs and bits of glass. Their father told his wife they saw the warning on t.v., so he told the kids to get in the truck. They lived in a mobile home. He told his wife that when he was starting the truck, a lightening flash went overhead, and he saw their home was gone. Only seconds after they ran out, before he could start his truck!
One time I was driving through a town in Iowa where I used to live. A funnel was sighted, but hadn’t touched down yet. It was headed right for where I was driving. I pulled into a city park, which I knew went sharply downhill on te far side. I rolled down my window, and turned off the car. It wasn’t more than five minutes before I heard it go overhead. It never landed, but it was fully formed and travelled quite a distance that way. There were storm chasers keeping tabs on it. It sounded like a convoy of semi trucks were driving through the sky above me. I could feel and hear the power of it, and I went from scared to fascinated.
There are lots of people who have basements in their homes where they can take shelter. Some people have cellars built under their yard, a mound of ground is sometimes built up so the door is easier to handle. These days people can buy a storm shelter which is installed in their yard by the company. I think they run about $5K.
Most of us don’t live in constant fear, but when it’s the season, people just kind of keep aware, sort of like knowing a pregnant woman could go into labor at any time, and so things get planned with safety in mind. We have test days here, when the sirens get checked, and everyone knows on those days the sirens will go off.

KNOWITALL's avatar

How often do tornadoes happen? Spring and fall are the most usual (hot and cold weather systems meeting) Sometimes they happen constantly for days, other times you can go all year with only a few.

How often do tornado related deaths happen? Often. When a tornado touches down in a populated area, deaths are going to happen. Sometimes even the flying debris causes deaths.

What do you do if you’re outside and far from home when a tornado forms? Hit the ditch or find a basement, just stay away from trees and anything that can fall or hit you.

How readily available is shelter from tornadoes? Is everyone set, or are only some? Most of us have at least one room with no windows in a safe part of the home, like a basement, or interior hallway or room. Other people build shelters and if they can get there they’ll be okay, they’re buried in the ground. When I was a kid, my grandma would put me in the bath tub with pillows and a mattress on top of me (if the warning’s went off.) I HATED IT!!

Is there much of a way to tell when a tornado is coming? Not always, Nights are especially dangerous because you can’t see the funnels forming or the hooks.

Are tornado alley residents forced to go outside less often? Not at all.

*I’m in Missouri, one hour from Joplin where the big one destroyed most of the city.

How much property damage do tornadoes cause? Depends on the individual tornado’s path and power. They can completely destroy everything in their path, or hop up and down and hit randomly, or dissipate after a few minutes.

How much time do residents spend worrying about tornadoes? Zero. Most of us have lived with it all our lives and know there’s no escape from something like that, when it’s your time, it’s your time. Of course our religious beliefs make that easier to accept, too.

Dutchess_III's avatar

It’s fun.

Tornado season goes from around March till the end of summer, although we have had the sirens go off as late in the year as October.

How readily available is shelter from tornadoes? If you don’t have a basement or a “hidey hole” in your house, you’re nuts.

Is there much of a way to tell when a tornado is coming? I don’t know about you @KNOWITALL, but I can feel it in the air.

Are tornado alley residents forced to go outside less often? No. In fact, we tend to go out side, jump in our cars and go storm chasing!
“Agnus! The sireens are going off! Lets get up on the roof and go look fer it!”
Really, that’s our reaction. I’ve lived in Kansas all of my life and there have only be a handful of times I’ve been worried enough to hit the basement. The sirens tend to bring people out on their porches and yards, looking for it.

How much time do residents spend worrying about tornadoes? Like @KNOWITALL said, Zero. In fact, I kinda look forward to the season. The storms and sunsets are incredible during the spring.

The only unusual thing you’ll see in Kansas is at the sports bars in the spring, the TV’s aren’t tuned to sports. They’re tuned to the weather channel. It’s a national pass time in Kansas!

I’ve only ever seen one tornado though and Rick and I had to chase it down. It was a beautiful white tornado that hit near Mulvane. Here is a pic.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Oh, and What do you do if you’re outside and far from home when a tornado forms?: If it’s bad enough anybody will let you into their house and their basement. You probably don’t even have to knock.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@Dutchess_III I’ve watched one go right over my head and hubs used to be a chaser. I think people from other places think we’re scared, which would be natural, they don’t understand that to some of us it’s like bungee jumping. ;)

Dutchess_III's avatar

Yeah. They’re cool! But they CAN be scary. One day Rick was out of town. I was on the deck, smokin’, and I saw this….this…monstrous black cloud coming toward the house. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before! It scared the bejebus out of me and I hit the basement (which is a funky, scary dirt cellar.) I called Rick, my voice was trembling, I was terrified. Well, Rick was watching the weather channel 100 miles away, and laughingly assured me that nothing was going on in Winfield. Just then the wind hit the house. Man. And Rick keeps patting me on the head being very condescending, telling me every thing was just fine. I hung up on his ass. Then the electricity went out. That was THE scariest 5 minutes of my life. The phone rang in the middle of it. It was Rick. I didn’t answer, hoping he’d think I was DEAD!!!!
Finally it all passed. I came up out of the basement. A few minutes later the lights came back on.
Rick called again. I answered. He’s going “Val! The weather channel is saying multiple tornadoes are hitting Winfield!!”
I screamed “NO SHIT!!!!!!!” and hung up on him again.

Then the sirens went off.

It was bad. My husband could have died that night. I could have jumped in the car and driven 2 hours to Salina and throttled his happy ass.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@Dutchess_III NICE one….lol

Unless I hear the windows rattle or the ‘train’ sound, I’m just watching tv in the bedroom or looking out the window.
I have my dogs and birds in the master bath, chillin, so they’re safe, the weather radio, water, cell phones and a hatchet.

Abotu five years ago a tornado hit town, hit my MIL’s business in Springfield, went up and came back down a few times, then hit her freakin’ house out East of my small town. Crazy, she had some bad mojo at the time…lol

Dutchess_III's avatar

Me too. When I get that “feeling” I just move stuff I want to take to the basement steps (pictures, my camera, things like that. I leave Rick right where he is though) so I can grab them if I have to go down.
Every spring I also make sure the basement door isn’t blocked by things.
Other than that, it’s like TURN DOWN THE DAMN SIRENS! I CAN’T HEAR THE MOVIE!

LOL! My son is buying a house in a little bitty town about 12 miles from here. The sirens are about a block away from his house! Oh, man!

KNOWITALL's avatar

@Dutchess_III I can see the sirens from my house, like a block (across a large field and one street over.)

Dutchess_III's avatar

Oh man! Blow out your eardrums!

Dutchess_III's avatar

Wait. I HAVE seen another tornado. In fact, I got a picture of it. Only I didn’t know it was a tornado at the time. I thought it just one of those cool weather things we get, that I take pictures of. It wasn’t until years later, when I had Learned More Stuff, and saw that pic again that I realized it was a rain wrapped tornado. It hit McConnell AFB.

KNOWITALL's avatar

Our fair got hit one year and mom and I ran to a big barn and mom slid down a little hill in the mud…it was so funny, we were drenched and hanging out with cows. Memorable.

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