General Question

mattbrowne's avatar

How many people in the US have simple access to a tornado shelter (either in their home or within short walking distance)?

Asked by mattbrowne (31595points) April 20th, 2011

My question is about people in areas frequently hit by tornadoes.

“One of the largest single-system tornado outbreaks in United States history occurred from April 14 to 16, 2011, resulting in confirmed tornadoes across at least 14 states and severe to catastrophic destruction on all three days of the outbreak. Current estimates suggest that at least 37 people have been killed from tornadoes and an additional five people were killed as a result of straight-line winds associated with the storm system. The outbreak of severe weather and tornadoes has led to 42 deaths in the Southern United States.”

Why do people with access to shelters do get killed?

No warning? Not aware of a warning? On the road with a turned-off radio? Not enough time to get to a shelter? Not enough time to get out of a car or truck?

Or is curiosity, like that of storm chasers, but without the proper knowledge?

What could be done to reduce fatalities and injuries in the future?

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11 Answers

yankeetooter's avatar

Warnings are often not given very much ahead of time. Also, in my part of the U.S., tornadoes occur, but are not real common. I worry sometimes that people do not take the warnings seriously because of this. I live in an apartment and have no basement. I guess I would either go under the stairwell on the lowest level, or in the bathroom or closet in the interior of the building…

crisw's avatar

A lot of the worst damage is in trailer parks, which are very common in these areas. Trailer parks typically do not have shelters, as far as I know.

YoBob's avatar

It really depends on where you live.

I grew up in an area known as “tornado ally” in North Texas. Around that area there are probably more tornado shelters than in most other locations. However, in spite of the greater occurrence of tornado many people opt not to worry about it due to the highly localized path of destruction.

Most tornado are rather short lived and many don’t even touch the ground, and when they do it is only for a short time in a very localized spot. The chances your house is going to be the one hit is about the same as the chances that yours will be the one struck by lightning during the next thunder storm.

Being smack in the middle of tornado ally, the warning sirens would tend to go off rather frequently, and most of the time there was little or no damage so the warnings tended to become ineffective. In fact, as a teenager drinking beer and going out to spot tornadoes from the highway was considered a legitimate recreational activity.

OTOH, every once and awhile you get one like we had on April 10th, 1979. that particular one was HUGE (actually it was an aggregate tornado that really consisted of several smaller ones clustered in a blob) that cut a mile wide swath through the most populated area of the city. Those events tend to make the survivors consider a shelter as an integral part of their re-building plans.

Aethelwine's avatar

We get warnings, sometimes days in advance that there is a possibility of severe weather in our area (that’s if you pay attention to the Weather Channel or local weather forecasts).

Many of the deaths occur in trailer parks and in the evening when people are sleeping and don’t have the radio or television on. They may sleep through the sirens in the middle of the night because their windows are closed. Also, many people live with tornado warnings and nothing happens, so they stay put because they think it won’t happen to them since nothing happened to them in the past.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

Even if you get a warning, there may not be sufficient time to act. Tornado conditions can be noted and a warning can be put out, but tornadoes can not actually be predicted.

Tornado warnings are extremely common where I live, especially in the spring and summer. That doesn’t mean that we have tornadoes every time. And if people acted whenever there was a warning, we would all be in our basements most of the summer. It just isn’t practical. As mentioned above, those living in trailer parks are at particularly high risk. Being asleep is another factor.
Also, you can be in your basement and not necessarily be 100% safe. Debri or a collapsing floor from a large storm can be fatal, even when you are protected.

diavolobella's avatar

There are no tornado shelters anywhere near my home. When we have a warning, as we did last night, we just get in the interior closet. Fortunately, no one was hurt last night although I have two large trees down in my yard and one struck my house (only minor damage). We get pretty reasonable advance warning, but not enough to try to drive anywhere. Usually only just time enough to take cover in the home. If we had a shelter in our yard or had a basement, there would be enough advance warning to get there.

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SpatzieLover's avatar

Even if you get a warning and get into a basement, you may die from being crushed. I think it was two summers ago here in Wis, @mattbrowne then a middle aged couple did everything they were supposed to. They went down to their basement upon first warning with their weather radio. The tornado came and hit the chimney side of their home. The chimney collapsed on top of them in their basement.

We have a basement. We rarely go down. I will put the cats down there first, since I know if a tornado should come our way they will be the most difficult to rangle at the last minute.

Our local Doppler is pretty accurate, so we prefer the TV warnings/alerts to that of the radio.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

JLeslie and I live in the Memphis, Tennessee area, and I checked on her last night as the tornado sirens started going off. Tornadoes are common here in the spring and fall. The vast majority of homes do not have a basement nor a shelter. I just checked the city’s website, and there are no designated storm shelters, only suggestions on how to prepare for a tornado.

There are also reports that Memphis is on a fault line. In fact, there were three minor earthquakes in the neighboring state of Arkansas this past week. I can’t speak for Arkansas, but Memphis is in no way prepared for an earthquake. There is a Mega Disasters: Earthquake in the Heartland that speculates what will happen should it occur. I can’t wait to move.

mattbrowne's avatar

Thank you for sharing this with me. I hadn’t thought about trailer parks. If they are close enough to a village or town people might find a public community shelter. I wonder what could be done so that warning sirens trigger fear every time. Drills, perhaps? Survivors visiting schools? Personal stories with near brush of death might be better than let youngster watch awesome Youtube tornado vidoes.

Interesting comments about basements. But it probably also depends on how the house was built (heavyweight vs lightweight construction).

mattbrowne's avatar

@Pied_Pfeffer – I do know about this, but please keep in mind that a serious heartland intraplate earthquake is a low frequency / high impact event.

“New forecasts estimate a 7 to 10 percent chance, in the next 50 years, of a repeat of a major earthquake like those that occurred in 1811–1812, which likely had magnitudes of between 7.5 and 8.0. There is a 25 to 40 percent chance, in a 50-year time span, of a magnitude 6.0 or greater earthquake.”

OTOH: “California has more than a 99% chance of having a magnitude 6.7 or larger earthquake within the next 30 years, according scientists using a new model to determine the probability of big quakes. The likelihood of a major quake of magnitude 7.5 or greater in the next 30 years is 46%-and such a quake is most likely to occur in the southern half of the state.”

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