In the chilling scenario that a tornado warning is issued for your area, what do the experts feel are the best choices for avoiding serious injury or loss of life?
Options range from seeking shelter in basements to interior above-ground rooms to below-ground storm shelters. However, there are pros and cons to all of these options.
Many experts agree that your odds for surviving a direct hit with a strong tornado (EF-4 or EF-5) are greatest in a nearby below-ground storm shelter.
However, since few individuals have quick access to such a structure or the funds to complete the project, there are other less expensive, close-by options such as an interior safe room within your home or work area that is located above the ground or the same setup in a basement.
Both severe weather experts and Certified Consulting Meteorologists Dr. Charles A. Doswell III and Michael R. Smith agree that risk in an above-ground safe room increases during the strongest tornadoes.
Doswell is founder and President of Doswell Scientific Consulting and is author or co-author of more than 100 formal publications, mostly related to severe storms.
Smith is Sr. Vice President/Chief Innovation Executive of AccuWeather Enterprise Solutions and author of the book "Warnings: The True Story of How Science Tamed the Weather."
Both Doswell and Smith stated that in these storms large, heavy airborne objects, like a vehicle, can be flung at a high rate of speed and can compromise the room if struck.
Fortunately, storms of this magnitude are extremely rare even in tornado-prone portions of the Plains, Midwest and South.
Both Doswell and Smith also agree that being in an open area in a basement may not provide enough protection.
According to Smith, "If a below-ground safe room was not available but a basement was present, I would head downstairs and get under sturdy furniture or a stairwell."
Doswell added, "In violent tornadoes, sometimes the floor collapses or is swept away and debris can then be thrown into the basement."
For existing homes that do not have a basement, retrofitting a small, interior room or adding a safe room above ground within a large room may be the only cost effective alternative.
Neither of these are necessarily inexpensive. If you do not have a basement and cannot afford these alternatives, you have no truly safe options and have to do the best you can by sheltering in place.
Studies have shown that when much of a home has been destroyed, often the only surviving part of the dwelling is a small interior room, such as a closet or bathroom. This has to do with more supportive wall framing versus ceiling surface area.
According to Doswell, "An above-ground safe room built to Texas Tech. specifications is not 100 percent invulnerable, but remains a very viable option to an underground shelter and offers the additional value of not having to leave your home to get to shelter."
In strong tornadoes, often the entire roof and/or upper floors are removed from the dwelling, which exposes the remaining walls to more stress and risk of failure.
Even if the interior walls remain standing, they could be penetrated by high-velocity projectiles.
An approved safe room has reinforced walls, ceiling and door.