During a tornado, is a kitchen better than a closet?

By Steve Divine | email

(This is one in a series of special reports on the 1970 Lubbock Tornado)

LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) – During severe weather you often hear us tell you, in case of a tornado take shelter in a small, interior room on the first floor of your house or  building.  But why?

A small room, with closer walls provides more protection.  Plus, an interior room provides more walls between you and the outside, just in case flying debris might pierce outside walls.  A basement is your first choice.  The first floor is your next best choice.  But what if you don't have a place like that?

To answer that question, I met with Ernst Kiesling, P.E., Ph.D., Professor of Civil Engineering at Texas Tech University, and Executive Director of the National Storm Shelter Association.

Kiesling explains how some places are better than others.   "Surely the ground floor is the place to be" says Kiesling.  "Because the wind pressures are proportional to the height."

In a tornado, it is not the twisting forces that create destruction.  It's the actual force on a surface created by the high wind speeds.  "Consequently," says Kiesling, "the top of the 2nd floor of the building is not as stable as the first floor."

"Try to find a small room on the first floor with a high concentration of structural members to give it more stiffness," he says.

This could be a bathroom or a closet, even the area under stairs. There is such a place in the apartment where we met Kiesling, but in this case it is not the best location.

"Even though the space under the stairway is often good space structurally in this case I would not advocate that because the one wall of that is an outside wall of the building."

Kiesling says, "In this case I would suggest using the kitchen. It seems to be a small room. Furthermore it's in the central part of the building."

There are other apartments along two walls. Cabinets provide some protection on the other side. And the walls are close together.

Kiesling met with us again, in an older two-story home with no basement.  The dining room is the only interior room, but it has double wide doorways, and one wall covered in glass. In this situation, though, it is still the best choice.

"I believe this is where I'd recommend being," says Kiesling while standing in the dining room.  "Because in the space where we're standing you have pretty substantial walls on three sides.  There are some doors there but the doors could perhaps be closed."

When it comes to a mobile home, the advice hasn't changed. "If at all possible, get out of a manufactured house into a more substantial building."  That could be a laundry or community building.

Regardless of your style of home there is the option of retro-fitting an existing room, or installing a storm shelter.  "There's a variety of products available in terms of safe rooms now. You can add a room. You harden & stiffen an existing room. There are even shelters that you can install underneath the garage slab. For example, simply cut out a section of the slab put a shelter under there. Put a sliding door on it. And you don't even lose a parking space."

We remind you of these safety tips now, before severe weather strikes - which it will - so you can calmly and thoughtfully create your family's safety plan.

Make sure everyone, especially children, know:

  • Where they should go if there is severe weather
  • Where to watch and listen for storm information, and
  • Where to meet after a storm.
  • Immediate and extended family contact information

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