Apr 10, 2012

An Expert Dad's Word of Advice Re: Tornadoes

Emergency crews walking through neighborhood in Joplin, MO, May 2011 - AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein

A friend forwarded this email to me from her father-in-law, who just happens to be a Structural Engineer in MO, KS, CO, MN, & OK and an Emergency Management, Structural Inspector for the state of Missouri. His love for his family comes through as well as his knowledge.  His comments made us sit up and think - are we prepared for this tornado season?  I wanted to share the comments with you to help all of us be better prepared.   The Springfield referred to in the email is Springfield, MO.

And of course, if you need to update your 72 hr kit or purchase one in preparation, I'd be happy to help you!  You can check out the Emergency Supplies, including pre-assembled 72 hr kits here, or use the Emergency Kit Planner to help guide you in what you need in your kit.


Guys.. .it’s that time of year, I get nervous about my family and tornadoes…..
As a reminder…..
Springfield is in the middle of what seems to be a changing weather pattern.  Meaning more storms seem to travel I-44.  In fact, Springfield’s building code has a snow load similar to that of KC’s, even though it is far south, and severe storms have been frequenting your area as you well know.  So…..

1. Don’t believe the media.  A bath tub is ABSOLUTELY NO PLACE TO BE IN A STORM.  They will be launched and people have been in them and died as a result.  Moore Oklahoma, 30 people died - many had gotten into their tubs; also, 12” of top soils was lifted in the storm (source here is Jean Williams, Executive Director of the Board of Architects, Oklahoma)

2. HAVE A PLAN.  Get below grade if at all possible.  Tornadoes produce wind speeds of up to 250 mph in this area. (actually location matters; East of the Mississippi River, there are fewer but larger storms, west of the Mississippi more, but generally weaker.  There are several theories. Also, this wind speed produces suctions of over 200 lbs per square foot. You can be sucked out of if not fully protected.

3. IF YOUR IN AN APARTMENT COMPLEX… get to the NE ..INTERIOR SPACE… bury yourself in the rubble… it will protect you….

4. LET PEOPLE KNOW WHAT YOUR “PLAN” IS……. Rescuers will be looking for you…. let your neighbors know where your shelter is located…..

5. Don’t be caught in your car…….. a tornado with lift a car hundreds of feet into the air…. You’ll have no chance….

6. If on the road…. Get INTO (yes, INTO) the bridge structure (between the girders) or a culvert…. A Culvert is better and you will likely get into them easier particularly with a child.

7. DON’T TRY TO OUT RUN IT…… 

8. If you are in a “big box store”….THEY ARE NOT SAFE IN THESE KIND OF WINDS…. THE WALLS WILL TOPPLE IN ON YOU… GO TO THE MIDDLE OF THE STORE AND BURY YOURSELF….. Building Codes are 90 mph in your area… when tornado hits on of these buildings… the building’s structural intent is “reversed”…. And the roof designed for downward loads is suddenly being lift against its weak axis… the roof structural members buckle, and the walls are no longer stable falling into the building.

Today’s tornado in Dallas and the videos clearly illustrates even semi-trailers can be hurled… a car is nothing in comparison
What kills in a tornado is:
1. Debris….. you neighbor’s swing set…. Their car…. Their lawn furniture….Their bird bath……wood framing… GET BELOW GRADE IF AT ALL POSSIBLE
2. DIRT….. Yes dirt…… if you don’t bury yourself into the ruble… you have no protection from the dirt and it will be injected into your skin and massive infections will result… many folks died last year in Joplin from this cause alone.
3. Your car is not a shelter… GET OUT OF IT….
I know what I am talking about here….. so
1. Make a plan…. Below grade…. Don’t travel during dangerous weather.
2. Let others know where to find you….


In case you forward this…:
Joseph A. Towns, PE, NCARB, LEED AP, BD+C
Structural Engineer, MO, KS, CO, MN, OK
Emergency Management, Structural Inspector I, State of Missouri