Name: Karen Beth M.
I live in the South and had the unfortunate experience the horrible
weather on Monday night. We had tornado warnings out all night and it
was scarier than I have ever seen it. I was fully prepared to take cover the
I realized however that I know very little about tornado safety. I my
apartment the best place for me to go is my very tiny, windowless
bathroom. My question is this: should I close the door or leave it
open? I have gotten reasons for both options (close it to have as many
walls between me and the tornado; leave it open for ventilation so a
vacuum will not be created). So, which is right?
I will give you the "short" answer. Do not waste valuable time trying to open doors (or windows).
The winds in a tornado are so powerful and fast that a door or window can be thrown like a rag
doll hundreds of yards, and if you are near them you may go along for the lethal ride. No ToTo
this is not Kansas (Wizard of Oz). A window can become a thousand shards. With a tornado, you
often may only have seconds to find safety. Don't try to "see" the funnel. Do not assume that
there is no tornado because the sirens have not been activated. Things can happen so fast, you
need to be prepared to get to the safest place as quickly as possible.
Having shared your experience, I know the terror a tornado brings. If you search the terms:
"tornado safety" on www.google.com you will find many web sites that can provide detailed and
reliable safety precautions.
I do not know what story your apartment is on. But, in general, it is best to be in a basement,
crawl space, or the lowest level of a building. Also, it is best to be in the most interior
room or hallway, near the center of the building, in a place without windows, and with all
Studies have shown that opening doors and windows does not decrease damage and injuries from a
tornado. The more walls and closed doors that you have around you, the more likely that you
will escape injury.
It is important to know where the safest place is in your building ahead of time. So, look
around for a room (even a common room like a laundry) in the apartment building that is on the
lowest level, is near the center of the building, and has no windows. If such a common room
does not exist in your building, go to an interior hallway on the lowest level, if there is time
to do so. If your apartment is on the first story of a multiple story building and there is not
a basement or an interior common hallway, your bathroom (if it does not have windows) or the
most interior small room is the place to take shelter, with the door closed and locked (locking
it reduces the likelihood that it will fly open). Small rooms have walls that are closer
together and therefore more structurally capable of withstanding the tornado forces.
If you are outside while the tornado is approaching and cannot get into a building in time, do
not take shelter in a car! Find the nearest ditch or low area (preferably away from buildings
and cars) to get into and lie down. This will decrease the likelihood of being hit by flying
debris. You should also look outside for such areas ahead of time so that you will instinctively
know where to go to should a tornado approach.
David R. Cook
Atmospheric Research Section
Environmental Research Division
Argonne National Laboratory
Since you did not provide information about the height and composition of your apartment --
poured concrete vs frame construction -- it is difficult to provide an all-encompassing
response. Certainly the sturdiest rooms would be the safest places in which to take refuge.
However, a direct hit by a full-force tornado will likely obliterate any kind of frame
structure. As many will tell you, the safest paces are in below-ground reinforced structures.
Of course, if no such places are available to you, you will make do with what you have. I would
opt for the windowless, "closed door" scenario so as to provide as much protection as possible
from flying debris. Do not worry about the "vacuum" and ventilation. The air blast will likely
not last long enough to cause significant breathing problems. Wrap yourself in a blanket to
provide even further protection. If you can get to a below-ground area of the building, select
the place least likely to collapse from the weight of materials that may fall atop it. Once
again, the smallest rooms would be preferred. If you have a cell phone, take it with you.
I think you have picked the best room in your apartment for protection during severe weather. Closing the
door is probably the best choice, as it could possibly prevent debris from blowing into the bathroom from
other parts of the house, and might add a little more support to the room as a whole.
You should not be too concerned about a "vacuum effect" from tornadoes. Much more structural damage is
caused by the fierce winds. You should take a battery-powered radio and a flashlight as a minimum when
you enter your shelter.
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Update: June 2012