Tornado Shelters | Everything You Need To Know
Every spring, parts of tornado alley are ravaged by the earth’s most powerful wind storm: tornadoes. Tornadoes, for many parts of the country, are simply everyday life. While tornadoes are more typical during Spring’s usual meetings between unstable air masses, bad tornadoes have certainly happened during seasons not named Spring. Whether you are a long-time tornado alley resident, or you’ve just moved to the region, you are probably wanting to learn more about tornado shelters. Moreover, which is better: an above ground tornado shelter or an underground tornado shelter?
Contrary to popular belief, if a tornado is powerful enough, it can blow open the doors of underground tornado shelters. Many people believe that underground tornado shelters are a clear better option to above ground tornado shelters. But are they?
Media proliferation of inaccurate tornado safety facts adds to the confusion on what the best tornado shelter options are. Please refer to our prepper tornado facts guide for everything you want to know about tornadoes.
Here is what we do know About Tornado Shelters
Tornado shelters, or tornado safe rooms, or storm shelters, call them whatever you so enjoy, save lives on an annual basis. While everyone should have a tornado plan that involves what to do when you aren’t near a tornado shelter for practical purposes, having a tornado shelter on or near your property can increase the odds that you survive such a nightmare scenario.
Above Ground Tornado Shelter vs. Underground Tornado Shelter
Below I’ve offered the benefits of each type of shelter, however, in the event you are in a tornado and have either version, you’re equally safe pending you purchased/built the shelter correctly. The myth that an underground shelter is safer isn’t really true, though, many do prefer the underground versions (they do have some cons, we will get to those momentarily).
Above Ground Tornado Shelter Benefits
Many people think an above ground tornado shelter would fly away during a major tornado, but the fact is, these above ground safe rooms are incredibly stable. Too many people overlook them and just never consider them, but an above ground tornado shelter can be a more convenient and safer strategy for a variety of reasons.
For one, they are often easier to get into. Many underground storm shelters are located outside, which can mean running to the shelter during lightning events and while the debris has already begun to fly. An above ground shelter can be easier to run into and lower your exposure to the dangerous elements.
What To Look For With An Above Tornado Shelter
You want to look for ratings. For example, you want it to be NSSA, or National Storm Shelter Association Standards, compliant. You want it to be inline with FEMA P320/P361 and ICC-500 Code requirements.
Swisher Tornado Safety Shelter Review
If you go to Amazon, you can easily purchase an above ground tornado shelter, such as this Swisher Tornado Shelter. They can be pricey, so you will have to check Amazon here for current pricing, but they can also save your life. At a height of 80 inches and a length of 84 inches, 6 persons fit comfortably. This above ground tornado shelter is compliant with the National Storm Shelter Association Standards (NSSA). It was tested by the National Wind Institute at Texas Tech University to be able to endure an F5 tornado, the largest tornado possible. It is made from 3/16” thick carbon steel.
It exceeds FEMA P320/P361 and ICC-500 Code requirements.
It comes with all the installation parts, though, you’d need tools to install it. It is ventilated for obvious reasons (you need to breath). And it allows you to quickly exit the shelter once the tornado has passed. Gun rack accessories are available (sorry, but the prepper in me always wants to know that I can quickly get to my SHTF gun when the storm has passed).
Underground Tornado Shelters Benefits
Underground tornado shelters and storm shelters are by far the most popular versions of storm safe rooms in America. This is somewhat true due to the default of many people already having a basement on their home and considering that an underground shelter.
For many people, they either don’t have a basement or they fear the basement’s top being ripped off during a major tornado and ending up exposed to flying and falling debris. While this is a reasonable concern, make no mistake about it, if a tornado is headed your way and you have a basement, get in it. You are going to be safest below ground.
An underground tornado shelter is different from a home basement. Underground tornado shelters are built for the specific intent of preserving life and limb during an intense storm, as opposed to a home basement that just happens to be part of the home. Underground tornado shelters often make use of concrete and steel slabs and can be located anywhere below the house (below the kitchen floor or below the garage). They can also be located out in the yard.
Myth: You will get sucked from the ground by the tornado. Here’s the thing, most people who die in a tornado were hardly sucked up into the vortex like the cows you saw in the movie, Twister. Instead, it is flying and falling and crumbling debris which takes human lives.
The primary way to survive a tornado is to protect your head and body from the impact of moving debris. If you are barricaded in a home and the home is breached by the tornado’s ferocious winds, that will expose you to falling debris and eventually, flying debris. Homes have too many cracks, crevices, and bound materials to depend on in terms of not being compromised.
When you go below ground, you have four of the most powerful walls serving to guard you: the earth, the earth, the earth, and yes, the earth. Because the wind runs along the plain of the land, it hardly affects the underground tornado shelter’s entry which is hopefully locked anyways. Being below ground even without the protection of an entry door is still safer than being exposed above ground in a home.
The con: Sometimes an underground storm shelter can be more difficult to get to in an emergency, particularly those located outside in the yard. Clearly, you might end up trapped inside the storm shelter for an extended period of time, which is exactly why you must prep any storm shelter with food and water. Stocking your tornado shelter with prepper food could save you. So long as you live in a decently populated area, you will be found and you will be alive.
Conclusion: Underground tornado shelters are incredibly safe.
EF5 Tornado Shelters – Do They Exist?
An EF5 Tornado is an explosive event that science is still studying, but even with our limited understanding, people do end up surviving EF5 tornadoes in a number of ways:
- They were well versed on tornado survival tips: even if you buy an expensive tornado shelter, you need to know your tornado survival information because the fact remains, you may not be at home when the big one strikes.
- They got lucky: Tornadoes, even the big monsters, are highly unpredictable in terms of the damage they will cause. Sometimes, human lives can be on the very fortunate end of such unpredictable happenings.
- They Were In A Rated Storm Shelter: Like the above ground tornado shelter review above, you can build or buy a tornado shelter that can endure EF5 tornado wind speeds.
An EF5 Tornado is the earth’s most powerful storm. It can float cars for miles with relative ease. But with a mix of tornado education and the proper prepper strategy, people can endure even under the most adverse and dangerous tornado conditions.
Tornado Shelter Prices – What’s Should I Pay?
While it is impossible to predict actual cost, I would say you are looking at around $3,000 average cost. If you are a great craftsman who knows how to get deals on high-end material and you can build it yourself, you could potentially build an extremely safe tornado shelter for $2,000. Many above ground tornado shelters rated for EF5 wind speeds will cost around $4,500 sans the cost of the tools to install.
According to Home Advisor, the national average storm shelter cost is $5,068. The typical range is $1,814 to $8,554. The low end is $450. The high end is $16,000. I’m not sure I’d trust a $450 tornado shelter during a large tornado.
While that may feel like a lot of money, remember, these things can save you and your family’s lives. And they will last a lifetime.
Tornado Shelters Near Me
If you aren’t in a position to build or buy a tornado shelter for you and your family, beyond learning general tornado safety information, you should also find out if there are any tornado shelters near you. For example, do any of your close neighbors have a shelter that might have room for you and your family? Are there any local shelters built by the city? These may be long shots, but it is important to look into it if you don’t have any safe room to speak of. As a prepper, you can always offer trade. For example, you could let the storm shelter neighbors know that you will help them stock it with survival supplies such as MRE Meals, a survival water filter, and more.
How To Build A Tornado Shelter
This isn’t a skill you can learn in one article’s worth of time. Many people retrofit their storm shelter to their current home, for example, in the garage. You can see that here.
In that case, they secured it into the ground but it remains an above-ground storm shelter.
Here is an example of someone who spent $2,000 and built a tornado shelter which did not work out. He actually shows you all the erroneous issues in this video. Keep in mind, this man was trying to protect his family and he lost a lot of money and good on him for spreading the word to others.
Much respect to him for putting that out there for others, like all of us, to learn from.
Home Depot Tornado Shelter
Many preppers prefer to buy a Home Depot tornado shelter. They have an entire page of them here. The Swisher we reviewed above is competitively priced, so that might depend on your ability to drive the shelter to your own home (that advantage would reside with Amazon). But at least you’d get to have a close up look at it. Home Depot is a reliable store that backs all of their purchases and you will certainly be able to explore a lot of options.
Tornado Shelters Guide Conclusion
Tornadoes are some of the most dangerous weather events on earth, if not the most dangerous. Hundreds of people die every year who thought their tornado survival precautions were enough. A properly built tornado shelter, whether above or below ground, whether self-built or purchased on Amazon or at the store, can vastly increase your odds of surviving even the nightmare EF5 tornado scenario. While they may cost more than we’d like, tornado and storm shelters are a lifetime’s investment that can also be passed down to future generations.
Author: Jim Satney
PrepForThat’s Editor and lead writer for political, survival, and weather categories.
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