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Shelter Severe Weather & Thunderstorms Tornadoes

What To Know About Storm Shelters For Your Family

Extreme weather is now a regular occurrence in the United States. Record-setting hurricanes and more-than-one-mile wide tornadoes can hit nearly anywhere.

Storm shelters are certainly not something everyone owns or even has access to. But, many families don’t know that there are various types of sanctuary structures (beyond your bathroom!). 

Let’s take a closer look at what you need to know about storm shelters so you have information when making emergency-related decisions.

Types of Storm Shelters

When most people think about storm shelters, they picture concrete below-ground personal fallout bunkers. However, that is not what most weather-aware people have or want.

Above Ground Storm Shelter

Survive A Storm - Extreme Above Ground, Safety/Emergency Shelter, Safe Room, FEMA Rated, Strong, 4x6, 8 People…

In the heart of Tornado Alley, parts of Oklahoma have high water tables and rocky soil conditions, which makes having an underground storm shelter unsafe to build. Many families elect to have an above-ground storm shelter or a safe room.  

Because above-ground safe rooms are on the ground level, a lot of people choose to install them in the garage. 

Another benefit is that a safe room built on the ground level is less likely to flood, even in areas prone to flooding. The last thing you need is to float away during catastrophic weather.

Built-In Storm Shelter

Building House Concrete Storage Cellar or Tornado Shelter Interior Room.

Investing in a family home is a huge deal and accomplishment. You have the power to add any room you want, or refit any existing room to suit your needs.

A storm shelter doesn’t have to be huge. It just has to be safe. If you only have room for an extra closet, a safe room can double as a closet, too.

Below-Ground Storm Shelter

An Old Storm Cellar or Tornado Shelter in Rural Oklahoma.

We are treading into the fallout shelter waters. However, not all below-ground storm shelters have to fit an entire town and hold enough provisions to last a decade.

If your climate and your pocketbook can handle it, a steel or concrete underground storm shelter is one of the safest places to be during particular storms such as tornados. Underground bunkers and shelters are hard to shop for though.

Basement Storm Shelters

Basement

Basements are handy to have. Yes, they are sometimes safer than any other structure in your home. However, they don’t offer high levels of protection. 

When you rely on an existing basement for shelter through a storm, basement walls can collapse, and other structural failures can happen. A refit basement storm shelter is something to consider. You already have the existing framework.

Community Storm Shelters

Storm Shelters

Specific areas that experience hurricanes and tornadoes too regularly have community storm shelters. Not every individual or family can afford a private safe room. Public shelters must meet FEMA standards and listed on their federal website.

Once you’ve researched and found the nearest community storm shelter to you, make a family plan that includes the best route to get there and a pre-packed bag with essentials such as extra medication and baby wipes.

Why do I need a storm shelter?

It’s easy to say it’s never happened to you or your family when it hasn’t. But, ask yourself a few questions and then decide if investing in one is the best plan of action.

  • If you live in an area prone to bad weather, a storm shelter is undoubtedly something to consider. However, when was the last time tornado or hurricane-like weather struck near your home or town?
  • In the case of a natural disaster, you should have a plan for yourself and your family. Part of that is knowing where the closest haven is. Is it near enough to your home to make it there safely?
  • Earthquakes are natural disasters. A storm shelter is a safe place to take cover from falling debris. The anchors keep it steady and prevent it from collapsing, even if the house roof does.
  • Storm shelters are fire resistant and can withstand hurricane-force winds.

More Storm Shelter Questions

But, I live in a mobile home. How do I improve weather safety?

All manufactured homes are unsafe during severe weather that includes high winds. It is ideal to invest in a below-ground storm shelter. However, that sort of money does not grow on trees.

You must have a family plan on how to handle approaching dangerous weather, including knowing the closest location of a community shelter.

I am worried about space for my family. How big does a community storm shelter have to be?

FEMA has guidelines for storm shelters. FEMA 361, Section 8-3 lays out the criteria to follow. 

You can also call FEMA at 1-800-480-2520 and ask for FEMA 361.

I heard a myth that when lightning strikes a shelter, it turns into a metal death box. What really happens when lightning strikes a storm shelter?

The myth is just a myth. Most metal structures tend to be self-protecting. Even the most super-thin metal can conduct lightning currents without down conductors. 

Consider this – metal vehicles ride the roads during all sorts of weather. How often do you hear about killer highway lightning?

We get dangerous wind gusts and wind events where I live. Can storm shelters blow away?

The highest one-day gust recorded is 107 mph in Lamar, Colorado. And, not one safely secured shelter ripped its foundation from the ground. Nor has one ever been. 

Storm shelters that are mounted to a concrete slab and meet FEMA guidelines are the safest place to be during a weather and wind event.

I am a person with disabilities. Are storm shelters wheelchair accessible?

Underground shelters are typically not accessible by people with disabilities that require a mobile assistive device. If you need a wheelchair or scooter, you will want to consider an above-ground storm shelter or a built-in safehouse.

Is an underground storm shelter the only way to survive an EF5 tornado?

Nope. No one has ever reported an injury or death in a FEMA safe above-ground storm shelter. For a lot of people, an above-ground haven from a dangerous storm is just as safe and sometimes a way better choice.

HOA is a pain in the backside. Will a storm shelter meet HOA requirements?

Many of the storm shelters discussed remain unseen by a nosy neighbor. Indoor, basement, and most below-ground shelter options don’t require the approval of HOA.

With that said, if a neighbor can see it, they will likely report it. So, get HOA approval to save you time and a headache.

My pet hates terrible weather. What do I do with them during a storm?

You will take that furry friend with you. But, for their sake, get them used to the path to the storm shelter, and spend a little time with them inside. A pet already has weather anxiety; you don’t want their reaction to a new space to make it worse.

What about storm shelter maintenance?

Just like with everything in life, your storm shelter needs your attention. You want it to be as safe as possible for you and your family in the case of an emergency.

You need to check all the components at least once a month. I want to ensure they are in working order and the metal is not rusting. 

People tend to forget one part of maintenance – bugs want to get inside more than the wind does. Using a safe bug repellent like peppermint oil will prevent an overnight infestation.

Will a storm shelter keep my family and me safe?

Yes, a storm shelter will keep you as safe as you can get during severe weather. Regardless of the structure you decide on; it is far better than being caught up in a tornado with nowhere to go.

Your family budget, where you live, and how big your family is are all factors that go into making the final decision. You are investing in your family’s safety, but more than that, a sound mind.

Just do what you can, and always have a plan.