Saturday, June 1, 2013

Sustainable Saturday - Rethinking Tornado Survival

Welcome to my blog and the 2013 WordCount Blogathon.  If you are new to my blog, I'll quickly bring you up to speed.

This is my third WordCount Blogathon.  I enjoy writing on a variety of topics, and my blog's title reflects that.  Because I blog daily as an exercise in writing,  I organize my week by several weekly features.  You'll find a schedule at the end of this post.

As I wrote this post, I was watching live TV coverage of a tornado near Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.  The meteorologists on site covering the storm were caught in the tornado, tried to escape and and their car was tossed about 200 yards.  Everyone in the vehicle is OK - a bit bloodied, some broken bones but OK.   But five other motorists died.

With climate change, many places that felt themselves safe from tornadoes no longer are (such as upstate New York, where I live now), but tornadoes have been a fact of life in Oklahoma for a long, long, time.

Tornadoes are unpredictable.  You don't have much time to get away from one.  Modern technology has allowed meteorologists to predict where there is a high possibility of one forming, but if you are on the ground, you usually don't see one coming.  And, tornadoes can strike at night.

Sustainability includes living in some type of harmony with nature.  We can't stop tornadoes, so how can we survive these superstorms?

There is one way, and only one way, to survive a tornado, especially the F4 and F5 storms, the most deadly of tornadoes. 

You must get underground to survive.   You can have an underground tornado shelter but even they have issues.  In a recent Oklahoma tornado, the door ripped off of one and the people inside were lucky to survive.  You'd also be surprised to learn how many homes in Texas,  Arkansas and Kansas do not have basements.  I did not have a basement when I lived in any of those states.  And what about schools?  The many people who live in mobile home parks?  Shopping malls? 

When I lived in Kansas back in the late 1970's, I wondered "why aren't we building underground houses?"  I investigated the technology and was not satisfied by what I found.

When I moved to Arkansas, my spouse, with some help from me, built the structure we lived in.  But it wasn't truly green, and it wasn't underground housing.  Because of the nearly 10 years I lived in "Tornado Alley", I watch the weather war zone that Oklahoma has been in the past two weeks with special interest.  We must do better in providing safe shelter for residents of those states.

Today, as one example, it is possible to build tornado-resistant housing that is also green.

So, why don't we build this housing? There are a number of reasons, based on my experiences of the past. Contractors would have to relearn how to build houses.  Banks may not want to take a risk on a house that might not sell.  Homeowner's insurance companies might not want to write them, with little data to guide them on rates to charge.

When they think of underground housing, especially, people think "dark, damp and tomb-like".  If done right though, none of these are true.

Shelters, meantime, are expensive, and won't get built, I fear, without the force of law.

But, if we are to live in harmony with our changing weather, we may have no choice but to change the very way we build structures.  This applies whether you live on the coast or in a tornado prone area. 

Have you had experience with severe weather or earthquakes?  I did survive being near a small (F0) tornado and may blog about it later this month.

And now, if you liked what you read today, here's my normal schedule:

Saturdays I blog about "sustainable" living - farmers markets, community gardens, local food, local "green" businesses, and even "green" technology.
Sundays I blog about the United States Civil War. Why? Because it fascinates me.
Wednesdays is a seasonal feature, currently "Spring Things": anything to do with the season
The 15th of each month, I participate in Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, with pictures of whatever is blooming in my garden or in my house.

The rest of the week it's "potluck", sometimes accompanied by my flower or nature photos. 

Again, welcome!


  1. Houses built underground can be wonderful homes. I love watching building programs and some of those featured have been underground with skylights and air circulated by ducts. The homes' tempurature doesn't fluctuate either. This would be sensible for those areas in danger.

    1. I've visited some "alternate housing" but not an underground house. Not yet. I'd love to; the concept has always fascinated me.

  2. Interesting post! I'm a fellow participant in Blogathon 2013 and wrote about going through a tornado warning last night here in Arkansas in today's blog post: In it I talk about riding out the storms in my laundry room. Yikes! I'm originally from Kansas, where I always had a basement but you're right --they're just not common in OK and AR.

    1. I left a comment on your blog and subscribed by email. We bloggers are a hardy breed - I read a blogger in New Zealand who blogged several hours after giving birth to her third child. And, I blogged after a flood hit my neighborhood - but only because we never lost power, and were on vacation when the flood hit. I hope the severe weather in Oklahoma stops soon. This must be so traumatic.

  3. I imagine cost would be the biggest obstacle in getting a tornado proof house like that built. People don't often think about the what if, especially if it's expensive.

    1. Cost is definitely a factor. I understand that even a small shelter, just enough room to hold a family, runs about $4,000 to build in Oklahoma. (I got that figure from an article I read in the Christian Science Monitor.) People will think about the money vs. the risk of being hit by a tornado.

  4. Interesting! Never before thought about living underground and would probably be something to get used to. It does seem Mother Earth is a bit angry these days and living more sustainably would be our best bet globally. Thanks for the new idea of living. Best Regards, Wendy Connected from UBC however I am in teh 2013 Blogathon as well.

    1. Thank you. With climate change, weather is becoming more extreme and we ignore those changes at our risk.

  5. Here in Nebraska, everybody builds solid basements under their homes because of the risk of severe weather (and we've spent our share of hours in our basement during tornado warnings, too) but there's not solid rock underneath our house, either. I know when we lived in Arkansas, there was rock underneath all the houses, so nobody had basements. Watching the coverage of the OKC tornadoes last evening was terrifying: I can't imagine what it would have been like to actually to be caught in that storm.

  6. Welcome back; can't wait to read more about sustainable living ~ something I am also interested in.

    When I was watching the reports of that deadly OKC torando that killed all those children, I had to wonder: in a state that experiences tornados all the time, why wasn't there an underground shelter built at that school!?

    Thanks for bringing this up; I will be doing some more research on underground housing.

  7. We were watching the news report of the tornado as it was happening. I couldn't believe how many people had left it until the last minute to get to safety and how many were driving directly into it!

    It was so sad the news of the storm chaser family that died in this recent one too.

  8. We certainly don't have basements in the Lowcountry. One reason would be due to groundwater. Hearing that tornadoes can have winds over 300 mph I'm not sure how housing could be built to withstand that. We have requirements to build to protect from hurricane wind speed but that max is in the 150 mph range. We also have seismic issues due to being on a fault and buildings must meet requirements for that too. Scary.

  9. Hurricanes you can prepare for but Tornadoes as you mentioned are unpredictable. Our hearts go out to those in Oklahoma and other places who have been hard hit by the weather.

  10. This is a really interesting concept. I'm in Connecticut and we aren't really affected by tornadoes the way some other states are. My heart does out to all of those who have been affected by the recent tornadoes. Looking at the pictures is heartbreaking.


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