Safest Place in the Basement to Go in a Tornado

Tornados can appear with little warning.
Tornados can appear with little warning. (Image: David Schliepp/iStock/Getty Images)

According to the Tornado Project, there is no doubt that we should seek shelter below ground during a tornado. While no place is 100 percent safe, below ground is safer than being on ground level. The National Severe Storms Laboratory reports that there are about 1,000 tornadoes each year in the U.S. with an average of 60 deaths annually. These deaths are caused primarily by flying or falling debris. When we plan to seek shelter in a basement during a tornado, it's important to know where the safest spots are.

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Old Wives Tale

For decades, people believed that they should seek shelter in the southwest part of the basement. This information was based upon a book by John Park Finley, published in 1887. It wasn't until 1966 when Professor Joseph Eagleman of the University of Kansas began an objective study looking at the aftereffects of tornadoes that people began to learn that the direction from which a tornado was coming was actually the most dangerous part of the house. The Professor began his study by looking at what was left of homes after a 1966 tornado in Topeka, Kansas. As they normally did in Kansas, the tornado approached from the southwest. Eagleman found that the most damage to homes was sustained in that southwest corner, both on the first floor and in the basement. In fact, the side furthest away from the approaching tornado -- the north side -- sustained the least damage. He repeated the same study following a 1970 tornado in Lubbock, Texas. In that case, the tornado also approached from the southwest. Eagleman found that 75 percent of the homes hit were most damaged in the southwest corner.

Away From Windows

One of the greatest dangers involves being near a window. Air pressure and flying debris cause windows to break. Exploding windows can injure or kill you. Before a tornado is ever sighted in your area, choose a shelter spot in the basement that is away from any windows.

Heavy Furniture Consideration

Do not take shelter where there are heavy objects directly above you. For instance, make a mental note of where the refrigerator and piano are and avoid taking shelter in the basement beneath them. According to USA Today, it is not uncommon for floors to collapse during a tornado, making it possible for the furniture on those floors to fall into the basement. Keep in mind where heavy objects are located on the floor above you as you choose the safest spot in your basement.

Stay Away From Heat

Stay away from the hot water heater and furnace, particularly if they are free standing and have not been securely attached to your home. Both the hot water heater and furnace could potentially burn you if they are displaced due to a direct hit from a tornado or furniture falling in from above.

Conclusion

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is no completely safe place during a tornado, but some spots are preferable to others. If you know from which direction the storm is coming, the opposite corner of the basement is the safest spot, reports The Tornado Project. In any case, a workbench, heavy table or stairwell will afford you the most protection when things begin to fly or fall. For added protection, cover your head with a sleeping bag, mattress, bedding, or any soft material you have available.

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