Skywarn 6 Storm Week 2012: Storm Shelters

The United States has never seen a year of devastating severe weather like in 2011. Nearly 2,000 twisters touched ground last year. That's the most ever in one year. The storms killed a total of Five Hundred and Fifty Two people making it the second deadliest season on record.

The main reason why 2011 was so deadly is because violent tornadoes struck heavily populated areas. A recent study conducted by the National Weather Service shows that most people that were killed were not in adequate shelters.

On April 27th, an EF 4 Tornado slammed Tuscaloosa, Alabama, leveling homes and buildings leaving 52 people dead.

A month later, an EF 5, the strongest kind of tornado with winds more than 200mph flattened buildings and wiped homes off foundations in Joplin, Missouri. Here the May 22nd twister killed 157 people. The most since 1950.

Two days later, on may 24th, central Oklahoma was targeted by killer tornadoes. Another EF 5 hit the town of El Reno, just northwest Oklahoma City. 11 people died in the central Oklahoma outbreak.

Rick Smith from the national weather service in Norman, Oklahoma..Was on the street, getting a first hand look at the damage caused by many of the deadly tornadoes that struck last year. In most cases general tornado safety rules will keep you safe. However, Smith says that's not always the case. Especially with tornadoes like the ones seen in 2011.

"We saw a lot of fatalities in single-family homes and structures we don't normally see due to the strength and intensity of the tornadoes."

The safest place to be during a tornado is below ground or in an above ground safe room. If one of those isn't available, the best place to get is in the center of your home in a bathroom of closet. However, that might not be good enough in violent tornadoes.

Smith says, "when we see tornadoes like the ones on April 27th, you can't be guaranteed that you'll be safe in structures like your home and that creates problems.

One of the worlds top structure engineers and meteorologist, Tim Marshall, looks at things destroyed by natural disasters and determines whether they can be repaired.

Like Rick Smith, Tim has seen many tornado disasters in his life and says homes are just not built to withstand winds from major tornadoes.

He says, "you are not safe in your home from EF 3, EF 4, and EF 5 tornadoes. Houses are built to withstand 90mph winds so at 100mph, there are some serious damage that can occur. "

As the winds increase homes get peeled off layer-by-layer and all that's usually left is a bathroom in some structures.

Marshall says, "bathrooms are great places to be, but most houses area full of windows and they're going to go away and there's nothing going to be left of the house.

He believes the only way to truly stay safe from major tornadoes is by having access to a storm shelter.

"I've seen hundreds of success stories saving hundreds of lives. Everybody I talk to that went through a tornado thanks God they had one."

But a lot of people don't have tornado shelters. If you don't check with a neighbor, friend or family member to see if they have one you can use, if not then you're going to have to get to a bathroom on the lowest level in the center of your home.

Most tornado related deaths occur from blunt force trauma to the head. Because twisters can toss objects around like small toys. so make sure you have a way to protect your head.

Marshall says this is good advice, but may not be enough if a stronger tornado is barring down on your home.

"You're going to need to have some sort of protective barrier. Sheet rock's not going to protect you. Brick isn't going to protect you."

Pillows, mattresses, and 3-quarter inch sheet rock that you can place at incline over are some easy, inexpensive things to have. Bicycle, baseball, or football helmets also will provide you're head some needed protection.

These are some of the things that you can do help minimize your chances of serious injury of death.

Ken Johnson  Skywarn 6 Chief Meteorologist