The alarm was followed by the announcement that a "Tornado Warning" (different than a “Tornado Watch”) had been issued for most of Southern Ontario. The highest risk area was just south of me and I had friends and family in the "red zone".
A friend of mine called to say, "I don't have a basement. Where do I take shelter?"
I'll finish that story in a moment.
There are a lot of common myths around Tornado Safety and what to do.
Keep reading to hear the latest research!
Ontario Tornados have not been super common in the recent past. This article will dispel some of the myths and fill in the gaps with some lesser known Tornado Safety tips and tactics.
The night before the the tornado I got a Facebook Message from my friend Correne Susanne from Spiraea Herbs & Snail Trail Homestead. She also lived in the predicted “Red Zone” for the (at this time) Tornado Watch.
She lived in a house without a basement and was wondering where the safest place to take cover was. We discussed her situation and we were able to map out a solid game plan to keep her family safe. This is what she had to say about our call:
"We started getting alerts about a severe weather system coming our way, including potential tornadoes. Living in a home without a basement I was concerned about our lack of safe options for shelter so I decided to contact Chris. I can't say enough about the thought and effort that went into his reply. We took a virtual walk-through of my home to see what our best options would be. He also suggested some incredibly handy tools to have in a grab and go bag. Chris made my family feel at ease and more prepared for the incoming weather.
As a homesteader & a Mom, Correne is a naturally aware and prepared person. She did an excellent Facebook live the morning after the storm to share some of her lessons. It is well worth taking a few moments to have a watch.
A Tornado Watch - Remember it like this, we are watching for Tornados because the conditions are favorable. At this point, it is NOT inevitable, but it is POSSIBLE. Thus we are “watching.” Monitor weather and news alerts and get your gear and plan ready just in case.
A Tornado Warning - Warning you that a Tornado is expected. You can translate this to take action NOW!
You may need to take shelter fast. Your grab and go bag, or home emergency kit is useful to have on hand, but there are a few extra considerations for a Tornado.
Your emergency kit is of no use to you if it is in another room you can no longer access due to debris and structural damage. If you get trapped in your safe room, you will want some extra gear to help ppl find you and to help you escape.
Here are a few recommendations of most essential items or things often missed (this is not an exclusive or full list, do your research to see what else you should include):
* A Whistle - to call for help if you get trapped
* A crowbar & ax - to use as escape tools
* Leather work gloves - for traveling through debris
* A bicycle, hockey or other helmet to wear while in the safe room
* Extra warm clothes in case it gets cold, and you need to stay in that place for a while
* Drinking water
* A headlamp
* A battery powered light
* A 5-gallon bucket, garbage bag and toilet paper for emergency toilet
* First Aid Kit
* Hand Crank Radio
** Check out our gear store for recommendations on the specific gear we use.
A "safe room" is the safest room in your house to weather a Tornado. In Tornado alley in the United States, many homes have professionally built tornado safe rooms built underground with reinforced concrete walls. If you search “Tornado Safe Rooms” you can find lots more detailed info.
During this recent Ontario Tornado, many people were scrambling to figure out the safest place to take shelter.
Here are some of the basics to consider:
If you do happen to get trapped in your safe room, make sure many people know where it is. That way they can direct Search and Rescue as to where to find you. Also, ask your neighbors & family where their safe rooms are. You could have these written down in your emergency plan binder.
** If you do not have an adequate safe room in your home, prearrange a safe place to hunker down with neighbors. Just remember, once the winds get strong enough to start blowing lawn furniture and other debris around, it may no longer be safe to travel outside. Not even a short distance.
Tornados can also come on very fast. You will want to travel to you emergency location before a tornado is barreling down on you and the winds make travel dangerous. Be proactive as soon as year hear that a tornado watch has been issued.
Turn Gas, Water & Propane off before you head into your safe room (assuming it is still safe to take the time to do so). After the tornado has passed, if there is any structural damage to your home, have these inspected before turning them back on. Explosions can happen if pipes are damaged and then turned back on.
Your best option is to get into a well-built building using the safety principals of step 3. If that is impossible and a tornado is coming towards you, it is unlikely you will be able to outdrive it in a straight line. It may be possible to travel perpendicular to the path of travel, but this is risky if it changes direction. If you are in your car and can see a Tornado, all your options are risky. Remember a Tornado can toss a car like a baseball. If you can’t get to shelter you are better to get out of your car and into a ditch below ground level then to stay in your car.
When scrolling through all the stats I could find on Tornado fatalities, I came across countless stories of people dying while fleeing in their cars from a Tornado.
Unfortunately, in many of these incidents, the houses of these same people remained standing after the Tornado had passed. They likely would have survived if they has just hunkered down. There is no guarantee of your safety almost anywhere, but statistics seem to suggest hunkering down in your safe room in a house is often the best place to ride out a Tornado.
Mobile Parks do have a high fatality rate as well due to the lack of protecting these light buildings with no basements provide. If you live in a mobile park, find a building you can get to relatively fast, and get permission to hunker down there as part of your tornado preparedness plan.
Emergency Alert apps and the weather stations updates are great and can help to save lives. But, they are also not a substitute for our innate awareness and ancestral ability to read the weather and the subtle signs of nature. This ancient skill set seems to becoming a lost are in the digital age.
When discussing Correne's plan, she asked me when she should evacuate her place?
Even the best meteorologists are often unable to predict precisely when and where a Tornado will form based on all their weather models. If you are waiting for them to warn you to move to your emergency shelter, it could be too late.
Monitor the weather yourself, use all of your senses, and listen to your instincts.
Use all your senses and all the information available to you when making decisions.
The more you watch and learn about the weather, the better adept you will be in a disaster scenario at reading the early indicators. Learn to Survive Tornados, Read This Post! #Tornado #Survival
I love the study of ecology and geography and how the landscape impacts our lives, culture, and physical environment.
If you search for Tornado Alley Canada, Tornado Alley Ontario and Tornado Alley United States, you can get some great maps that explain why Tornados are more common in specific areas across North America.
The short and sweet of it from my understanding (disclaimer, I’m not a meteorologist and am not pretending to be one, thus the exact explanations could be slightly off, but I am pretty sure the basic concepts are correct) Tornados in North America often form coming out of the South East.
There is a massive plateau area across the central states; this is where places like Kansas are and where Dorthy and the Wicked Witch of the West taught us all about Tornados as kids.
To the far south-west, we have a large dry and hot air producing area including Mexico, Texas, and the surrounding area. As you move East, you get more cooling air masses coming off the Atlantic Ocean.
These two areas meet in the middle where the land is relatively flat and is in a massive valley of sorts between the mountain ranges on the east and west sides of the continent.
Thus the air gets funneled up the central states (same reason not to hide under an overpass) towards the Canada Tornado alley which is the southern and central parts of the prairies.
Another interesting ecological and geographically piece here is how the Ontario Tornado valley is formed.
As these winds approach the Canadian border, we have the great lakes, which create another micro wind tunnel. This directs some of those winds to the North East up into Detroit, Windsor Essex county all the way up to Barrie and Oro in the North.
This is partially why Southern Ontario gets most of Ontario's Tornados. The other place Ontario gets a higher number of tornados is the small land mass in between Georgian Bay and Lake Ontario.
This is why winds often wallop the Barrie and Oro area along with ice storms, and some of the worse Tornados Ontario has ever seen. There is another micro wind tunnel being created across this stretch. With the Algonquin & Haliburton Highlands hills to the North, and the Escarpment & Oak Ridges Moraine to South, you have another sort of valley with a large water body on each side, Georgian Bay & Lake Ontario.
I Love ecology & geography! I also believe the better we know our bioregions and the ecology that supports the more tools we have to support us in a Changing World.
Please remember, any disaster scenario will have unique variables. This list is meant to be a guide. It is not a replacement for your research and common sense when making decisions. Only complete recommended tasks from the list if it makes sense in your scenario and feels safe to do so.
Chris Gilmour is the creator of ChangingWorldProject.com He has a diverse background in the study of ecology, teaching traditional wilderness & urban survival, consulting in modern-day emergency and disaster preparedness and has a passion for self-reliance such as growing food and the martial arts.
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