Surviving A Tornado: A Strong Plan Could Keep You Safe Without A Shelter

Thursday, May 15th 2014, 11:09 pm
By: News On 6, Travis Meyer

The safest place to be when a tornado strikes is inside a storm shelter. The problem is a lot of Oklahomans don't have one, but, new research shows you can ride out the most violent of tornadoes without one.

The National Weather Service in Norman just completed a study on where people go during a tornado, and Chief Meteorologist Travis Meyer shows us that with the right planning, we all have a good chance of surviving a tornado.

April 27th, an EF-2 tornado churned through Quapaw in Northeast Oklahoma and then bore down on Baxter Springs, Kansas with winds up to 135 miles per hour.

Theresa Ruple took shelter in a closet of her home and survived the direct hit without major injury.

"I crawled in there and I was trying to get my dogs to come in and they wouldn't, and then everything, the house started shaking and then everything just kind of fell on top of me," she said.

May 30th, 2013, an EF-2 touched down in Broken Arrow. Belinda and Ron Russell's home was in the tornado's path.

"When Ron hollered, ‘get the dogs and go down stairs, get the dogs and go down stairs,' I ran. I ran as quick as I could," Belinda Russell said.

They made it to a closet under a staircase.

"By this time the tornado has busted out the windows, I mean, the tornado was in the room," Belinda said.

Knowing where they would go in advance, the Russell family survived the experience with just scrapes.

Moore, May 20th 2013, an EF-5 tore a long path with winds in excess of 200 miles per hour.

Nathan and Amber Kriesel and their three daughters put their tornado plan into action.

"I had them put on tennis shoes, jeans, jackets and bicycle helmets," Amber said.

They couldn't imagine the bathtub in the middle of their house would save their lives.

"We told them to get as low as they could go, keep their heads down, don't look up," said Amber. "We actually were knelt in front of the tub on top of them and we just kind of locked arms around them."

Dr. Harold Brooks with the National Severe Storms Lab in Norman just released a study about the Moore survival rate.

"Where people were at the time the tornado hit, what they were doing and what happened," Brooks said.

Brooks found that approximately 9,000 people, including the Kriesels, rode out the storm in homes without a storm shelter; 13 were killed inside homes. That's point-one-four percent, an amazing survival rate for the most powerful tornado rating.

"The big message we get out of May 20th is really, if you do the right thing, your chance of survival is very, very high," Brooks said.

Doing the right thing, means staring with a plan; it could include having items to protect yourself from flying debris, like a helmet or goggles, wearing shoes instead of sandals and wrapping yourself up with a blanket.

Then, you want to put yourself in a room that does not have outside windows or walls; a bathroom is a great place. Surround yourself with walls, then, get down.

Many bathrooms built in recent years are the size of traditional bedrooms or larger. If that's yours, go for shelter, instead, in a small interior closet where the walls are closer together.

"I believe with my heart, that the Lord was holding us down. I personally don't see how there's any other explanation, but I'm grateful we at least had a plan," Amber said.

One year later, the Kriesels have moved into a new home, but held onto one thing from their former home.

"That's the tub," Amber said. "The church wrote ‘Ark' on it when they helped us clean it up."

Nathan said, "It was our refuge. For most people it's ugly, but it's what saved us."

The plan was the Kriesels secret weapon for surviving a tornado.

"We followed those directions, did the simple things we're supposed to do with what we had," Amber said.

Nathan said, "Get as much protection around you as you can get."

Brooks said sheltering in place is the best option unless you live in a mobile home. In that case, it's much safer to get to a more stable structure if you have time.

You should go to the lowest floor of your home or the building you're in, and most of all, never try to outrun a tornado in a car.