Springtime in Oklahoma means the flowers start blooming, the sun is shining, and we get a few weeks were the weather is perfect for driving with our windows down. It also means we have to prep for some nasty weather. We are the heart of tornado country, or tornado alley, depending on who you ask. If you didn’t grow up here, the storms probably do one of two things: they terrify the hell out of you, or you quite possibly don’t take them as seriously as you should.
Not to worry though, our meteorologists are the best in the country. In fact, the National Weather Center is located not far from where I grew up. In a post-9/11 world, its a little more challenging to tour the facility, but is well worth the effort. People from around the world come to study there.
When I decided to finally put down some roots, at least a few for now, and buy a house, even despite all it’s crazy weather, I started my search pretty close to my hometown. This however, meant I needed to make sure I left enough money aside after the purchase of my home to put in a storm shelter if the house I chose didn’t already have one. You may be thinking, ‘why don’t you go down to the basement like in the movie Twister?’ Well Joe, because that’s a movie and our houses don’t have basements here. While that would be ideal, we just don’t have them. We could debate about the reasons: water tables, rock hard clay and ancient Indian burial grounds (no I’m not kidding), or you could accept that you won’t have a basement in Oklahoma and move on to the alternatives….
Now seeing as how this post is coming out during our prime severe weather season, I’m going to assume you’ve already solved this little problem for yourself, have a very close hidey hole to climb into next door, down the street, or around the corner, or you live far enough away from this madness to ever consider moving to this area, which in that case, this post is purely to quench your curiosity or give you a little bit of entertainment….
Alright, third time’s a charm…..there truly are lots of options: above ground, below ground, fully submerged, outside, inside, built on-site, built off-site, it goes on and on with choices from there. Having grown up here and having used several kinds, seen several others, and done some research, I chose an in-ground shelter with slanted stairs instead of the vertical ladder variation. They take up a little more room in the shelter, but they’re easier for older individuals to get in and out of a below ground space. Plus, if getting the largest of the pre-fabricated options, there’s still plenty of room for a handful of adults and pets to wait out the storm without being overly cramped. Just make sure whatever you do that your shelter follows the suggested FEMA safety standards.
The other thing I wanted to consider is that my garage is fairly small as far as two car garages go. Among several reasons why I went a different route than an in-garage safe room or shelter, was that the space just isn’t big enough to have both cars inside and a roomy shelter at the same time. My mother gets claustrophobic, so the last thing we all need is to have her feel more panicky, during an already high-stress situation, by having to get into a teeny tiny space. This isn’t the case with lots of other garages, but what I didn’t want to happen was move a vehicle outside, so we could be safe inside, and then what luckily happens more often than not, the tornado skips your neighborhood (yay!!!), but your car got all the hail damage (dang it!!). Plus, even though all storm shelters and safe rooms are registered with the city so the fire fighters and other emergency workers know where to search (if you didn’t register yours, pause reading this post and go register now! It takes lest than 5 minutes!), the thought of my house falling on top of my shelter seemed too likely in a significant storm, so I wanted one outside. I won’t melt if I get a little wet —- who are we kidding, I’m not that sweet! — and I keep some old towels and blankets down in mine.
We are incredibly happy with our shelter. A hand held vacuum to suck up the cobwebs and occasional spider than sneak in, an indoor/outdoor rug, and a few LED light switches with back up batteries keep our space ready to go at a moment’s notice.
** This post is in no way saying that one type of storm shelter is safer than another, nor does FEMA stand by a specific type or company. Please do your own research and choose what fits best for your family, location, and comfort level. Just be smart and have a plan!