Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Practicing Texan

Clovis Tornado, 2007 (Photo by Roger Hatcher, AP)

We'll be approaching tornado season soon out here on the High Plains. They say that tornadoes are formed near here and that they head on out east to Texas, usually. Usually, that is, until last year when one hit Clovis, resulting in two deaths and lots of property damage.

With tornadoes on my mind, I thought I'd look back at something I wrote last June before we moved from New Hampshire. This was also before we knew exactly where we were headed, and didn't realize that we would end up with the best of eastern New Mexico and west Texas, all in one place here in Clovis.

Now that I live in a sturdy brick house, I have an interior closet all staked out for my tornado shelter. I'll just hope for the best, but here is how I saw the situation from back East. Please understand that all my tornado opinions are from Internet research and not real life experience. If I experience a tornado in person and live to tell the tale, I'll surely write about it here.

Ah'm own get me a safe room. That doesn't make any sense as written; you have to practice saying it out loud. Ah'm own get me a safe room. Yup, yer gittin' hit. After reviewing the tornado maps of the past several years I realize that if we move to either west Texas or east New Mexico, we are going to be in the high risk range for tornadic activity. That means that we will need a good shelter. Now, as I understand it, there are two kinds of storm shelters. The first is the regular storm cellar--the kind seen in The Wizard of Oz. It might be under your house, but is usually built out and under your backyard and bermed up with the excavated dirt. There are several problems with this type of shelter. The first is that people tend to wait until the last possible moment to go down into one. I have my ideas as to why, which I'll get to in a moment.

Once it is clear that a tornado is truly on its way, it becomes increasingly dangerous to make your way across your backyard to the shelter because of flying debris, so you face the real possibility of getting injured on your way. The second problem with these outdoor shelters is that unless all cracks are tightly and completely sealed up, you run the risk of sharing your shelter with unwelcome guests, such as snakes, mice, rats, and, well, you fill in the blank with your favorite nightmare creature. Imagine fleeing a life-threatening storm to find yourself sealed in with a whole family of rattlers. Well, don't imagine it, or you'll have the same nightmares that I do. I also lie awake at night trying to figure out how I would gather the three cats, stuff them into cat carriers, leash up the two dogs, and move the whole kit and kaboodle into an underground shelter, where unknown creatures are lurking. Nope, that rules out the storm cellar for me.

That leaves me with the other alternative: The safe room. The safe room is a steel-plated shelter that can be added to the center of a home during new construction, or be built into the corner of a room in an existing structure. A bathroom or closet can, as I understand it, be built as a safe room with steel walls during new construction. Wherever it is built, it is bolted into the cement of the home's foundation, contains a ventilation system, and can be wired for electricity or telephone. It can be sheetrocked over to blend into the room. So, Ah'm own get me a safe room. Ah'm own put me in some bottled water, plastic bags, a bucket and toilet paper, a battery-operated radio and lantern, some litter for the cats, and some canned food and a can opener. Ah'm own conduct me some tornado drills with the dogs, and hope I can gather up the cats when the time comes.

To see a safe room, go to

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