During a tornado, is your “safe place” actually safe?


Ark of Promise Community Safe Room (Image: Jake Reed/WHNT News 19)

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - When a storm is approaching, do you have a plan to keep you and your family safe?

It may seem like a waste of time to make a plan when there's no tornado activity in sight, but weather experts we spoke with told us it is important to be proactive. You need to have a safe place chosen where your family can go at a moment's notice when a storm threatens, and regularly practice that plan.

We talked to Todd Barron, Warning Coordination Meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Huntsville.

Identifying Your "Safe Place"

He recommends you find a "safe place" that checks off the following criteria:

  • interior room
  • lowest level of home
  • away from windows

"Of course, no home is going to be 100 percent tornado proof," he explained. But, "The general rule of thumb is you want to keep in mind is you want to put as many walls between you and the outside world as possible."

But there are some things to watch out for when finding that safe spot for your family.

  • Barron believes you shouldn't assume anywhere with an exterior wall is safe enough.

"The exterior walls you have to watch out for flying debris coming through your wall. Trees coming through those walls. Power lines and power poles coming through those walls," he said, noting the high winds can pose serious risks.

  • Don't open windows before a storm

"One of the biggest myths out there that people tend to still do is open up windows in their house when a tornado is approaching," said Barron. "The idea is that it equalizes pressure. However, do not do that. Get away from the windows."

  • Avoid the garage, a mistakenly common shelter spot

Barron explained: "Because your garage door, if a tornado does hit it, is going to be one of the first places to break down and fail"

  • Mobile homes pose a big risk

We asked Barron, is a mobile home ever a good place to be during a storm? His response: "It is one of the worst spots to be during a tornado."

Barron said it's the lack of foundation that makes a mobile home dangerous during a storm.

"It's not going to take much wind speed to either roll the mobile home with you inside or to completely destroy them," he said.


If you don't believe you have a safe place that's safe enough, especially if you do live in a mobile home, take the time to find your nearest storm shelter. You'll find a list at this link.

Having a plan in place before the next storm hits can mean the difference between life and death. That includes how your family will communicate, where you will meet, and how you will receive alerts and warnings.

This link is a good resource for making a plan, and includes some sample plans.

It also helps to have a disaster supply kit. Ready.gov recommends yours include:

  • Water, one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation
  • Food, at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food
  • Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert and extra batteries for both
  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • First aid kit
  • Whistle to signal for help
  • Dust mask to help filter contaminated air and plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place
  • Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation
  • Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
  • Manual can opener for food
  • Local maps
  • Cell phone with chargers, inverter or solar charger

It's also important to know how to receive alerts and warnings. WHNT News 19 has you covered.

  • Download the WHNT News 19 app family, which includes LiveAlert19, our news app, and WHNT Alabama SAF-T-Net®.
  • Purchase a NOAA Weather Radio and learn to program it here. WHNT News 19 Chief Meteorologist Jason Simpson demonstrates how to program the Midland WR 120 model at that link.
  • WHNT News 19 is live on the radio through our simulcast partners. Those radio stations will carry WHNT News 19’s signal during severe weather in the Tennessee Valley to bring you the very latest information.

If you are caught in the open without shelter, Ready.gov recommends getting into a vehicle and trying to drive to shelter, taking cover in a stationary place, lying in an area noticeably lower than the roadway or ground level and covering your head.

It is not recommended that you get under an overpass or bridge. Ready.gov states you are safer in a low and flat location. Watch out for flying debris.

Click here for more information about how to plan for a tornado.

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