Arrival; “In Case of Tornado”

Where’s my bed?

That was the first thought I had upon feeling the shudder of my plane as it touched the runway at Will Rogers World Airport yesterday.  Two flights on 90 minutes of sleep is difficult enough; add to that the taxing experience of navigating Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta, and my brain function is DOA.  That’s why answering the question “How’s Oklahoma?” was so difficult yesterday, because my arrival was unceremonious.  I spent most of the day unpacking, sleeping, and making sure I ate at Raising Cane’s.


I was so exhausted upon arrival that I lost sight of why I was even here, my sole determination being to get a shower and a nap (anyone else feel super grimy after getting off an airplane?).  Then, at the front desk of my hotel, I was brought back to reality by a single sheet of paper:

Tornado Emergency instructions given to me upon check-in, “just in case.”

To a native of Tornado Alley, I’m sure the only concerning thing about this flyer would be the horrible grammar mistakes.  For someone like me, whose only experience with an emergency disaster plan is occasionally spotting a “Snow Removal Route” sign along the highway, it was a bit jarring.  My hotel, which was hit by an F5 tornado in 1999 followed by an F4 in 2003, lacks a physical tornado shelter.  What this Best Western also does not have is a central staircase; both stairwells are situated on either side of the building, sharing a wall with the outside.  The safest places to ride out a tornado within this three-story building are the two small public restrooms located on the first floor.

What about the basement?  The widely-known cardinal rule of tornado safety is to seek shelter underground, yet most buildings here in Oklahoma don’t have a basement.  It’s the Achilles’ Heel of the Central Plains; in the heart of Tornado Alley, the loose clay soil and high water table make constructing a basement difficult.  In the aftermath of the 2013 tornado, many residents in the Oklahoma City metro began installing modular tornado shelters.  Made of reinforced steel and designed specifically to withstand the fury of an F5 tornado, these units may be installed above-ground (within the interior of a home), or put underground: either underneath the home or beside it.

Modular tornado shelters are tiny, a major reason why they can be installed beneath the Oklahoma soil.  I toured both types of shelters (or “safe rooms”) today at The Home Depot here in Moore.  Even pre-installation, they’re not for the claustrophobic.  The shelters are cold, dark, lonely things, but they will keep you alive (photo available on Facebook).  They aren’t cheap either, the shelter itself can cost upwards of $5K––not including the price of installation.  To offset the cost and underline the importance of having a safe hiding place, many states in Tornado Alley offer incentives to homeowners for storm shelter installation.  The State of Oklahoma will provide a maximum rebate of $2,000, “not to exceed 75 percent of the actual cost of the safe room,” and as long as the safe room follows a set of regulations.  The rebate program is contingent upon funding from the Federal Government.

Today, weather conditions in Oklahoma City are much like what I left behind in Philly; rainy with below-average temperatures.  As I said in my previous post, this May has been uncharacteristically quiet on the severe weather front, but that is set to change this weekend.  Will the month of May exit with a bang?

Be sure to follow me on Twitter, Facebook, & Instagram for the answer to that!



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