Top 5 Tornado Myths

Myth #1:  Attempting to drive away from a tornado is a better survival plan than sheltering in place.

Fact: Tornadoes do not follow a specific path or route and can change direction at any time, so attempting to drive away is an extremely risky choice.  Tornadoes can turn a car into a 4,000-pound flying missile and occupants can become trapped and exposed to debris, rain, hail and/or dust.  Parking on traffic lanes is dangerous and illegal, and stalled or stopped cars can block emergency vehicles.

“A car is a more dangerous place to be than a well-constructed home in a tornado,” said Greg Carbin, Meteorologist for the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center.

The best place to shelter in a tornado is indoors.  However, if you are already in your car and a tornado is approaching, know that there is no safe option, just slightly less-dangerous ones.  If the tornado is visible, far away, and the traffic is light, you may be able to drive out of its path by moving at right angles to the tornado.  If you are caught by extreme winds or flying debris, park the car as quickly and safely as possible — out of the traffic lanes.  Stay in the car with the seat belt on.  Put your head down below the windows; cover your head with your hands and a blanket, coat or other cushion if possible.  If you can safely get noticeably lower than the level of the roadway, leave your car and lie in that area, covering your head with your hands.  Avoid seeking shelter under bridges, which can create deadly traffic hazards while offering little protection against flying debris.

Bottom Line:  Develop a personal plan for safety well ahead of tornadoes and identify your safe place options at home, school and work.  Start with certified shelters and safe rooms, safe spaces above or below ground, or community shelters in public spaces that are labeled as official tornado shelters like stores, malls, churches or even airports.

Myth #2:  Not everyone can receive tornado watches and warnings.

Fact:  Using a combination of NOAA weather radio and new smartphone weather alerting apps all but assures that you will receive lifesaving severe weather alert information and other emergency messages on a timely basis.  NOAA Weather Radio has delivered reliable watches and warning for more than 50 years and the advent of new, smartphone GPS, precision weather notifications have added enhanced mobility, speed and accuracy for families in harm’s way.

Bottom Line:  A Tornado Warning is issued when a tornado is imminent and the average lead time for tornado warnings is 13 minutes, so swift and accurate alerting is necessary. “Approximately 97 percent of Americans are within range of a NOAA weather radio broadcast,” said Walt Zaleski, Warning and Coordination Meteorologist, Southern Region, National Weather Service.  FLASH President and CEO Leslie Chapman-Henderson added, “Fifty-six percent of American adults now have smartphones. NOAA Weather Radio and smartphone apps like FLASH Weather Alerts provide the maximum, available time to seek safe shelter from a storm.”

Myth #3:  Nothing above ground can withstand an EF-4 or EF-5 tornado.

Fact:  It is entirely possible to harden and stiffen a room to withstand extreme winds, i.e. a small room, steel or concrete, or timber box equipped with a door that has been tested for pressure resistance and debris impact resistance.  The National Storm Shelter Association/ICC 500 standard and FEMA guidelines provide details on how to fabricate shelters or construct safe rooms that provide near absolute life protection, even in an EF-4 or EF-5.

Bottom line:  Expert forensic engineering examination of above-ground shelter and safe room performance during the 2011 Tuscaloosa and Joplin outbreaks as well as the May 20, 2013 Moore, Oklahoma tornadoes documented that properly constructed shelters and safe rooms consistently survive super tornadoes.  “In my 15 years of doing storm damage research and storm shelter research, we have never documented any deaths or injuries in above ground tested safe-rooms or failures of tested safe-rooms.  This includes the storms of Joplin 2011 and Moore 2013,” Larry Tanner, Texas Tech University Department of Construction Engineering and Engineering Technology.

Myth #4:  Building codes cannot make a difference in tornado outbreaks.

Fact:  Even if the tornado is EF-4 or EF-5, 95 percent of the damage occurs at EF-3 and below.  What this means is that the minimal construction standards required by building codes can make a meaningful difference if they are adopted and enforced.  Moreover, since 90 percent of all tornadoes never exceed EF-2, wind resistant building practices like those included in the 2012 International Residential Code can dramatically improve building performance in tornado outbreaks.

Bottom Line: Homes built to modern, model codes will have the advantage of better wall bracing, improved roof tie-downs and overall stronger connections.  “If we can put a man on the moon, we can keep a roof on a house,” said Dr. David Prevatt, Assistant Professor University of Florida Wind Department of Civil and Coastal Engineering.

Myth #5:   We cannot affordably build to withstand tornadoes.

Fact:  The National Climatic Data Center estimates that 77 percent of U.S. tornadoes are in the EF-0 to EF-1 range and 95 percent have wind speeds less than EF-3 intensity.   A recent cost study revealed that using an average of $0.50 per square foot or $1,000 in metal connectors installed from a home’s roof to its foundation could upgrade a home’s ability to withstand wind uplift from an EF-0 to an EF-2 tornado.

Bottom Line:  Approximately 90 percent of tornadoes are at the EF-2 level or lower. “An increase in baseline construction costs of just $.50 per square foot can boost a structure’s wind resistance from EF-0 to EF-2 levels,” said Randy Shackelford Research Engineer/Code Specialist Simpson Strong-Tie.  A minimal investment of $.50 per square foot or $1,000 for a 2,000 square foot home will help save lives and minimize property damage.

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12 Days of Winter Safety

With extreme winter weather conditions persisting across the country, FLASH today released 12 Days of Winter Safety tips and resources as a part of the Great Winter Weather Party digital media campaign launched in 2011. This comprehensive and cost-effective list is aimed at arming families with the necessary information and tools to winterize their home and better protect families from extreme cold and winter storms.

1st day of Winter Safety:  Enter to win a Kohler Generator. A home generator will keep systems running to protect your home and family. Generators:

  • Provide heat to keep you warm and comfortable
  • Prevent  pipes from freezing and causing water damage
  • Keep communications systems running so you can stay informed of weather and travel conditions for friends and family
  • Ensure that water removal pumps or sump pumps are protecting the basement from water damage as snow begins to melt
  • Preserve food and fresh water for the family
  • Support well pumps for running water/toilet flushing

2nd Day of Winter Safety: Purchase a weather alerting device. Get warnings on severe weather in your area by downloading the FLASH Weather Alerts App for $7.99 or paying an average of $44 for a NOAA Weather Radio.

3rd Day of Winter Safety:  Prevent Frozen Pipes by Foam, Dome or Drip. For as little as $1 per 6’ of insulation, you can stop pipes from freezing and save energy, money and frustration. When water freezes in a pipe, it expands and can exert pressure of up to 2,000 pounds per square inch – enough to rupture almost any pipe filled with water. When a pipe bursts, it can spill several hundred gallons of water per hour, resulting in the second most common cause of home insurance claims in America.

4th Day of Winter Safety: Check for air leaks around windows and doors using a lit incense stick. If the smoke is sucked out of an opening, seal the leak with caulk, spray foam or weather stripping. Don’t forget about holes in the attic, basement and crawlspaces. The easiest place to insulate that will generate the biggest results is your attic. The US Environmental Protection Agency suggests at least 12 to 15 inches of insulation on the floor of your attic.

5th Day of Winter Safety:  Winterize your backyard. Move outdoor furniture, grills, toys, plants and other items to a covered, protected space to prolong the life of these items and make it easier to clear snow and ice from decks after a storm. Clean leaves from gutters. For as little as $5 you can install gutter downspout extensions a minimum of four feet from the house.

6th Day of Winter Safety: Check your portable heaters. Half of all fire-related deaths are caused by items placed too closely to heat sources. Make sure that your heater is tested and labeled by a nationally recognized testing company, such as Underwriter’s Laboratories. Keep portable heaters at least three feet away from drapes, furniture or other flammable materials. Place the heater on a level surface away from areas it can be bumped or knocked over.

7th Day of Winter Safety: Make your car winter safe. Create a car emergency kit with flashlights, a distress flag, blankets, extra food and water. Keep it there throughout the season.

8th Day of Winter Safety: Clean and check your fireplace. Clear the area around the hearth of debris, decorations and flammable materials. Provide proper venting systems for all heating equipment. Make sure all vent pipes extend at least three feet above the roof.

9th Day of Winter Safety: Check your furnace. Be sure all furnace controls and emergency shutoffs are in proper working condition. Have a licensed professional inspect the walls and ceiling near the furnace and along the chimney line and make any necessary repairs.  If the wall is hot or discolored, additional pipe insulation or clearance may be required. Check the flue pipe and pipe seams to make sure they are well supported, and free of holes and cracks. Soot along or around seams may be an indicator of a leak. Keep trash and other combustibles away from the heating system.

10th Day of Winter SafetyPrevent fires from outside of your fireplace.  Be sure to stack firewood stored outside at least 30 feet away from your home. Keep your roof clear of potential fire starters like leaves, pine needles and other debris. Remove branches hanging above the chimney, flues or vents. For as little as $25 you can cover all vent openings to the attic, eaves/soffits, foundation, etc. with a corrosion-resistant non-combustible 1/4 inch or smaller wire mesh or screen that prevents firebrands from entering the home.

11th Day of Winter Safety: Prepare the outside of your home before and after winter storms. For as little as $5, you can keep your family and friends safe from icy walkways. Before the storm approaches, lay down a layer of deicing sand/salt to minimize the buildup of ice during the storm.  After the storm, lay down layers of deicing sand/salt to melt the snow and ice. Once it begins to melt you can chip away at the layers with a snow shovel to move it off steps and walkways.

12th Day of Winter Safety: Prevent Ice Dams. Ice dams are formed when air in the attic is warm enough to cause snow and ice on the roof to thaw and refreeze repeatedly. Pools of water then become trapped under layers of ice that seep under your roof covering (tiles or shingles) into the attic. Keep the warm air downstairs where it belongs with sufficient insulation on the floor of the attic. Consider using a dehumidifier to control water vapor. Seal all openings that would allow vapor to rise into the attic; including holes created from installing light fixtures, ceiling fans or disco balls. Provide attic ventilation to replace warm air in the attic with cold outside air. Consult a professional for the best way to avoid ice dams and water damage in your home. Keep gutters and downspouts clear to allow melted snow and ice to flow away from your home.


7 Car Safety Tips for Winter

With the recent story of one family’s survival in their car after being trapped in sub-zero temperatures in the Nevada mountains, FLASH was inspired to share these seven tips to keep you safe, warm and alert if you are trapped in a car due to severe winter weather or traffic delays.

1. Prepare a special emergency kit for your car and keep it there throughout the season.  Your winter weather car-kit should include:

  • A distress flag
  • Blankets
  • Extra food and water
  • Flashlights and batteries

2. Check your tires for air and wear. Be sure to keep tow and tire chains in your trunk as well.

3. If visibility is impaired, pull off the highway. Turn on hazard lights and hang a distress flag from the radio antenna or window.

4. Remain in your vehicle where rescuers are most likely to find you. Do not set out on foot unless you can see a building close by where you know you can take shelter. Be careful; distances are distorted by blowing snow. A building may seem close but be too far to walk to in deep snow.

5. If stranded, run the engine and heater about 10 minutes each hour to keep warm. When the engine is running, open a downwind window slightly for ventilation and periodically clear snow from the exhaust pipe. This will protect you from possible carbon monoxide poisoning.

6. Be careful not to waste battery power. Balance electrical energy needs - the use of lights, heat, and radio – with supply.

7. In extreme cold, use road maps, seat covers, and floor mats for insulation. Huddle with passengers and use your coat for a blanket.

For more information, tips and resources for winter safety visit or

21 Ways to Weather Winter

Preventing Ice Dams

Ice dams are formed when air in the attic is warm enough to cause snow and ice on the roof to thaw and refreeze repeatedly. Pools of water then become trapped under layers of ice that seep under your roof covering (tiles or shingles) into the attic.

1. Insulate the floor of the attic. Consider also using a dehumidifier to control water vapor.

2. Seal all openings that would allow vapor to rise into the attic; this includes any holes       created from installing light fixtures or ceiling fans.

3. Provide good attic ventilation to replace warm air in the attic with cold outside air. Consult a professional for the best way to avoid ice dams and water damage in your home.

4. Keep gutters and downspouts clear to allow melted snow and ice to flow away from your home.

5. Never climb up on the roof to remove the snow. You can cause significant damage to your roof coverings not to mention yourself if you were to slip and fall. And don’t install large pieces of equipment in the attic. This will only raise the temperature in the winter months.

6. Don’t use salt or other minerals to melt the snow on your roof. These are very damaging to roof shingles and tiles not to mention gutters and downspouts.

Prevent Frozen Pipes

Damage from frozen pipes is the second most common cause of insurance claims in America. The average homeowner will have to spend thousands to repair damage from a frozen, leaking pipes.

7. FOAM: Insulate pipes exposed to the elements or cold drafts. For as little as $1 per 6’ of insulation, you can stop pipes from freezing and save energy. By keeping your water warmer, you reduce the amount of energy needed to heat water in the cold, winter months.

8. DOME: Place an insulating dome or other coverings on outdoor faucets and spigots also reduce the likelihood of the water in your homes pipes freezing, expanding and causing a costly leak.

9. DRIP: By allowing a slow drip from your faucets, you reduce the build-up of pressure in the pipes. Even if the pipes freeze, you have released the pressure from the water system reducing the likelihood of a rupture.

Check Your Insulation

Doors and windows are just some of the places that you should ensure are well insulated before the temperatures start to drop.

10. Check and refresh caulk annually before cold weather sets in.

11. Check for air leaks around windows and doors using a lit incense stick. If the smoke is sucked out of an opening, seal the leak with caulk, spray foam or weather stripping.

12. The easiest place to insulate that will generate the biggest results is your attic. The US Environmental Protection Agency suggests at least 12 – 15 inches of insulation on the floor of your attic (more if you are in a colder climate).

13. If you don’t have energy efficient windows, consider using shrink film window insulation kit from a local hardware store.

Winterizing Outside Your Home

14. Before the storm approaches, lay down a layer of deicing sand/salt to minimize the buildup of ice during the storm.

15. After the storm, lay down layers of deicing sand/salt to melt the snow and ice. Once it begins to melt you can chip away at the layers with a snow shovel to move it off of steps and walkways.

16. Move outdoor furniture, grills, toys and other items to a covered protected space.

17. Seal your deck to protect it against snow, ice, rain and all of the other elements it is vulnerable to.

18. If you have plants outside that cannot take cold weather, consider moving them indoors bringing a little life and décor to the inside of your home. If this isn’t possible, cover plants and shrubs when temperatures are forecast to drop below tolerable levels.

19. Clean your gutters of any debris once all the leaves have fallen and install gutter downspout extensions a minimum of four feet from the house.

20. Turn off and drain all of your outdoor plumbing including hose connections, pool connections, sprinkler systems, etc. After you’ve turned off the water, leave faucets in the “on” position and remove any plastic components.

21. Drain the gas from your lawn mower and service your snow blower with a tune-up.

For more information on weathering winter this season, visit or

19 Tips For Extreme Cold Power Outage Safety

In 2012 extreme cold and winter storms resulted in 36 deaths. As temperatures continue to drop, and snow and ice threaten more than 50 million people across multiple states, power outages could affect residents over the next few days. The nonprofit Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH) offers the following tips to keep families safe and comfortable:

Family Safety

1. Include power outages in your family disaster plan, identifying alternate means of transportation and routes to home, school or work.

2. Keep extra cash on hand since an extended power outage may prevent you from withdrawing money from automatic teller machines or banks.

3. Keep your car fuel tank at least half-full, gas stations rely on electricity to power their pumps.

4. During a power outage, resist the temptation to call 9-1-1 for information–that’s what your battery-powered radio is for.

5. Turn off all lights but one, to alert you when power resumes.

6. Check on elderly neighbors, friends, or relatives who may need assistance if weather is severe during the outage.

7. Keep a supply of flashlights, batteries and a battery-powered radio on hand. Do not use candles as they pose a fire hazard.

Keeping Warm

8. Put on layers of warm clothing. Never burn charcoal for heating or cooking indoors.

9. If you are using a gas heater or fireplace to stay warm, be sure the area is properly ventilated.

10. Go to a designated public shelter if your home loses power or heat during periods of extreme cold. Text SHELTER + your ZIP code to 43362 (4FEMA) to find the nearest shelter in your area (example: shelter 12345)


11. Keep a supply of non-perishable foods, medicine, baby supplies, and pet food as appropriate on hand. Be sure to have at least one gallon of water per person per day on hand.

12. Avoid opening the fridge or freezer. Food should be safe as long as the outage lasts no more than four hours.

13. Have one or more coolers for cold food storage in case power outage is prolonged. Perishable foods should not be stored for more than two hours above 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

14. If you eat food that was refrigerated or frozen, check it carefully for signs of spoilage.


15. Do not run a generator inside a home or garage. Use gas-powered generators only in well-ventilated areas.

16. Connect only individual appliances to portable generators.

17. Don’t plug emergency generators into electric outlets or hook them directly to your home’s electrical system – as they can feed electricity back into the power lines, putting you and line workers in danger.

When Power Returns

18. When power comes back on, it may come back with momentary “surges” or “spikes” that can damage equipment such as computers and motors in appliances like the air conditioner, refrigerator, washer or furnace.

19. When power is restored, wait a few minutes before turning on major appliances to help eliminate further problems caused by a sharp increase in demand.

For more information on protecting your home from extreme cold conditions, visit or


Black Friday Winter Preparedness Gift Ideas from FLASH


With families experiencing colder-than-normal temperatures already during the month of November and with freezing temperatures over the Thanksgiving holiday, the FLASH team suggests adding a few winter safety items to your Black Friday shopping list.

There’s no better gift than one that offers your loved ones safety and protection and even has the potential to save their lives. FLASH developed a comprehensive list of winter-weather preparedness gift-giving ideas that can protect friends’ and families’ homes and ensure their safety.

Winter storms from coast to coast are redefining this year’s must-have gift list. Here are suggested gifts that provide Comfort and Security as well as Home Mitigation:

Comfort & Security

  • AM/FM radios w/extra batteries
  • Automobile power inverters
  • Blankets
  • Carbon monoxide detectors
  • First-aid kits
  • Hand-crank powered appliances such as cell phone chargers, power supplies, radios and weather radio
  • Cell phone battery pack or case
  • LED flash lights w/extra batteries
  • FLASH Weather Alerts app
  • Power generators
    • Portable gasoline-powered generators
    • Permanent LP or natural gas standby generators
    • Solar-powered backpack to charge laptops, tablets, music players and other portable devices

Home Mitigation

  • Attic insulation
  • Insulated doors
  • Insulated faucet domes
  • Storm doors
  • Portable generators
  • Standby generators
  • Gift certificates for professional home inspections
  • Gift certificates for professional winterization services
  • Insulation for hose bibs, exposed plumbing, pool equipment
  • Weather stripping
  • Replacement windows

For a complete list of tips on how to stay safe and comfortable during power outages, click here. For more tips and resources on winter safety visit For comprehensive disaster safety and home mitigation information on weather of all kinds visit

Prepare First – and Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow

By Terry Sheridan


Arcing power lines that set houses ablaze.  Six-foot snow drifts blocking doors and windows. No power or heat for days. A family trapped in their car for two days. Winds roaring at almost 80 miles per hour.

This was no movie. Winter Storm Atlas was the real thing, a snow-laden behemoth that pummeled South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana in October and blew home the importance of preparations.

Thing is, the more often that people face blizzard warnings but nothing happens, they stop taking it seriously, says State Farm agent Bill Graves in Hot Springs, S.D., a native of the hardest-hit areas. Then a monster like Atlas comes pounding on the door. And people learn what a big mistake complacency is.

Before the conveniences of four-wheel-drive vehicles and smart phones that could show you a storm’s projected path, people were more self-reliant, he says. They knew utilities were unreliable, and that they had to shore up on food and water.

Duh, you say? Well, Graves describes the plight of a family of four who lived only 30 miles outside of Hot Springs, S.D. They didn’t have the supplies they needed but figured a four-wheel-drive vehicle would get them safely to town to buy necessities. So they left their home without the proper clothing or food in their vehicle. They were stuck for two days after running into five-foot snow drifts. Luckily, they were OK – but they learned a big lesson, he says.

Folks, you are never, ever going to beat the forces of nature. Get that in your noggins right now. But you can lessen the impact by taking proper safeguards.

“The message here is that surviving a blizzard is not hard – it just takes preparation,” says Dave Carpenter, director of the National Weather Service in South Dakota and a veteran of dozens of blizzards.

Carpenter and Graves offer these survival tips:

  • Even a storm that drops only a foot of snow can mean six- to 10-foot drifts that block doors and windows if there are strong winds, Carpenter says. Keep a shovel indoors and be prepared to tunnel your way out from the inside.
  • Don’t travel.
  • Protect pipes from freezing.
  • Falling branches cause the most damage, Carpenter says. Make sure you trim trees and clear power lines long before a storm threatens.
  • Have food that won’t need heating, batteries and water.
  • Gas up the car. It can be an alternative heat source and you can use it to charge your cell phone.
  • Stock up on medication and oxygen supplies.
  • Don’t forget pet and baby needs.
  • If you use alternative heat and cooking sources, make sure ventilation is adequate.
  • Never have open flames (candles, cook stoves, barbeques) indoors – especially while the storm is raging outside.
  • Make sure downed electrical lines connected to your outside service box aren’t arcing. If they are, call for emergency help right away.

Find out more about protecting your home from blizzards at

Editor’s Note:  Terry Sheridan is an award-winning journalist who has more than 30 years of experience in reporting and editing for newspapers in the Chicago and Miami areas. She covered the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew’s devastation in 1992 in South Florida, and has experienced damage to her own homes from two hurricanes. She now lives in New Hampshire.