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What Is A Storm Shelter And Why Is It So Important?

Updated on September 21, 2016

Storm clouds

These are thunderstorm clouds. When the conditions are just right a tornado can form.
These are thunderstorm clouds. When the conditions are just right a tornado can form. | Source

A new beginning

Do you see it? That tiny little blade breaking its way out of the frozen patch of snow. Can you smell the odor so strong you can taste it? That odor of musky wood, decaying grass, and rotten leaves in the dirt, as it begins to thaw in the warmth of the sun's rays. Do you hear it? The chirping and chatter of birds coming back to roost. Can you feel it? The changes of winter slumber awakening to spring.

Spring is a time of new beginnings where signs of life are stretching off the hibernation of winter. Baby animals begin born. Birds singing their mating calls. Plants are budding and blooming. Gardens are being tilled and planted. Spring is also a time where snow storms change to rain showers.

It is a time of cleaning gutters, fixing siding, repairing roofs, polishing windows and airing out the house. It is also a time to think about installing an underground storm shelter if you do not have one yet. For those people that do, spring is the time when they clean out the winter garbage that has collected in preparation for the upcoming storms.

What is a storm shelter?

A storm shelter is a building that is built below ground. (It can also be built above ground, but there are many FEMA requirements it will need to pass.) The shelter can be made out of any building material from railroad ties to concrete slabs, depending on the preference, and budget of the owner. A few simple questions need to be asked before building your shelter.

Do you want to build it yourself or hire a professional?

It is possible to build one yourself if you have the knowledge of basic building skills. (You will also need to look into building permits required in your area.) In these times, people are hiring a professional so their shelters will meet FEMA codes.

How many people will it hold?

This is important because it will determine the sized of shelter needed.

Do you want to access it from inside or outside of your home?

In our area, some of the old farm houses use their root cellars, with an outside access, to double as their storm shelter. This type of shelter is located a few feet from the back door of the home. It looks like a small mound of dirt with a door in it. Recently, I seen an ad where the storm shelter was built under the garage. It was accessed through the garage to an underground stairwell leading to the storm shelter. (Similar to the basement of a home.)

If you live in an area where there is flooding, you may want to choose an above ground shelter. (Again, this will require research for above ground shelters in your area. If choosing this, I would recommend a professional.)

Why is a storm shelter so important?


These will happen during certain times of the year when the conditions are right. That is when cool air collides with warm air. It causes a circulation of air current that forms into a tunnel that is similar to a vacuum cleaner. As this high velocity, funnel, vacuum cleaner travels across the ground, it destroys anything in its path. The best safe place from it is in a storm shelter.

Tornadoes are being spotted in areas where they are unheard of or rarely seen. For example: North Dakota has been known to have tornadoes in the days before technology was dreamed of. During that time very few of them had been spotted unless the conditions were just right. Over the last few years, they are becoming more and more frequent. Certain areas of the United States encounter so much tornado activity that these areas had been given the name Tornado Alley. This is in the panhandle of the United States...Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota. It is not uncommon to see Texas, Arkansas, or Missouri included in this list. (Each year, a surrounding state next to these have reported tornadoes in their area.)

Storm clouds with a possibility of tornado

Video by dustystix76 of the Wright Wyoming Tornado

As a child

I remember as a child moving to Wyoming. The first thing my dad did was build a storm shelter there. I remember watching the neighbors hovering over the fence mocking my dad. They had claimed that they had never seen a tornado there for as long as they had lived in that area. A few years later, they ate those words as a tornado touched down not far from them. It didn't take long for the neighborhood to install their own shelters.

The worst tornado I can remember, that made national news in Wyoming, was one that took apart half the town of Wright. This happened on August 12, 2005. My dad was at the mall checking his mail when he seen the storm cloud forming in the distance. He described seen a small funnel in the center of the cloud. At first he couldn't believe what he say. Then it dawned on him...this was a tornado.

Do you know the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning?

The news anchor is talking of storms and the sirens are blaring. Do you know if this is a tornado warning or watch? Click here to learn more about the difference.

He told the people next to him to seek shelter. They didn't believe him at first until the sirens went off. He described how his brand new barbeque he just bought was sucked out of the back of his truck, as he raced home. He remember watching, in his rear view mirror, the tornado ripping apart trailers and debris flying past. He made it home with seconds to spare. My sister, Pie, didn't realize she had been traveling parallel to it until she reached our mother's house. Many people in the trailer park didn't have a storm shelter to run to. Two people lost their life that day. This was only an F2 tornado.

True or False

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Listen to the news and know the difference between tornado watch and tornado warning.

Listen to your area news. If a storm is in the horizon, look for signs of a tornado. Most, but not all, tornado clouds will have a green haze to them. The old timers claim this is because the storm is carrying hail which increases the conditions of a possible tornado. Even if you have never heard of a tornado but experience strong thunderstorms, it would be wise to invest in a storm shelter. You never may save a life. Be sure when listening to the warnings in your area to know the difference between tornado warnings and tornado watches. This, too, is very important.

Inquiring minds would like to know...

If you have built your own storm shelter, please share your experience in the comment box.

If you have experienced a tornado, please share your experience in the comment box.

If you have a question about storm shelters or tornadoes, please leave your question in the comment box and a fellow hubber, or myself, will answer it.


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    • tlpoague profile image

      Tammy 3 years ago from USA

      Thanks Suzanne, Yes, I do think they are occurring more frequently and more powerful. There are places now that are starting to put in storm shelters because tornadoes are becoming more frequent in that area. I have been reading the news lately where they have killed a number of people this last week. They happen so quickly that many times people are left helpless.

      Thanks for the vote. I am glad you found this interesting.

    • Suzanne Day profile image

      Suzanne Day 3 years ago from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

      I have seen storm shelters in the movies but we don't seem to have many of them here in Australia. It's interesting to read about the tornadoes, do you think they are occurring more frequently due to climate change? Voted interesting!

    • tlpoague profile image

      Tammy 4 years ago from USA

      Thanks Midget, That she is. One year we were surrounded by nine of them at once.

      Thanks Mizbejabbers, Wow, that sounds like a major tornado that came through there. Why do you think your mom's root cellar wouldn't have served as a shelter? My sister has taken many trips to her root cellar to avoid tornadoes. Even as old as it was it helped to protect her when they were surrounded by one that landed a mile from her place a couple of years ago. (It was one of nine in that area.) It was what prompted me to write my tornado hub. I don't think much could stand up to an F5 tornado. Thanks for sharing your story and thoughts on this.

      Thanks theBat, I remember reading about that typhoon. Hopefully others will give this some serious consideration. Thanks again for stopping by.

    • theBAT profile image

      theBAT 4 years ago

      While reading your hub, I recalled that very devastating typhoon Haiyan or Yolanda that recently hit this country. We are still recovering from that storm considered as one of the strongest in history. The information you shared here should be given serious consideration. Thanks.

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      Doris James-MizBejabbers 4 years ago

      I have always lived in Tornado Alley. Used to be, Texas, Arkansas, and Oklahoma were the major states for tornadoes, but as you say, weather patterns have shifted, and we seem to be getting a little respite while other states are being hard hit.

      When I was a child, a tornado demolished a small town just south of us and killed 110 people. After than my grandparents built a storm cellar on their farm. We lived in town and had a root cellar that I thought was a storm cellar. Mom kept her home-canned goods in it, and it would never have served as a tornado shelter. I didn’t know that, and I thought we should go to it every time a bad storm blew up.

      As a ham radio operator 20 years ago, I became a certified weather spotter. A couple of years later we moved into an underground house, so we feel very secure. However, an F5 could still do a lot of damage to our house like imploding windows and sucking out furniture and personal belongings. I think we would be safe in the windowless interior, but I don’t want to find out.

    • Tom Schumacher profile image

      Tom Schumacher 4 years ago from Huntington Beach, CA

      A tornadoe is an interesting subject to write about. Having lived my entire live on the West Coast I tend to worry about the occasional large earthquake, not destructive wind storms. In fact, the whole idea of shopping for a storm shelter seems completely strange to me. While I understand the predicament of protecting life, how does one select a set of specifications to address these concerns when so many suitable options are available to choose from? At minimum I think I would default to the FEMA standard.

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Thankfully, we don't experience much of these in Mother Nature is fierce when she's ruffled! Shared!

    • tlpoague profile image

      Tammy 4 years ago from USA

      Thanks teaches, Sorry it took so long to get back to you. I remember growing up I wasn't exposed to tornadoes much so I never could remember the difference in terms. Then when we moved to tornado ally I had no choice but to learn how to read the clouds and learn the terms. We don't have a storm shelter. Instead we seek refuge in our basement. My sister is very grateful to have hers. She has used it many times over the last few years. Thanks again for stopping by and leaving a comment.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 4 years ago

      I grew up in tornado ally and being aware of the weather indicators was a must for all who lived in the area. We didn't have a storm shelter, but it would have made a nice difference to have one. Tornados warnings should be taken seriously. Great post with life-saving information.

    • tlpoague profile image

      Tammy 4 years ago from USA

      Thanks Nell, He did get the last laugh. I wish I could have found the video he was taking as he was driving home. I only seen it once but haven't been able to find it since. He made a great narrator.

      I think the craziest thing I did was watch as one spun above my head. I had one of those DUH moments before I realized the seriousness of the situation. I was lucky. It was one of those that didn't land for awhile. Mr. P. had one land a quarter mile from him. Now that was a little hairy.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 4 years ago from England

      Thats amazing that he made the storm shelter and everybody laughed, he had the last laugh didn't he? sorry to hear about those other poor people who died in the storm though, it must be a horrible thing seeing that coming for you, great advice tipi, and yes I would definitely build one if I lived in the storm path area, nell

    • tlpoague profile image

      Tammy 4 years ago from USA

      Thanks Eiddwen, It is getting that time of year around here where we are beginning to watch for storms. I fear that this year will have another record breaking outbreak.

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 4 years ago from Wales

      A brilliant hub which I know will benefit many. Thanks for sharing and voting up.


    • tlpoague profile image

      Tammy 4 years ago from USA

      @Bravewarrior- Wow, that is too close for my comfort. We have had a few close calls, but nothing that close, thank goodness! I am glad no one was injured. Thanks!

      @Susan-That is how it was in some of the states we lived in. There weren't many but enough to warrant a storm shelter. I am glad you found it interesting. Thanks!

    • Just Ask Susan profile image

      Susan Zutautas 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Fortunately I don't live in a tornado area but we have had a few over the last couple of decades. I found your hub very interesting.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 4 years ago from Central Florida

      Gabby, we had a tornado come thru when I was about 5. We lived in Atwater, California. I remember we hunkered down in the garage. When it was over, the top layers of our roof were strewn about our neighbor's yard. Fortunately, no one got killed in that one.

      We've had tornadoes come through Central Florida, especially during hurricane season. A few years back, a tornado left a clean line of destruction a few blocks from my house. Fortunately, it didn't damage my part of the neighborhood. We had tree limbs all over the yard, but no property damage. Scary!

    • tlpoague profile image

      Tammy 4 years ago from USA

      Thanks billybuc for stopping by. That would be interesting to see how they make them. Most of the ones I have seen have been handmade (Redneck) style ones. There is a place not far from here that make them. I have been wanting to stop by and check it out, but haven't had the time yet. Have you written a blog on how they are made? I would love to read about it.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Oddly one of the customers I write blogs for is a maker of storm shelters. Living in Washington we have no need for them, but it was interesting learned about them. Nice job; good information here.