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Severe Weather Safety Week: Tornado shelter and what to have there

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We're continuing Tornado and Severe Weather Awareness Week with the topic of shelter safety. We've all heard that the safest place in a tornado or severe thunderstorm is a basement or a small, interior room with no windows on the lowest floor of a building.

The question we get every year is “what should I do if I live in an upper floor apartment with no interior rooms?”

That's a very tough question, yet it's a very real one for many.

The Stormtracker 18 Weather Team suggests making friends with someone on the first floor, because that's most important. Weaker tornadoes will cause the most damage to roofs and upper floors.

Better yet, take heed of Tornado Watches since they give a heads up that severe storms and tornadoes will be possible in the coming hours. When a watch is issued, you should get to a place where you're a minute or two from a safe shelter.

If you're caught off guard with a tornado warning and there's an imminent threat, there's no guarantee that your shelter is safe regardless if you have a basement or not.

If you're one of the many without an interior room or closet, you have a few choices. If there's a small room such as for laundry or a bathroom that does not have windows, that is probably your best bet.

If it's a bathroom, shelter inside the bathtub or shower as the pipes in the wall will add to its rigidity. Cover with blankets, pillows, and/or mattresses. Sheltering under a sturdy piece of furniture with blankets and pillows is also an option.

Another option is underneath a staircase as usually stairs and walls around stairs are very sturdy. Every building is different and every storm is different, but knowing what has been described in the past few paragraphs

Again, it's not ideal and if you have time (a watch has been issued) try to get to a place that has a sturdy basement or interior room in case the threat materializes.

In addition, now is the time to prepare your severe shelter safety kit. This is something that should be in your basement or wherever your designated safe space is.

It should include at the very minimum blankets and pillows to protect from flying glass, medicine, snacks, flashlights, something that makes noise (so rescuers can hear you if you become trapped), and insurance information. An old pair of shoes and bike helmets for everyone enhance the safety inside the shelter.

Tornadoes, on average, come with an average of 5 to 10 minutes of lead time, but sometimes only give a minute or two. This is why you need this kit now, as it's too late to make one once the warning is issued.

Matt Schaefer

Matt Schaefer was promoted to Chief Meteorologist in July of 2019 and has been our evening meteorologist for News 18 since June of 2016. Prior to that, he was our Saturday meteorologist starting in September 2014.

Matt was born and raised in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. He enjoys all the extremes that mother nature throws at the Badger State: from severe thunderstorms to blizzards to subzero temperatures.

Matt studied meteorology in the Midwest as well, earning his Bachelor’s of Science in Meteorology at Valparaiso University in Indiana. There, Matt was heavily involved in VUTV Weather, the Valpo student chapter of AMS/NWA, and VUSIT (Valparaiso University Storm Intercept Team). He’s logged more than 20,000 miles chasing and studying severe storms all across the country and witnessed nine tornadoes including six in one day!

Matt describes himself as a Wisconsin boy at heart and enjoys cheering for the Packers, Brewers, Badgers, and Admirals just to name a few. He loves simply being outdoors and enjoys the Wisconsin wilderness especially in fall, and whitetail deer season!

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