Tuesday, May 21, 2013

What's in *your* closet?

It's that time of year again, Minions. Those of you in Tornado Alley know what I'm talking about firsthand. Those of you not in the Alley know what I'm talking about thanks to the coverage of what happened in Granbury and Moore.

The Disaster Closet at Chez Jo is up and running once again. Hooray.

What, you might ask, is a Disaster Closet? Is it a closet where you keep your Bai Ling costumes? Your emerald-green eyeshadow? The mutant cakes that failed to rise?

Nope. It's where the cats and I go (and eventually The Boyfiend and The Dog, if ever the latter shows up) when the sky turns the same color as that eyeshadow and the sirens blow.

It's not common around here to have tornadoes, but tornadoes are not the problem ninety percent of the time. I once heard a storm-spotter describe a tornado as a sneeze in the middle of a really bad thunderstorm, and that's true. The majority of the time, damage in storm-hit areas comes from straight-line winds, hail, and--the big danger--flying debris.

That's why they say to get into an interior closet or bathroom with no windows. Trees falling, debris flying around--those are much more likely to injure or kill you than a direct hit from one of Mother Nature's sneezes.

Besides, if you take a direct hit from a twister, even a small one, there's not a lot your house will do to protect you.

(A quick aside, as people are surely thinking this: "Why a closet? Why not a basement or storm cellar?" In this part of the country, Austin north to OKC, it's difficult if not impossible to dig basements. We have three types of impediment: heavy clay soil, a layer of quartz or limestone between two and ten feet thick, and high water tables. Safe rooms are common in larger buildings, but it's damned near impossible to excavate deep enough even for a small storm shelter, let alone a basement. It's perverse to think that we settled the most dangerous part of Tornado Alley without figuring that out, but there you are.)

Anyway, and this is not bad advice for anybody anywhere anytime, it's a good idea to have a central location for Stuff You Might Need Later. Here's what I put in mine (all of this fits on a shelf above my head):

1. Weather radio with flashlight and cellphone charger. It's solar- or crank-powered and gets good reception even in the D.C.

2. A couple of big bottles of water. If the forecast looks particularly bad, I might stick a six-pack in there, too. (Only sort of kidding.)

3. First aid kit with pressure dressings and so on.

4. Insurance paperwork for me, the house, and the car.

5. Extra medications, extra contact lenses, extra pair of glasses.

6. A prybar. No, really. It's great to have a shelter from bad weather, but on the offchance that my roof caves in or blows away, I want to be able to get *out* as well.

7. The cats' carrier. They both go into one.

Everything except the carrier can either go on the shelf or, more likely, be slung in a cross-body bag and put on my person. So far, I haven't had to use the Disaster Closet in its fullest capability, but there's little sense in being unprepared.

Which reminds me of a funny story: a couple of years ago, we were having some pretty intense weather. Hail was hitting the sides of the house rather than the roof, the winds were so strong. Max and the boys and I were riding it out in the living room, waiting to see if the weather guys blew the sirens. When the sirens went off, Max fixed me with the stinkeye, then went to the closet, pried open the door with his claws, and went in. I followed him.


Eileen said...

As someone who lives halfway up a mountain in a region where ALL houses (almost) have cellars, thanks for answering the question uppermost in my mind - why weren't there underground refuges. But that does add another: does that mean you build with wood because you can't dig foundations? How do your houses stay up at all? We (or at least our builder) had a nasty shock in the north of England when we went to replace the lean-to garage at the side of our house with a 2 storey extension. They started with removing the roof - and the brick wall promptly fell over. It was only held up by being attached to the main house by the roof - not even bolted to the floor!

Jo said...

Eileen, we do one of two things:

1. Dig out about a half meter of soil, then put up a concrete curtain wall and build the house on top of that. It results in a "crawl space" under the house. The house itself sits on thick beams which are held up by stone or brick-and-mortar piers. This is called "pier and beam" construction and is quite common throughout the southern US.

2. Dig out about a foot of soil and pour a large concrete slab, then pop the house atop that. That sort of construction is "slab" or "pad" construction. It's much cheaper than pier and beam, but it's more prone to shifting and cracking. The walls extend into the slab a bit, so it's not going anywhere.

The soil in much of this area is clay, which means it expands and contracts with moisture. Houses shift and get un-level as a result, and have to be relevelled. Pier and beam is much easier to do that with than slab. It's also much cooler in the summer.

Hope that helps!

Anonymous said...

Don't forget shoes- at least here, the sirens often come at night, and there is no time to fully get dressed. If you need to walk through rubble, you'll be wanting to have shoes on, so we keep a spair pair on our closet, and batteries for everything of course.

Lynda Halliger Otvos (Lynda M O) said...

My heart goes out to all you people who live with this fear. I have family in Park Hill and Midwest City so my eyes and ears are tuned East this time of year. So far, safe. But scary to me from so far away and relatively safe here in earthquake country.

Sent money to red cross and good thoughts to the Universal Healing Power for all involved.

Celeste said...

I was just coming in to mention shoes! The whole point of going into a windowless room is to not get lacerated by flying glass. When you need to exit, you need to worry about what you're stepping onto. If it's dark and you're using a flashlight, you might not have the big picture of how dangerous the rubble might be to step onto.

Becca said...

Add some food for you and the moggers? No guarantee if you end up removing to a shelter...

Niecey said...

Thanks for explaining the foundation and clay issues. I currently am from the Mid-West. Tornado Central, basically. I have been witnessed a handful of them in my lifetime. I'm moving out to Phoenix next month. While I was there back in late Jan-early Feb, I looked around at apartments and houses. My friend has a lovely 4 bedroom home that is huge...but no basement. She took me around to many of her friends' homes-all who also have very lovely homes...with no basement. All the while I'm thinking "What in the hell? Do these people not believe in basements?" Where I am from virtually ALL homes have a basement and are considered "cheap" or "sub-par" without a basement.

Now it all makes sense! ;)

memune said...

A really loud whistle. You'll have enough breath to blow it to signal rescuers long after your voice gives out. A series of three blasts is an internationally recognized symbol for "Hey, over here!"

A couple big garbage bags. Stuff things into them for protection, cover yourself and kitties with them to stay dry.

Dry food for the kitties in an airtight plastic bag or container, and an empty covered container to use for their water.

One of those cheap space blankets, that cost $2 or so at your local Things Store. They'll keep your (and the cats') from hypothermia, which is a big problem after a storm - wind blowing and everything wet, no shelter and night coming on.

A hat or scarf and socks for you, for the same reason - you can get really cold really fast even in the middle of summer.

Pocketknife or multitool.

A helmet of some kind - bike, football, hockey, hardhat, whatever. The largest number of deaths and serious injuries in natural disasters are from head injuries. I made my kid carry his bike helmet in his backpack once storm season started, until he got old enough to move someplace sensible.

Also a good idea to mail a copy of necessary info - birth cert, SSA card, driver's license, insurance info - to somebody you trust who lives in a place not subject to your particular natural disaster threat. Since I live in a place not immune from any you can think of, except possibly volcanic eruption, my copies are lodged with my brother on the opposite coast.

And for those of you with special needs loved ones (children, elderly, pets), please ensure they can either repeat their ID info - their name, their address or phone number, and a trusted adult's name and number - to first responders, or that a copy of such info is readily available on the nonverbal loved ones (my cats have collars with my name and number, and their name, on the inside; when my dad was ill, we would put a note in a little Ziploc and place it inside his underwear).

And please, please, please, speaking as a first responder, for the love of your continued walking around, if nothing else, LISTEN TO THE DAMN WARNINGS. We don't issue them just for fun.


PS - and as Jo says, figure all this stuff out BEFORE the sirens go off.