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Our Tornado Storm Shelter (…for those who have been asking)

It was no secret among our friends and family that the biggest worry of mine about moving to Oklahoma almost 3 months ago (we moved from Colorado to Oklahoma at the end of February…..more about that here and here) — was, yep, the TORNADOES!  Those suckers have always freaked me out!  And I remember saying out loud when moving here was an actual possibility, “who actually moves to Oklahoma?  On purpose?!?!”

 

Fast forward to my husband Steve accepting a new job, a super speedy house sell in CO, a frantic last minute weekend trip to look for a house in OK, and a whirlwind move to a brand new state 3 weeks later, on February 27th.  And that state just happened to be famous for twisters.  Oh boy.  The one thing I was adamant about buying very FIRST for this house (even though we needed window blinds…..and still don’t have them, ha!), was a storm shelter.  The brand new house we bought didn’t have one (which should be a law in this state, am I right??) and I knew I wouldn’t be able to rest, until one was installed.

 

Well, we installed one about 2 weeks later, on March 17th, and I posted a few pictures of the install on Instagram.  Yep, right in the 3rd bay of our garage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well, many of you had plenty of questions about it and how big it was, where we bought it, what it looks like inside, etc.  I started getting emails about it and realized most of you were probably just as curious as I was.  Because without ever having seen one, it’s kind of a strange to even think about.  And to think that people actually crawl down into these underground steel boxes, when tornadoes are nearby.  So how about I share a few more details.  Because whether or not you’ll ever have to purchase or even enter one, it’s kind of fascinating.  (Well, at least it is to me.  And my mom.  Hi mom! ;) )

 

Now, here’s what you may not know.  There are very few basements in Oklahoma.  I know…..I was surprised too.  The water table is pretty high here and the crazy red soil probably has something to do with it too, but basements tend to flood.  (Maybe someone reading this knows a little more?)  So…..the way residents around here typically seek shelter when tornadoes come to town, are storm shelters.  (Or, from what the weather guy says each time tornadoes have been near and we have been glued to the news…….the most center room of your house, without windows.)

 

So, I kinda figured storm shelters would be a hole in the backyard with a wooden cover that swings shut.  You know, like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz.  But come to find out…..there are these huge steel storm shelters that can be installed above or below ground, in the garage or outside.  But it seems to me like the most common place for them to be installed around here, is in the garage.

 

So, like I mentioned above, we installed our shelter March 17th.  On March 25th, there was a batch of really ugly tornadoes that tore through the entire state of Oklahoma.  The sky turned really ugly (yet kinda cool at the same time….and reminded me of AZ thunderstorms growing up) and the kids were fascinated by it all.  And I kinda liked that they were clueless about what our storm apps were telling us on our phones.  (Because, we still didn’t have cable.  Or a weather radio.  And when the tornadoes were nearby, we didn’t really hear the outdoor sirens.)

 

(This picture is also from Instagram)

 

 

After that first batch of storms, we did order a weather radio off amazon and let me tell you, that sucker doesn’t fail us.  In fact, the siren on it is pretty intense and I can always hear it, no matter where I am in the house.  (Which is really helpful because the city sirens are really hard to hear from inside our house.)  But this radio starts sounding if there is a tornado watch AND warning and also for severe thunderstorms (which often times turn into tornadoes around here).  So yesterday morning, at 5am, this little radio woke Steve and I up and let us know a severe thunderstorm was coming.  And sure enough, about 45 minutes later, we had a huge house-rattling thunderstorm (that woke up children who then wanted to sleep the rest of the night in our bed).

 

But this was the message we got during some storms in early May.  And yes, that says Tornado Warning…..which means a Tornado is inevitable and to plan accordingly.

 

 

 

And let me tell you……the technology and meteorologists around here blow my mind.  It’s crazy that they can predict, down to the minute, what time the tornado will be passing through certain neighborhoods and crossing major streets, etc. We’ve watched it tear through areas live on TV and then yes, follow the actual path they listed on TV.  I now understand why the locals are pretty casual about hurrying home when they know a tornado could be on its way.  (Though, I’m not sure I’ll ever be casual about that.  I’d much rather be home. Ack!)  Oh, and the kids school???  They have enough storm shelters at their particular school that the kids and staff will all fit into.  And plus, we live so close….if I know a storm is coming, I can always go get them and bring them home.

 

I’m here to tell you that all of the wacko anxiety I had about moving here and my fear of tornadoes and all that…..is surprisingly not so bad.  Because I know that if things get bad, we have the storm shelter we can hang out in, until the weather passes.  And to be honest, even if we never ever have to get inside……it’s like insurance for me.  And is comforting to know it’s there. Even if the doctors Steve works with calls it our Fraidy Hole.  (After there has been tornadoes closeby, they ask Steve the next day at work if he got down in his Fraidy Hole with all the kids…..it makes us laugh!)  And I keep reminding myself, every location has something that’s not ideal — earthquakes, heavy snow, high crime, hurricanes, heavy traffic, forest fires, struggling schools, etc. 

 

 

Wow, this is already getting long.  Ack….sorry.

 

Moving on —

 

Once we moved here, we visited a couple stores where storm shelters were sold and asked lots of questions.  And finally decided on the Tornado Safe brand shelter….which we purchased at Lowes.  (And no, this is not a sponsored or paid post at all……I just had so many questions about it and wanted to share.)  These shelters were designed and created AND tested at Texas Tech and exceed the FEMA 320/361 guidelines for tornado shelters.  They are strong and sturdy, secured incredibly well to the ground.

 

They cut right through the concrete of the garage with a wet saw, scooped everything out, leveled the ground, and then placed our particular shelter down into the ground.  The dirt is then packed back around it with a hydraulic tamper.  Then, concrete was poured around the edges and leveled back to the same level as the garage floor.  It took them about 6 hours to install.  And yes, it’s super solid and re-inforced and YES, you can drive and park your car on top.  (But this is actually our 3rd bay and we don’t park on this side…..it’s the work bench, lawn care, and bicycle side of the garage.)

 

 

 

Oh, and we also registered our shelter with the city, so they know where we are.  Someone came out with a GPS tracker to pinpoint our exact location, added it to their database…..and now we are registered with the city.  That made me feel tons better.

 

The shelters come in a variety of sizes and the one we decided to purchase is supposed to hold 8 – 12 people.  It measures 5 feet wide by 7 feet long and 5.5 feet tall.  So yes, that means Steve and I are both too tall to stand inside…..but there are benches inside and plenty of room to sit.

 

This particular brand that we purchased is coated with something called “ShelterShield”, which is like this rubbery and slightly bumpy surface, which projects from rust and any leaking.

 

However, there are vent holes at the top for oxygen, which water could enter through….but it’s in the covered garage and was installed slightly higher than the garage floor level, so that if any water got into the garage, it wouldn’t drip inside.

 

 

 

We checked out some shelters that needed a key to open the top, that were a little cumbersome, so we were happy to see that these just had a simple handle to pull up, to release the latch.

 

 

Then it just slides on open.

 

 

There’s a handrail to help lower yourself down each step…

 

 

…but it’s also removable and can be placed vertically, to help feel a little more stable as you take the first step down inside.

 

 

There are plenty of steps to lead you the 5 1/2 feet down to the bottom of the shelter.

 

 

Okay, now here’s where we had a little fun.

 

Elli, Connor, Chloe and I turned cardboard scraps into decorations for our shelter.  I know, I know — a little ridiculous……but after the kiddos made little drawings for the inner walls one afternoon, we started thinking of other fun things we could make to decorate the walls.  Then, it became an all afternoon project that we had a lot of fun with!  And you know….if anything, it just helps to make our hole in the ground a little less dark and creepy.  Especially if we needed to step down inside the shelter because of nearby tornadoes.  Maybe it would help to lighten the mood a bit.

 

It turned out hilarious though.  And has to be the cheapest decor we’ve ever owned! ;)

 

 

My favorite part…..are the family portraits on the wall.  They each drew a picture and it’s fun to see their skill at their current ages.

 

 

On the 3rd wall, we put some magnetic pattern blocks to play with.  That way, there’s something to keep little fingers busy, in case we have to stay down here for a while.

 

 

If you close the door to the shelter……you can see the vent holes at the top.  So yes, you will have oxygen down in here.

 

 

And since it will be dark with the door closed, we attached some magnetic flashlights to the ceiling.

 

 

There’s also a secondary hatch, that can be pushed up and open, rather than slid open (like the regular entrance).

 

 

Also, the benches can be slid out, to provide more room to sit……or removed completely.

 

 

Also, each of the steps can be removed and placed off to the side if more room is needed.

 

 

Under the steps is where we placed a few supplies.

 

 

Now, some of you may laugh and think I’m a little paranoid but once I started throwing things in the bin, I couldn’t stop.  I am sure we will be fine and won’t ever have to even use this stuff…….but I have the worst case of “Better Safe Than Sorry” that you ever did see.  So……I’m going with it. :)

 

A few things not pictured above (that we need to toss in the tote):

  • batteries
  • blankets
  • battery operated radio
  • hammer
  • medicine
  • can opener

 

 

And don’t forget about using the potty.  I mean, I know my kids and even if we only had to stay in the shelter for 10 minutes, I know the minute we had to go down in there, someone would inevitably tell me they had to use the bathroom.  So, I created this little kit of bathroom supplies, including a makeshift toilet.  (Also, the diapers and wipes are an important thing to store if you have a baby, like we do.)

 

 

That pool noodle was sliced open along one edge so that it could squeeze around the lip of the bucket….and then taped into a circle so it would stay in place.  I know, pretty hilarious seat cushion, right??  But I saw the idea online somewhere maybe for camping or something and thought…….“this would be PERFECT for the shelter!”

 

 

All of the potty stuff can be stored in the bucket, kept clean and ready, in case of emergency.

 

 

 

All of the supplies can stay down in the shelter under those steps and we have plans to swap supplies (like food) out once a year.

 

Now, just to give you an idea of actual people down in the space……here’s my almost 7 year old, just about reaching the 5 1/2 foot ceiling.

 

 

And just like I thought, they couldn’t stop playing with the magnetic blocks…….even after I told them it was time to climb back out and go inside.

 

 

And that’s our Tornado Storm Shelter.  A great little piece of mind in our garage, ready for that “just in case” moment!

 

 

So, each and every time the sky looks like this, I won’t freak out.  (This is how the sky looked about a month ago, when we were under a Tornado Warning.)

 

 

 

Because eventually…….it always seems to turn into this:

 

 

 

And just so you know…..Oklahoma is really feeling like home.  Even WITH the crazy weather. ;)  But we have all adapted pretty well and it just seems like we have been here forever.  There are so many things about this place that I have already fallen in love with.  And who knows how long we’ll be here but I can already tell, this will be a sad place to leave.  I can’t really explain it, but sometimes as I’m driving down some of these country roads, I just feel overwhelmingly grateful that this scary uprooting of an adventure we took on, has been a really positive thing for our family.

 

So thank you Oklahoma.  Even though your skies turn ugly and your soil stains EVERYTHING, I’m really happy to call you our home for now.  Every place we’ve lived, there’s always been something that was less desirable…..yours just happens to be wicked tornadoes. But now that we have our “Fraidy Hole” in the garage, we’ll be just fine!

 

Anyway, I hope that was helpful.  And maybe a bit interesting.  But let me know if you’re curious about anything else.  I really don’t mind sharing any details I have forgotten about the shelter.

 

Enjoy your weekend!

Ashley

 

Ashley Johnston

Administrator at Make It & Love It
Ashley Johnston is a professional DIY costume maker, sewist, crafter, and owner of Make It & Love It. She is a mom of 5 and a wife to a very patient (with the craft clutter) husband. In case you’re wondering, she always chooses crafting/sewing/designing over mopping/dusting/wiping base boards……but bathrooms/laundry/full bellies are always attended to. Whew!

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Hi, I'm Ashley

Hi, I’m Ashley—the DIY-enthusiast behind this crazy blog!

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