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

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… 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… 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…’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 Johnston
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Ashley Johnston

Owner 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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  1. Eric says:

    Wow. Great article about your storm shelter insulation experience. I grew up in the Midwest in Derby Kansas. So I’ve seen what your talking about first hand how scary the weather gets in a very quick minute. Since then I have moved to the earthquake country. And I’m way ok with earthquakes versus the other. Anyways. I thought, The only other thing I would add to your emergency list is ear plugs, and whistles. Maybe even a little handheld airhorn. So the first responders that would be removing debris from the top of the Shelters can pinpoint you quickly. Under the circumstances. GPS is great but if the towers were to be damaged too?… well you know where I’m going with this. Again. Great Article. And thanks for sharing.

  2. Tom & Connie Garrett says:

    Thanks for sharing your Tornado Hole Shelter with us. We live in Texas and are about to build one. Yours is very ingenious. We are kookiest many ideas of where to put our shelter and what type of shelter we need.
    Thanks for all of your ideas.
    The Garretts

  3. Timothy Mckenney says:

    You said one of the items you keep down there is a cell phone charger but I was wondering how do you plug it into power because I don’t know if they make any kind of charger that you don’t have to plug it into a power source. But I will tell you one thing this has got to be the greatest thing I have ever seen because I live in a Moduler home with no basement and I always wondered about these but have never seen one advertised before so Thank you very much for sharing your story I love the idea.

  4. Priscilla says:

    Don't for get a battery pack for the phone charger cuz u might not have power

  5. John Smith says:

    I have been a victim of tornado twice, and believe you me the aftermath is not something you will want to experience. The storm shelter you discuss in your article is just what I need to survive any future tornados, thanks for sharing. Check this url for extra info on storm shelters: []

  6. Cynthia says:

    On severe tornado days (Oklahoma City National Weather Service announces early warnings) put wet washcloths in baggies and then put them in the freezer. Grab them on your way to the shelter…it gets very hot in shelters if you are there for an extended period of time. Place the cloths around the back of your neck to cool down. If an F4 or F5 is headed your way you may find people asking to take shelter with you. It can get very hot. Our daughter and son in law were in an underground shelter with fifteen other people when the massive tornado that killed the Weather Channel storm chaser was killed. It is the one that went over Lake Overholser. Tornado warnings for F5 will announce that if you are not underground you will not survive. This was true of the Moore tornado…and it was absolutely tragic.

  7. Renee says:


    Great article! I love seeing your shelter. We lived in Wichita for a few years and sheltered in our basement on several occasions. Our hidey-hole was the closet under our basement stairs, which was also where we stored our long term food storage. When we ended up in our “shelter,” it was common for it to be late at night and everyone was thankful for comfort (and comfortable) items. Because we went straight from our beds more than once, we kept a few rolled up sleeping bags with inflatable pillows, as well as extra sneakers with a change of clothes Though we never needed it, copies of driver’s licenses, birth certificates, SS cards, financials and emergency contact information was stored as well. In hindsight, it should have been in a 2 gallon ziploc bag! :) The kids always thought the shelter was a blast, especially since there were things there that they only got to use when we sheltered–special crayons and paper, headlamps, etc. I kept an “emergency” list at our bedside and on the fridge, to remind me of things to grab on our way in; things like meds, phones, the dogs.

    A lot of people will look at you like you’re paranoid, but peace of mind is worth more than that to me! :) And worst case senario, you have an awesome location for hiding Christmas gifts!

  8. Jamie says:

    Hey there:) I had just wanted to let you know that I somehow came across your blog, and this article in particular, while doing some research on the most recent tornadic activity within both ‘Dixie Alley’ and ‘Tornado Alley’ and what to do in case of an emergency. The reason being is that my husband is considering on taking one of two patrol officer jobs.. one being in Belle Fourche, SD and the other in Huntsville, Al. I have heard that tornadoes tend to frequent both areas, particularly during the Spring and Fall months and I have to admit that the thought alone, terrifies me. Even more nervous about uprooting our children, who are truly desert babies at heart. (Zoe Elizabeth is 3 and in her 2nd year of Preschool and Hunter had just turned 1 this past June) Being from Arizona, the only thing we ever usually experience are storms such as our yearly Monsoons (late summer/early fall).. the most they ever do is produce dust devils, ‘haboobs,’ and micro-bursts which can cause power outages and sometimes flooding. That being said, coming across this page had given me some peace of mind and I feel a little bit less alone. Thank you for writing it! It had included some good things to know and keep in mind! Hope you don’t mind if I start following along with your blog? (It also helps that you love DIY projects, too)

    1. Ashley says:

      I completely understand Jamie! I actually grew up in southeastern AZ until I left for college when I was 18. So I know monsoon season very well. :) The thunderstorms here in OK actually remind me of those childhood storms…so I’m never quite as frightened with the rainstorms as my neighbors are. However, as for your hesitations and fears for tornadoes, they sound very familiar. I have felt all of those things…..and yes, tornadoes were the very reason I didn’t want to move here. But now that we’re here (and we have our shelter), things have been okay. I get a little tense when the tornadoes get close but knowing I have a little refuge in the garage has helped me a ton. And you know, no matter where you live, there’s always something that is risky. But I just hold onto the fact that as long as we’re together…we’ll be just fine! :)

      Best of luck deciding on which adventure to choose next! :)

  9. Christy says:

    Thanks for sharing this information Ashley! I really loved learning about shelters from your post.
    I am going to show your post to my kids so they can see what a tornado shelter looks like.
    Can’t say how much your decorating makes me smile. Tornado shelter decor — I am going to
    have to make myself a new Pinterest board!!!!

    Just this week a few tornadoes touched down in Northern Colorado (west of I-25!!!!)
    near where we live. At the same time we were under a tornado warning, severe thunderstorm
    warning, and a flash flood warning! You are so right that every place has it’s pros and
    cons. But I feel like my kids are growing up with severe weather being more the norm
    everywhere — maybe its just we didn’t have the weather channel when I was a kid — haha!

  10. md says:

    where im from, we dont have to worry about tornadoes… but i have have to say it is pretty darn neat. i never knew anything like that existed and could be purchased and installed. you have done an awesome job of preparing! i too feel it is better safe than sorry. but i just wanted to share with you the smile that 1st pic of you and your childrens cardboard decoration brought to my face. i was reading a normal post and then taken aback with an open mouthed smile. that is so great!

  11. Lisa says:

    Thank you for sharing this interesting post. I live in Italy, so we don’t have tornadoes at all, and I saw those storm shelter only in many tv movies, but I didn’t thought that you can build them under the garage. Wow! Hope you will not use it for more than 10 minutes each time! :)

  12. Emilee says:

    I love the pool noodle on the bucket idea! I’ll have to tell my husband about it because he’s always trying to get me and the kids to rough it a bit more when we’re camping, but when nature calls I don’t actually want to have to do it on nature. :) That bucket trick might just be our answer. And not a bad idea for an emergency either.

    1. Ashley says:

      I know, isn’t that a great idea?!!! So perfect for camping too!!!

  13. Renee says:

    Hi Ashley, What an interesting post. Being from Australia, we don’t have tornado problems, but I am so pleased that you put up this post for those people who might need it. Your photos are fabulous, with lots of ideas for others. Good luck, I think you are well prepared, in your shoes I would have done the same thing. Now, it doesn’t really matter when it happens, or if it never happens, your family will be safe. All the best, Renee, Melbourne Australia

    1. Ashley says:

      Thanks so much Renee…..I hope it’s useful for others too! :)

      And yes, now that it’s all ready to go, just in case, I feel so much better!

      Take care down in Australia too! :)

  14. Nancy G. says:

    All I can say is WOW! That had to be the most interesting article I have read in a long time. Thanks for all the info, it was so interesting I didn’t even notice if it was long or not. Love the new decor in your shelter! So cute. And loved the pics. I saw you had included phone chargers, is there an outlet to plug into in the shelter? Well I like your thinking that you can never be too prepared when it comes to those terrible storms. Thanks for sharing and hope you don’t have to use it anytime soon. Take care and stay safe

    1. Ashley says:

      Awww thanks Nancy! And yes, there are chargers and also a little device that stores power on it that we can plug the phones into.

      And I agree, I hope we don’t have to use it either!

      Take care!

  15. Monica says:

    I just loved this post. When I saw the initial post regarding the shelter, I too had many questions and was intergued by your post. Thank you for sharing, so very interesting!

    One concern – Do the tornadoes often come with flooding? If so, what happens if while you’re in there things start to flood? I just was concerned as the only air supply is at ground level. Any options to modify that?

    Stay safe!


  16. w marsden says:

    I live in the uk what a great read this was so interesting,love to know how other people live,hope you never have to use it thank you

  17. Ellen says:

    I am so glad to find this I live in the Midwest and since we do not have abatement this would be great thing to have. Can I ask how costly this is to have installed. The company who does this and any other information you have that can help?

    1. Ashley says:

      The company who made our shelter is Tornado Safe Storm Shelters and we paid something like $3000, including digging the hole and installing. And that was for the mid size shelter.

      I did find some more pricing info on their facebook page here:
      Click on their photo album section and you’ll see some diagrams for pricing. But those prices are more than they were in March when I was looking……because it’s the middle of tornado season. I’m sure the prices will change in a few months again.

      Anyway, hope that helps!

  18. Terry says:

    LOVE how you made the shelter pretty :) We moved in to our new home on the last day of January of this year after our home and 1100 others in our little town in IL were destroyed November 17, 2013. I would also add to the shelter shoes, socks, underwear and a spare set of clothes for each. If the storm strikes at night there is no time to get these things. Many in our town were walking through debris barefooted with next to no clothes on. Also suggest whistles (even if you are registered). We had a tornado safe room built in our new house as it was constructed…it just needs some pretty decorations like yours :)

    1. Ashley says:

      Haha…..the decor sure makes us happy!

      And I’m so sorry to hear about the devastation in your town a while ago. What a scary time for you guys! Glad you made it out safely though. :)

      Those are really good suggestions though, thank you so much!!!

  19. Rose says:

    I’d like to know about the cost. Also, you mentioned you purchased it at Lowe’s. Did you have to hire an outside contractor to do the excavation, or was that part of the Lowe’s purchase price?

    1. Ashley says:

      Hi Rose!

      To give you an idea, we paid something like $3000, including digging the hole and installing.

      I did find some more pricing info on their facebook page here:
      Click on their photo album section and you’ll see some diagrams for pricing. But those prices are more than they were in March when I was looking……because it’s the middle of tornado season. I’m sure the prices will change in a few months again.

      Anyway, hope that helps!

  20. Amber says:

    We lost our home in Moore, Ok on May 20th 2013. If I may make some suggestions for just incase your house ever does get hit and I pray it doesnt, keep your important documents in a small tote that is easy to grab and take down there, keep everything in ziplock bags(because it will get wet), make sure to have every person socks(oh man socks was a must), undies, shoes, and a change of clothes (maybe even pjs). Also, medicines, and toiletries(tooth brushes, shampoo, conditioner, deodorant), work gloves are a must. It sounds like a lot but from experience, we were lost without these things. Also helmets and maybe even eye protection for the kiddos. Oh I almost forgot, and this one is extremely important, a bottle jack incase something falls on the shelter, youll be able to pry the door open. Please make sure to register your shelter with the city and you may even look into getting a Hitbox for your shelter(google them, lowes sells them). Okay so sorry for the huge reply!

    1. Amber says:

      Oh yes, keepsakes; pictures and what not.

    2. Ashley says:

      I’m so sorry to hear that Amber! I’m sure that was a really scary time for you and your family. But your ideas are really helpful……thank you so much for your suggestions. I ended up looking up that Hitbox with my husband because we’d never heard of it…..looks pretty cool!

      Anyway, I now have more things added to my list, so thank you!!!!!!

      And I’m not sure if you’re still in OK…..but if you are, here’s a wave from someone probably not too far away!!!

      Stay safe! :)

  21. Amy says:

    We are in va but with no interior windowless room or basement, I’d love a shelter like this. The last few years the storms are scarier and scarier.
    Also, try Iron Out for the red clay. Soak then wash as normal, it works for Well for red clay stains.

    1. Ashley says:

      Oh, thanks……I’ll have to buy some of that!!!!!

  22. myra says:

    Thank you for giving us, who will hopefully never experience your kind of weather, an insite into how the other half may have to live for a few hours/days.
    Thanks also for your wonderful tutorials. What a creative woman you are.

    1. Ashley says:

      Thanks so much Myra! And you’re welcome!!!!

  23. Ellie from Canada says:

    I’m with you girl! That would be my first option too. I’m very claustrophobic and my first thought was AIR HOLES and what if they got covered up with debris, then what? Severe thunderstorms have always freaked me out. We lived on a farm and as a child I begged my Dad to put lightening rods on the house, which he did. I felt so safe, only to find out when I was an adult, that he had never grounded them!! Love your cardboard decor and stay safe!

    1. Ashley says:

      I know……there’s the airholes that I showed in the picture and then there are airholes all the way around the top of the shelter……but yeah, that thought has crossed my mind too. I just hope there would be enough cracks in the debris to let enough air in.

      And how sweet of your dad to actually install the rods…….but ha, they were no use. Dang him! ;)

  24. Brenda says:

    Great post!
    Suggestion though: Add a bag of kitty litter to your toilet bucket. If you’re ever “in the hole” for an extended period of time and someone has to go, the kitty litter will absorb the….liquid, and absorb the smell of the….solids (LOL, can you tell I have toddler boys?!!) Also, even though your shelter has benches, you might want to add those foam tiles (you know the play room kind? Which are relatively cheap, as well.). Eventually you’ll find yourselves sitting on the floor. Adding padding could help add comfort to a stressful situation.

    1. Ashley says:

      Those are great suggestions Brenda, thank you!!!!!!

  25. Tammy says:

    We opted for a garage shelter because our son is developmentally disabled and we knew getting him outside to a shelter would be more difficult. He also has some issues that can make him a bit slower physically. We opted for a taller shelter. My husband is 6’4″ and the only way he’d use a shelter is if he can stand in it. I’ve lived in Oklahoma my entire life and never used a shelter for a tornado until last Saturday. I’m 7.5 months pregnant and my son and I were home alone when we had a tornado warning. Ordinarily that alone wouldn’t be enough to send us to the shelter but I knew getting the two of us in the shelter might be a slow process. We went ahead and went down at the first warning. It was okay. We have a basket of supplies which includes coloring books, etc. and we took the iPads with us. We don’t have a weather radio and quickly realized phone reception isn’t adequate. I will definitely be buying a weather radio for the shelter.

    We don’t keep shoes in the shelter but whenever there is bad weather in our area, we all put on blue jeans and tennis shoes. No sandals or flip flops. It’s my little quirk.

    1. Ashley says:

      Oh, that’s great to hear you installed a nice tall shelter down in your garage too…..and especially glad to hear it’s perfect for your son!

      Stay safe and best wishes for the rest of your pregnancy! :)

  26. Kristina Noall says:

    This is our first summer in Iowa, and I’ve been trying to figure all this tornado stuff out. I always love how concise and explanatory your posts are, with lots of great pics, and this was no exception! So interesting and helpful, thank you for sharing! Now, to find room in the budget to start accomplishing some of this stuff I need to do…
    For the shoes, I was thinking I might just put snow boots down in our basement. Sturdy, and we don’t need them right now. Anyone have an opinion or tips on that?
    Oh, and your decor seriously tickled me to death. So cute!!

    1. Ashley says:

      Oh that’s right…….you guys just moved too!! Hope you’re settling too and wrapping your brain around all this new weather.

      And someone mentioned adding boots down there and I was just thinking about all the boots we have in storage because there’s no snow here. I think I’ll toss those down in there in a variety of sizes…..just in case. In fact, I’m going to keep our sleeping bags and maybe all our camping gear down in there because if something terrible did happen, we’d have quite a few things to get us by if needed. And then if we went camping, we always know where the gear is.

      Anyway, good luck Kristina!

  27. crafty.grandma says:

    That is one awesome room!! I certainly hope that you and your family never really need it. Being from snowstorm and blizzard city, we sometimes have tail ends of hurricanes which bring high winds and rain, I am curious about something. Does your house have a basement? In the area where I live, we have basements sometimes finished ie with a living room craft room or bedroom, some aren’t. Some have garages around here most don’t! If we dug any further under the garage we would hit the pipes!!! Our house has windows everywhere which makes the house very light and airy. I have seen tornado stricken places that the house has completely fallen down and nothing is left. . I was just wondering wouldn’t this cover your airholes? I am glad to hear that you can be registered so people do know that you are down there if need be!! Watching these places on tv is just devastating !!! I hate wind and when it gets very windy and we lose electricity, it makes me bonkers. The only room in the house is the laundry room which I guess would be the safest, all cement. Stay safe – thanks for the tour of your shelter it was most interesting and I pray that you will never ever need it!

    1. Ashley says:

      I know……I hope we never need it either!

      And no, we don’t have a basement. The water table is too high and basements are very rare here in Oklahoma. And yes, the air holes would be slightly covered but there are cracks all along the top of the shelter… hopefully we would have enough air sneaking through.

      Stay safe in your weather too!

    2. crafty.grandma says:

      Thanks for the info….very informative!!! So I guess the safest place to be during a storm is in the basement in the landry room, the only room in the house that has no window!!! We just had a storm with very black thick scary looking clouds, some areas had a mini tornado that uprooted trees and destroyed some roofs of the houses; the hail was the size of golf balls and boy were they noisy!!! My roses turned from pink to orange (from the cold) and we humans have gone from bathing suits/shorts/halter tops and sandals to jeans, sweaters, socks and running shoes!!! (in two days). It’s going to be a rough summer!! Take care!

  28. LauraJane:) says:

    Most interesting and informative post! Thanks.

  29. Kandy P says:

    I’m glad OK is being kind to you! your shelter looks awesome, I haven’t seen one quite that nice before! I’ve lived here in OK for all of my almost-30 years and have never lived somewhere with a shelter (but i would love one!). we currently use our closet under the stairs to hunker down in. We have only gone in there once this season when the tornado hit Norman a few blocks from us. we just had our kitties in a carrier, 5yo, baby in a carseat, and files with important papers. and trust me, this storm season has been the exception–it is not usually this active! last year i don’t think we had one tornado warning in central OK.

    1. Ashley says:

      Hello to a native Oklahoman!!! So glad you were safe in those recent storms…….ack!

      But that’s good to hear that this was a strange season because they kinda kept coming and coming!

      Thanks Kandy!!!

  30. Stephanie says:

    I second the comments about either storing a pair of shoes for everyone or making sure everyone is wearing their shoes before you go down. We’re over in Arkansas and get tornadoes all the time like ya’ll do. If a tornado did some damage, you wouldn’t want little feets walking around without projection from glass, splinters, etc. I love your shelter!

    1. Ashley says:

      Yes, I love that suggestion……we’ll be tossing some down in there for sure!

  31. Lorraine says:

    I love your posts Ashley, we live in Cheshire UK so not much chance of tornadoes but I love your little shelter, so pleased you and your lovely family will be safe if you need to use it, hope you never need to though.

    1. Ashley says:

      I hope we don’t either……but I sure feel better it’s there!

  32. Ellie says:

    I thought of one more thing as I’ve read several comments that suggest keeping shoes down there. Since your kids are growing and you don’t want to keep buying new shoes that will just live in the shelter and never get worn, get tennis shoes that can be gender neutral, then when Elli grows out of them you can buy a new pair just for her and pass the rest down the line without having to buy them for everyone. We keep a pair of navy blue sweats in our kids emergency kits and they work for the boy and for all the girls, so I don’t mind that I buy them and they never get used. When we update the kits every year, I buy a new pair for my oldest and we just pass the rest down. When we used to live where it snowed, I did the same thing with snow pants — everyone wore navy blue or black and since we didn’t get enough snow for the kids to wear them out each pair of snow pants lasted for all 6 kids.

    1. Ashley says:

      Oh, that’s a really good idea! I already have shoes stored away that either don’t fit the bigger kids or were for our more snowy climate….I should just store them down in there.

      Thanks Ellie!

  33. Kathy says:

    Love the Potty idea. If you save plastic grocery bags, put some in the potty as a liner. Putting an diaper in the bag will absorb the urine and makes it more deposable and sanitary. Oh and don’t forget the Lysol.

    1. Ellie says:

      Brilliant idea!

    2. Ashley says:

      Oh yes, that’s a great idea. Thanks Kathy!

  34. Stephanie says:

    Love this post! I live in Iowa and we have tornados as well but we are able to have basements here. One thing I would recommend putting down there is a pair of shoes for everyone. God forbid a tornado actually goes through and you race down there in the middle of the night and when you come up their is debris everywhere, you will need something of your feet!! Thank you for posting!

    1. Ashley says:

      That’s what a few of you have been suggesting…….shoes is a great idea! Thanks Stephanie!

  35. Shannon says:

    Great storm shelter!!! I have lived in Texas, Arkansas, Kansas, and Alabama!!! I have lived through several tornadoes. We survived the April 27, 2011, tornadoes that ripped through Alabama. Over one hundred tornadoes in one day and hundreds killed. Believe me, I take it seriously, and you are amazingly prepared, and smart to do so. The only thing I would recommend would be sleeping bags, board games, shoes, and daily medications. The April 27th storms started at 5am for us, lasted into the late night. We lost all power right before dark. Our entire county lost all power, we had no gas, food, ATMs, nothing!!! That lasted for a week… You have never seen darkness like this, no lights anywhere. So I second the need for cash and important papers. Just remember you may want to plan for a long haul as these Super storms are producing tons of tornadoes, and they can have you in your shelter for a long time.

    1. Ashley says:

      Oh Shannon, you’ve seen a lot… glad you made it through all of that safely!

      And we have some card games and some toys down in there but I hadn’t really thought of sleeping bags. Maybe that’s where we’ll store them for camping…..and then they’re always handy for emergencies. Good thinking! :)

      And yes, documents….I need to make some copies.

      Thanks Shannon!

  36. Sara says:

    Great way to be provident. Maybe you’ll never need it….. But maybe the family after you will. I think it’s a great idea to be prepared. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Ashley says:

      It sure makes me feel better!

      Thanks Sara!

  37. Stacey says:

    I know what you are talking about with the sky — purple and green — like a sky you never ever see at any other time?! I grew up in Iowa and was always so scared huddling in the basement with our pets. I love that you put up “decor” so that it won’t feel scary.

    We’re in Texas now along the Gulf so we need to get ready for hurricanes!! Not to mention all the flooding we’ve just had.

    1. Ashley says:

      Oh yes, crazy sky!

      And stay safe down there……this rain has been so heavy!

      And now that we’re so much closer to the gulf, I think we’ll be planning some trips to the gulf —-see you there! ;)

  38. Melissa says:

    Now this has to be one of the smartest things I have seen in a long time This is coming from a woman who survived the destruction of the 2011 good Friday tornado with 6 children and my husband out of town. We have a basement but even in our basement the glass was flying from the basement windows along with huge tree debris I will never look at storms the same again. Even with a basement, I like your shelter better!!!

    1. Ashley says:

      Oh my, I bet that was so scary….and something you’ll never forget. Especially with 6 of your babies, ALONE! I hadn’t thought of basement glass but yep, I guess we don’t have to worry about that.

      Thanks Melissa!

  39. Hannah says:

    I’m glad you can have some peace of mind with your shelter! Just an FYI the plastic jugs that you are using for water will break down over time and leak out. I don’t know if two-liter bottles would last longer or if there is an alternative to using the plastic jugs (like glass or something else). Just wanted to let you know. Be safe out there! :)

    1. Ashley says:

      I didn’t really think of them breaking down. I kinda figured we would swap things out once a year, so hopefully they’ll be fine for that long. But something a little sturdier is a really good idea, thank you!!

  40. Ellie says:

    So interesting! We lived in New Orleans for a while so we had similar preparations for hurricanes, but everything had to be portable. The idea that you would only ever use this for a few minutes at a time is so different. I would second the suggestion to keep copies of all your vital docs (birth certificates, ID, insurance info) and some cash down there.

    I LOVE that you decorated with family pictures and a vase of flowers.

    1. Ashley says:

      Oh thanks, I think we’ll start making some copies of the important stuff.

      And hahaha……that vase turned out so cute, I kinda love it too!

  41. Kim says:

    We are in earthquake country and June is my month to go through and update our supplies. I was just thinking about the potty bucket and here is your awesome post – the pool noodle idea is so smart! Thanks for the great tip!

    1. Ashley says:

      Oh yes, this is perfect for you too!

      And stay safe with your natural disaster weather too! :)

  42. sharlyn says:

    Fascinating. I love the cardboard decor, so funny!

    1. Ashley says:

      Thanks… cracks us up too! :)

  43. Deb says:

    My fellow Okies have given you a lot of great suggestions for items to include. Your weather radio should be able to be programmed to exclude the t-storm warnings, and just allow the tornado warning for your county to sound. I have two of those things, and they are both programmed for my county so I don’t get everything blaring at all hours of the day.

    I agree with you that new residential construction should be required by law to have a storm shelter or safe room included during the building process. Sheltering at home keeps people off the roads during an event when they shouldn’t be driving around looking for public shelter while the sirens are wailing.

    I have to say, though, that my favorite part is the cardboard decor. That is so clever and fun, and what a way to recycle those packing boxes!

    1. Ashley says:

      Thanks Deb! And I know……do we want people scrambling to find a place, instead of just going down into their own shelter?!?! It’s just crazy. Oh, and yes, we did program it to exclude every other warning except for tornadoes and severe thunderstorms…but I think we may get rid of the thunderstorm setting. It was just going off to much.

      And haha, that cardboard decor makes my husband and I laugh…..but it’s our little second home! :)

  44. ira lee says:

    awesome!!! now i really want one. i’m in arkansas. i went to the website for pricing info and it’s not listed. i was just curious as to the cost. i guess you would need to just give them a call. and how super neat that it’s in the garage?!?! genius!

    1. Ashley says:

      When I bought mine….they had more pricing online. But it was different than the price I paid at Lowe’s (which was cheaper because they had a promotion going). So, yes, you’d have to either call or check out a local Lowe’s. However, to give you an idea, we paid something like $3000, including digging the hole and installing.

      I did find some more pricing info on their facebook page here:
      Click on their photo album section and you’ll see some diagrams for pricing. But those prices are more than they were in March when I was looking……because it’s the middle of tornado season. I’m sure the prices will change in a few months again.

      Anyway, hope that helps!

  45. Roberta says:

    This was such an informative post! I had the same vision as you for the tornado shelter, but they sure have some a long way and sound very secure and stable. I wish that my state was able to put these things in for Hurricanes, but we aren’t high enough above sea level! Getting to the center most room without windows is a bathroom for us and not as cozy as this! Thankfully we usually have enough warning to cozy it up a bit though.

    That potty is adorable, I will be searching for that online for our next camping trip and love that it all fits in the bucket.

    1. Ashley says:

      Haha….you did? Wizard of Oz has done a number on all of us! :)

      Oh, and stay safe in those hurricanes…..that’s just as frightening!

      And the bucket toilets will be something I take to every camping trip from here on out. I love it too!

  46. Tamar says:

    Wow… I really liked the “noodle” as a toilet seat… but you may want to consider keeping a few buckets w/ lids down there just in case or even some adult underwear… or not I don’t know I live in an area where we hardly ever get tornadoes but snowstorms…we are the capital of snowstorms…i think :)

    1. Ashley says:

      I know, isn’t that a cool idea?! And you know, buckets are pretty easy to just stack and store….I might just do that. :)

  47. sarah says:

    Looks like you’ve done a great job preparing! You might want to consider keeping shoes and sweatshirts/ponchos down there too. If there is a tornado, there will be broken glass and debris everywhere. I don’t know about OK (I’ve never lived that far south) but after tornadoes, it is usually cold and sometimes still rainy.

    1. Ashley says:

      I hadn’t thought about extra shoes and ponchos….but that’s a great idea, thank you!!!

  48. Sally Frazier says:

    I have followed your posts for a long time. Welcome to Oklahoma. I will agree it is different ( I am originally from Illinois) but it will grow on you. Just to let you know the current rain situation is very unusual. Glad to see you have a shelter and have arranged it so it is not a frightening place for the kids.

    Loved your tips on what to have stored in it. When my daughter was young, she saw me take a clothes basket with pictures down into the shelter and asked what I was doing. After that, she came pushing her own clothes basket with her most “precious” items…her stuffed animals.

    1. Ashley says:

      That’s what I keep hearing….that this rain is not normal.

      And haha, kids are so curious and observant! And they just think it’s totally normal to stash your important stuff down in a hole in the ground! :)

  49. Christina says:

    Absolutely fascinating. I’ve always been infatuated with tornadoes ever since I was a little girl. Although I live in Alberta (which tornadoes do happen, just rarely) I found this so interesting. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Ashley says:

      You’re welcome Christina……and you’d fit in really well with the locals here! ;)

  50. Rachael says:

    Thank you! That’s actually fascinating, because I’ve never seen one before. I really enjoyed all the details! It seems a little claustrophobic, but I’m sure it’s actually just cozy. And it’s not like you’re living down there!

    1. Ashley says:

      Well good, I thought is was pretty interesting too!

      And yes, it kind of is a tight space…..but worth my peace of mind! :)

  51. HG says:

    Hi, thanks, this was very interesting. I live in Texas and we have had such crazy weather lately too. One thing I suggest is that you also keep copies of your important documents in the bin. Copies of passports, licences, insurance contacts, some cash. Just in case something drastic happens which we hope won’t!

    1. Ashley says:

      That’s a really good idea, thanks!

      And stay safe down there in TX too! :)

  52. Katherine says:

    Don’t forget a first aid kit!

    1. Ashley says:

      Yep, we’ve got one of those in there….it’s just kind of hard to see in the picture! :)

  53. janik says:

    thanks for sharing! In europe we don’t have tornado, such a chance!

  54. Julie says:

    That’s so cool! Kind of makes me want to have a shelter as well (although there’s more chance for it to get flooded as I’m in the UK :p).
    I love how cute you’ve made this little place. I think we’d all have been pretty disappointed if you hadn’t put some fun into this project ;-)
    Seriously though I hope you will never have to get down there xx

    1. Ashley says:

      Haha……..thanks Julie! I just couldn’t help it! Plus, the kids thought it was so cool to put their artwork on the walls—so it was perfect! :)

  55. Carole M says:

    this is great! I totally understand you because I lived in Topeka Kansas for some time and was also fearful of the tornados. My only question is if you actually park your car in the garage and then there is a true tornado coming you still need to move the car first? But I think it looks great and well prepared. Thanks for sharing. :)

    1. Ashley says:

      Oh, yes…you know how this all feels! :)

      And no, we don’t actually park there. It’s the 3rd bay to our garage and so it’s actually where Steve keeps all his tools, the lawnmower, bikes, etc. But, if we did……I guess there should be enough warning with sirens and such to pull your car out and quickly go down in there, if needs be.

  56. Alice S. says:

    Do you have a can opener down there?

    1. Ashley says:

      No, I haven’t tossed one in. 2 of the cans are ones that pop open from the top…..but I do need to buy a cheap one to keep down in there, just in case. Thanks for the reminder, I added it to my list! :)

  57. fitri says:

    To see and read this posting hurt my stomach most, we live in Midwest – st Louis to be exact, I know what you feel about tornado. Better prepare than sorry , we always prepare for the worst . Our home hit by storm 2 times during tornado season , the worst case was 2 years ago when my husband got injured after big storm – 2 weeks in hospital and broken spine , wrists , it was a nightmare , and still thinking about hospital bill after that. Cross finger this never happen anymore. Wishing you and your family always healthy and safe. Your shelter looks cozy, though ..

    1. Ashley says:

      Oh no, I’m so sorry! You guys have certainly been through a lot with these tornadoes. Hopefully nothing more like that will happen to you guys….or to anyone really. It’s such a scary thing that all happens so quickly.

      Thanks for the well wishes……and I hope the same for you guys!

  58. Heidi says:

    Very interesting and informing post, thanks for sharing!

    1. Ashley says:

      Thank Heidi! :)

  59. Kendra says:

    No pillows or blankets down there? It doesn’t look very comfortable to sit for any length of time!

    1. Ashley says:

      That’s something that’s on the “still need to add” list. Because you’re right…’s not super comfy. But from what I hear, when you have to go down inside to take cover, you’re not down there very long. But I’m going to throw some old blankets down there anyway. :)

    2. Bertha G says:

      Just remember to grab a blankie and pillow when you head down there. That way they are always fresh and soft. Our shelter has a very thin indoor/outdoor carpet on the floor and benches.
      I have lived in Oklahoma all my 60 years, and have never been down in the shelter because of a storm. For most of my life, I didn’t have a shelter, so we did spend some time in the interior areas. If you remain calm, so will the kids, and they won’t grow up with a terrifying anxiety every time a rainstorm comes, but a healthy respect for what the storms can do.
      Just looking at your pictures, I think you might have the “hand rail” turned the wrong way in the upright position? Shouldn’t the flat part be to the outside so you have a better grip going up or down the steps? I hope your Oklahoma adventure continues to be wonderful. 2015 has been a very unusual weather year. Welcome!

    3. Anonymous says:

      I live in Texas… Even though it’s in the garage you must also register with the police department to let them know you have a storm shelter in the garage in case your house or any thing blocks the sliding door to get out. This way they will know that is where you are. You need can goods for survival to keep everyone feed along with the other as told earlier. I keep cots in mine to sleep on just in case. If it’s bad it could take up to 3 to 5 days to rescue you.

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

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