LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — Most homeowners know the uneasy feeling that consumes you when a tornado warning tracks across the bottom of your television screen.
The questions that roll through the mind are concerns for safety and well-being. There are a lot of “what ifs.”
Uncertainty is a familiar feeling for those in Kentuckiana who experienced the tornado outbreak of 2012. Ten years ago, those families were making their way to the safest place in their homes. Some survived, but others did not.
The National Weather Service (NWS) is clear in its messaging: having a tornado plan is a necessity.
“The first thing that’s going to happen is your roof is going to come off,” NWS Meteorologist Brian Schoettmer said.
Schoettmer walked through a Louisville house with its owner, Logan Dunman, to discuss the proper safety plan.
“Yeah, this room looks like, probably, your best bet,” he told Dunman regarding his unfinished basement. “The only concern in this area is that little window right there. I think if you could get underneath the stairwell, that’s going to offer you the most protection.”
The NWS meteorologist carefully examined each room and described to Dunman what would happen if he were to find himself there during a tornado. It’s a multi-level home with a basement and upstairs area. Part of the basement is unfinished, and the two agreed that the solid, concrete foundation in that area is the safest place during a weather event.
Schoettmer pointed out a few areas upstairs that are last resort options. The bathroom and a closet both are without windows and exterior walls. Schoettmer told Dunman that’s a good thing but that because the roof is the first thing to come off of a house in a tornado, it’s still dangerous in the event of a tornado any higher than a 2 on the Enhanced Fujita (EF-Scale) Scale.
At the point of an EF-2 tornado, the roof can be ripped off.
“If you are upstairs on that upper level, you will then be exposed to the outside,” he said.
Several others were at Dunman’s house too Monday. Nathan Grimes, a structural engineer with Renaissance Design Build Incorporated, talked with the homeowner about retrofitting his house.
But that’s nearly impossible. Dunman’s home is sturdy with a concrete foundation, but it’s wood-framed. Grimes said there is only so much to do that could add to the integrity of wood-framed homes.
“Those are just sitting there,” Grimes said, pointing out floor joists from the unfinished basement.
The joists attached to the beams in the house are toenailed, meaning the connection is made with only a nail. It concerned Grimes.
“They have a nail going through them diagonally into the seal plate,” he told Dunman. “That’s not the most secure connection.”
The structural engineer recommended reinforcing the connection of joists and beams with Simpson Strong Ties, commonly referred to as Hurricane Clips. The clips, or ties, act as an anchor for the frame of the house. It tightly secures connections of the wood framing to hold the home together in high wind situations.
Dunman can easily upgrade the connections in his unfinished basement with Hurricane Ties. They are only a few dollars at most hardware stores. However, reinforcing the connections throughout the whole home would be quite expensive.
Tearing up drywall and a lot of attic work on the roof would be time consuming and expensive. However, Grimes said that the upgraded connections in just the unfinished basement may not protect the entire home but could make the difference in life or death if a massive tornado hit.
“God forbid a tornado would happen, if you’re trying to prevent that and maintain your house’s integrity, that would help you, yes,” he told Dunman.
Also along the walk-through of Dunman’s house is Bud Ray, the owner of Ray Southeastern Design, who has built a number of homes. He’s started suggesting storm shelters in all the basements he builds.
“Typically, you could put a storm shelter underneath the porch, but you’re going to need to do that during the planning phase of construction,” Ray said.
It’s unfortunate news for current homeowners, as adding a concrete storm shelter underground is not easy or cost-efficient.
However, Bud encourages Dunman to consider such if he ever decides to build in the future.
“It is eye-opening and it’s good knowledge to know in the back of your mind to know what you can do and what you can’t do,” Dunman told WDRB News after the walk-through.
He admitted that there is some work most homeowners should do, and he’s looking at ways to secure his home after these conversations.
Dunman’s sister lives in Mayfield, Kentucky, where an EF-4 ripped through in December. His sister and her home were unharmed, but it has opened up Dunman’s eyes on tornado safety moving forward.
“It’s something I’m going to think about and look at because it could be the difference of saving your life,” he said.
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