Should You Hide In a Crawl Space During a Tornado?

Having a plan in place for a tornado warning is essential if you live in a tornado-prone area. The safest place to wait out during a tornado is underground in a tornado shelter or basement. However, if you do not have either, you might ask if the crawl space is safe during a tornado? 

If your home doesn’t have a basement or shelter then it’s possible a crawl space may be the safest place in your home to hide during a tornado. However, it’s also likely that it’s an uninhabitable and dangerous place to hide.

The main factor that determines the safeness of your crawl space during a tornado is what your house is made from. Foundations made with concrete are less likely to collapse compared to foundations built with cinder blocks or wood. 

If you decide to use your crawl space for a tornado, ensure you have sealed your crawl space from critters, pests, dust, and debris. 

Also, you need to consider what is above your crawl space and make sure your hiding spot is not under heavy items in your home. If you have not taken these steps, do not have a basement, or have little time to act, avoid windows and go to the lowest floor in a small center room. Places under the stairwell, an interior hallway, or the bathtub may provide the best shelter.

What is a Crawl Space?

A crawl space is an unfinished space in between the ground and the first floor of a building. A crawl space typically has only enough room to crawl through, hence its name. 

In a crawl space, you can typically see the footings and walls of your foundation. You can see blocks stacked on each other with mortar fill, or you can see smooth concrete poured walls. 

Crawl spaces are designed to keep the house off of the soil and control the moisture in the home. Crawl spaces are significantly cheaper to build versus basements.

Check Your Foundation

If your foundation was built with concrete blocks or cinder blocks, the weakest part of your house might end up being the mortar in between the blocks during a tornado. Your home may become a “slider,” which is when a building disconnects from its foundation but stays intact. 

If you are under your house in the crawl space, you may chance being crushed by your home. Ensure that your house is built with poured solid concrete if you intend to use your crawl space for a safe place during a tornado. 

Insulated concrete forms (ICF) can withstand winds over 200 mph, making homes built with these ideal. Wood supports will not hold up during a severe tornado.

Preparation of Your Crawl Space

If you plan to use the crawl space during a tornado, preparation will include;

  • Sealing the space from bugs and critters. Make sure you are safe from snakes, black widow spiders, and other pests. Concrete sealing is best for this.
  • Clear the space of insulation, dust, and rodent feces. You don’t want to be breathing debris when getting yourself into the crawl space or when the wind from the tornado picks up.
  • Ensure you are not under anything heavy, such as appliances, pianos, couches, etc.
  • A sealed door that will not get blown off and latches from the inside.
  • Ensure that your crawl space will not flood.

If you have taken these steps and have had ample warning of the tornado, your crawl space may be the safest place in your house. Just remember that it is hard to get into your crawl space and will take time. 

Make sure to practice getting into your crawl space with regular drills.

Bathrooms Vs. Crawl Space

While bathrooms and crawl spaces have similarities in structure, they are not the same. Both bathrooms and crawl spaces have house utility lines running through them. In bathrooms, water pipes are running through the walls. 

There may be water pipes, heating ducts, and other electrical wiring running the floor-length above or the walls in crawl spaces. Water pipes in the bathroom walls help secure the structure further, making the tub in the bathroom one of the safest places in the house.

In contrast, these utility lines may cause more harm in a crawl space. If a water line bursts during a tornado in the crawl space, you have very little room to get out of the water. Add electrical wiring to that situation, and the situation can turn perilous.

Other Safe Options

If you do not have time to get to your safe crawl space during a tornado, the recommendation is to find a safe place inside your home. Ideally, on the bottom floor, in the center of the house with no windows. 

Safe spots include under the stairs, interior hallways, and bathrooms. Remember to cover your head with your hands, or better yet, have a helmet for the storm. Cover your body with blankets, pillows, or a mattress for extra protection. Always be mindful of what is on the floor above you.

If you live in a mobile home or a non-permanent building, do not seek shelter underneath. Find a permanent structure for safety and wait out the storm there. You should figure out this location beforehand in your tornado evacuation plan.

Work as a team if you have friends, relatives, or neighbors with a basement. Try to make a deal with them and ask if you can sleep in their basement during a nighttime tornado watch. Make sure you can get to this location quickly and avoid traffic if driving.

Tornado Preparation

If you live in an area where tornadoes are common, you should have a shelter installed on your property. Ideally underground, but any FEMA standard safe-room would be best.

Know the signs of a tornado and be up to date with the latest emergency weather reporting.

Have an emergency evacuation plan and run through your scenarios with yearly drills. Have a plan for after the storm as well. 

  • Where are you going to go if the tornado destroys your house? 
  • Where will your family meet up if you are separated? 
  • What will you do with your pets? 

Write your emergency plan down in a binder and leave it in a centrally located place in your house. Always share your emergency plan with someone you trust.

Have an emergency bag in a central location in the house. Fill your bag with a first aid kit, water, emergency blanket, survival food bar, and extra medication. Ensure that the bag has enough for everyone in your family, including pets.

Taking steps to be prepared is vital for any survival situation and may potentially save your life during a severe tornado.