Friday, April 29, 2011


I first heard the news yesterday morning and called my brother who is up from Alabama visiting the family farm for a week to help put in the crop. It has been too wet so far to do that so mostly we have been hunting mushrooms but that is a post for another day. I called him to see how his wife and kids are since they were among the dozens of red 'tornadoes reported' on the map. He didn't know. They gave up their land line a year ago and now just have cellphones and he couldn't get a call through. Fortunately this evening he finally was able and learned that his wife and kids were alright, just barely.

Evidently the tornado has been coming directly for them but skipped up over about a mile of terrain coming down again about a quarter of a mile past their house at the corner of the road they living on and continuing the path of destruction. Neighbors, friends and more than a few church members are among the dead but my brother's family survived intact. They have an advantage because their house has a basement when most houses in that part of the country are build on a ground level slab. Lots of the deaths are from houses where all that remains is just a slab and they literally had no chance of survival. A basement drastically helps those odds.

So my brother is headed down a day earlier than planned and since there is no running water or electricity and it may be that way for weeks according to local officials, he will be stocking up on bottled water and a generator on the way home. I'm just glad my brother and his family are alive and saddened to know a few of those neighbors whom I met a little over a year ago when I was down there perished. It just goes to show how fragile life is.

It also reinforced my opinion that we who live in the tornado belt, need to get serious about housing. Every house should have a basement or dug in storm shelter. I don't think I would buy a house without one. That is why perhaps in a few years when I might begin the dream of designing and building my own home, I plan on doing it right and building a home that is not only F5 tornado proof, it is also Category 5 hurricane proof and fire proof. It dwarfs houses that are platinum LEED certified in efficiency, very unique, have endless design possibilities without constraints and are pretty dang attractive. I'm not sure why anyone would ever want to live in a fragile house built of sticks when you could live in a monolithic dome.


R. Sherman said...

Why anyone in the midwest or south would have a home w/o a basement or storm cellar is not clear to me. I've lived here long enough to know that it's worth the cost, even if the square footage of living space is reduced on the ground floor, to have a place of refuge in bad weather. Here, basements are standard and one has to look hard to find a house without one.

Anyway, I'm glad your family is OK. My mom hasn't yet been able to reach her sister and cousins in Anniston.

Eutychus2 said...

Ed..... glad to hear your family is safe. My oldest daughter, and family live in southern Al. about two hours south of Birmingham so they were able to weather the storms a little better.

I agree with you and Sherm; and agree, even though my ole bones are screaming out against it, I wouldn't want a home w/o a basement as long as
we're in the midwest.

Sherm, hope your mom hears from her
sister and cousins.

sage said...

I am glad to hear that your brother's family is okay. A friend has a son at UA and he finally was able to borrow someone satallite phone to call home on and let his parents know he was okay--as lines and cell towers were down or jammed.

I think domes are neat, but question if they would withstand a direct hit with a cat. 5 tornado. The architect that did our recent project was designing a storage/command center for a major insurance company and he spoke about how impossible it would be to build something above ground to survive a 5 (he said that well built commerical buildings should survive a direct hit with a 3, but there would be no windows left)

fullfreezer said...

Glad to hear your family is OK. We had a good friend who just barely missed being hit by the tornado in Gloucester VA the last go around. It's amazing. We lived in Virginia for 7 years and tornados were a very rare event. I wonder if global wierding is shifting tornado alley to the south and east... ya gotta wonder.

Ron said...

Glad to hear your bros family is safe.

We're not in tornado alley, the maps say, but when I spent the first afternoon huddled on the ground of the pole barn while all hell broke loose, it seemed like a root cellar would be a good idea.

Now, I'm glad we have the thing. It gives some peace of mind when the radar is nothing but red and trees are blowing horizontal.

Ed said...

R. Sherman - Same here and I'm glad they do have basements. I've hunkered in mine more than once during my tenure in this house.

Eutychus2 - I've been reading about your relatives who were in Ringold, GA. All you can do is be in awe at the power.

Sage - There is a good article on that site that I linked that does a good job of explaining this but say you have a 30ft tall conventional home in the middle of a parking lot. The highest winds a tornado can produce are around 300 mph which would equate to around 400 lbs per square foot of pressure being applied to the house. We all know that know house can withstand that, at least one that isn't a monolithic dome which can withstand pressures over 2000 lbs per square foot. That latter figure is also figuring on 4000 psi concrete which is really light compared to what they usually use.

Fullfreezer - I believe global warming is playing a part and we are seeing these weather extremes as a result. I just hope that we are in the middle or end of the cycle and not just beginning.

Ron - If I had a slab level house, I certainly would have a storm cellar. There are things that you can control to mitigate the risk but tornadoes aren't one of them. We are on the furthest fringes of tornado alley but I have certainly seen my share of them over the years.

edifice rex said...

I've built a lot of hellacious concrete buildings, tall and flat, thick, you name it. That thing I saw last week has made even me doubt the absolute safety of concrete above ground. Not saying it's not possible but....(shudder). I think I need a root cellar.

Ron said...

One thing that struck me about those monolithic houses at that link... they'd fit right in with your local architecture. :)

I've also read about dry-stack block, and spraying with SBC. The end result was hurricane-proof... not sure about tornadoes. Concrete blocks are hollow, so there would be quite the amount of strength against impact. SBC is incredibly strong, though, with all those little fiberglass hairs substituting for rebar.

I like the domes in concept. A lot of questions come to mind regarding details... wiring, plumbing, etc... but it would sure be nice to have a house more or less immune from the forces of decay and storms.

Ed said...

Edifice Rex - I have a suspicion that I already said this on your blog but monolithic domes have already survived direct hits by tornadoes, multiple hurricanes and even a out of control wildfire in California. They are also the only approved FEMA hurricane and tornado shelters.

Ron - You've been reading up on the area eh? Yah, I'm not sure I would want to build one right in this town for fear of the classification I would be lumped into.

After your root cellar experience, I pointed out your blog posts on the subject and convinced him to give it a try. He did it for the footings and lower wall on a strawbale out building and had excellent results. While strong and easy to build flat walls, I wouldn't want to do a dome with it. I would guess 90% of the domes strength is its shape with the other 10% coming from its monolithic properties.

As for wiring and plumbing, doing so in exterior walls takes planning well in advance. Doing so in interior walls is just like a conventional house.

I should do a longer post on all that I've learned over the years as a way to talk through it in my head and provide my readers like you with more details. They truly are remarkable structures.

geri said...

I am glad your family's brother is okay. I had the same feeling of panic, helplessness and dread when a flood killed 8,000 from my hometown while I was studying in a different island and had no contact with my family for 3 days. I was only assured that they were alive when I saw them with my own eyes but not after wading through blocks of knee-high mud. What happened in Alabama is frightening especially knowing such devastation certainly won't be the last in our lifetime and another manifestation of nature's wrath in the same form or another could hit possibly too close to home.