What is a Storm Shelter? (with pictures)

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Storm shelters should be able to withstand hailstorms.
Storm shelters should be able to withstand hailstorms.

A storm shelter is a structure or room which is designed to keep people safe during extreme weather conditions. As fans of the Wizard of Oz may know, underground storm shelters are very common in some regions of the world, but it is also possible to build a storm shelter above ground, and in some cases this may even be preferable. The primary goal with the construction of a storm shelter is to provide a space which will be safe and sound for people during a storm.

Never stand beneath a metal pole or raised surface in an otherwise flat area during a lightning storm.
Never stand beneath a metal pole or raised surface in an otherwise flat area during a lightning storm.

Storms pose a number of threats to conventional structures. High winds can cause structural failure, causing a structure to collapse, while flooding can introduce water and debris into a structure. Heavy wind can also pick up large objects which cause severe damage when they strike a structure. In the case of a storm shelter, windows and projections like eaves and trim are eliminated, leaving no weak points for heavy weather, and the structure is reinforced so that it can cope with high winds, floodwaters, and heavy objects. The shelter can also double as a bomb shelter, since the requirements for storm and bomb shelters are very similar.

A storm shelter can save lives during a tornado.
A storm shelter can save lives during a tornado.

The advantage to an underground storm shelter is that the earth itself acts as insulation, protecting the occupants from tornadoes and hurricanes. However, underground structures can collapse or flood if they are poorly constructed. Aboveground structures need to be carefully constructed to ensure that they are safe, but they can be easier for rescue teams to access, which is a distinct advantage. In some regions, people have constructed storm shelters which double as safe rooms in the event of a home invasion or civil unrest.

A fully prepared survival kit should be available in your storm shelter.
A fully prepared survival kit should be available in your storm shelter.

A good storm shelter is strong enough to remain standing even if the surrounding structure is compromised, and it has space to store food, water, medical supplies, and other things which may be valuable if people are forced to stay in the shelter for several days. Ample bedding and entertainment are highly advised, as is some form of communication system with the outside, like a radio, so that the occupants can know when it is safe to open the storm shelter.

Bomb and fallout shelters can often double as storm shelters.
Bomb and fallout shelters can often double as storm shelters.

Numerous companies manufacture storm shelters which can be assembled and installed above and below ground, with options like in-home entrance. However, consumers should be aware that these storm shelters are not tested for durability; while they must meet building codes, no government obligates the company to put their storm shelters through stormy conditions to determine how safe they are. Therefore, it is a good idea to consult an experienced contractor who has a history of building and installing storm shelters to find the safest and most secure option.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

julies

I found that a very interesting idea to check with an experienced contractor before purchasing a storm shelter. You really never know how well something like that will hold up unless it is really put to the test. You would not want to think that you had a well built storm or tornado shelter, only to find out that it didn't pass the real test.

LisaLou

I remember growing up with storm shelter underground and a separate building outside the house. As a child it seemed a scary place and I don't ever remember using it. I do remember heading downstairs to the basement a few times when severe storms were passing by.

If you live in an area of the country where you have frequent storms and do not have a basement, I think a storm shelter would be a good thing to look into.

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    • Storm shelters should be able to withstand hailstorms.
      Storm shelters should be able to withstand hailstorms.
    • Never stand beneath a metal pole or raised surface in an otherwise flat area during a lightning storm.
      Never stand beneath a metal pole or raised surface in an otherwise flat area during a lightning storm.
    • A storm shelter can save lives during a tornado.
      A storm shelter can save lives during a tornado.
    • A fully prepared survival kit should be available in your storm shelter.
      A fully prepared survival kit should be available in your storm shelter.
    • Bomb and fallout shelters can often double as storm shelters.
      Bomb and fallout shelters can often double as storm shelters.