Cats and Tornado Alley

In light of the horrific devastation caused by the 200 mph tornado that cut through Moore, Oklahoma, which appears to be a suburb of Oklahoma City, I thought I’d just touch base on this subject. At least 91 people have been killed and the number is likely to rise

For Brits, America does have extreme weather that we don’t experience. Oklahoma City is in tornado alley, a large strip of land in middle America where tornados are more likely to occur.

My personal interest in tornado alley, and extreme weather generally in Oklahoma, comes from my connection to A1 Savannahs, where I have stayed (they have a nice guest house). Even when I was there, they had a spectacular storm in the distance and when I went to a cat show in Oklahoma City the wind was howling outside clattering poles and slamming doors.

A1 Savannahs is in tornado alley. So, incidentally, is Helmi Flick’s residence which is near Dallas in Texas.

Cats and Tornados

Cats and Tornados. Top photo by Michael. Map by Storm Prediction Center (modified by me)

A1 Savannahs are extremely professional so I know they have systems in place to deal with extreme weather but how do you protect against a 200 mph tornado? You can’t. I suspect that A1 Savannahs have to keep a watchful idea on extreme weather of any kind in order to protect their cats, of which there are many. They have a big facility over a large area.

The Oklahoman landscape is wide and open. It is quite flat. The landscape is completely different to the English landscape.

The human causalities from this extreme weather event are tragic but I would like to mention the companion animals. We should not forget them. I am sure some cats have been killed.

I wonder if cats can predict the arrival of a tornado? It is said that they can predict the arrival of an earthquake and animals in general are very sensitive to weather changes.

Cats Predicting Weather

Back in the old days in England, almost 400 years ago, cats were considered good predictors of incoming, inclement weather. Here are some quotes:

Puss on the hearth, with velvet paws
Sits wiping o’er his whiskered jaws (Signs of Foul Weather)

“It is a common notion that when a cat scratches the legs of a table, it is a prognostic of change in weather”

“She useth therefore to wash her face with her feet, which she licketh and moisteneth with her tongue; and it is observed by some that if she put her feet beyond the crown of her head, this kind of washing, it is a sign of rain” — (John Swan “Spectum Mundi” 1643)

“While rain depends, the pensive cat gives o’er her frolicks and pursues her tail no more.” (1710)

I will guess that many Oklahomans have cellars where they can take refuge during a tornado. Some of them will have been constructed for the purpose. I wonder if cat owners watch their cat for signs of foul weather.
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Cats and Tornado Alley — 60 Comments

  1. Hopefully A1 Savannahs have a system for getting the cats down into a basement of cellar in case of emergency. However having a bunch of F1 cats in a small basement seems like a tricky if not impossible thing to deal with.

    • They have a large number of breeding cats in outbuildings and in outside enclosures. These cats are vulnerable. They are very smart people so probably have contingency plans.

      • I notice that the houses that get flattened are all made of wood. So is A1 Savannahs by the looks of it. Wood is not good for this kind of weather. Houses should be made with bricks and stone. Simple as that.

        • It is made of wood as far as I am aware. A lot of houses in the US are and they are quite cheap. I’m not sure how good they are at insulation. Air conditioning is widely used which pushes up the carbon footprint.

          • Older homes don’t require air conditioning as much as newer homes. Older homes will often have porches on or even all the way around the building which provide shade and a place to sit in hot weather. Newer homes don’t have this cover around the house. Today we just stick a deck on the back of the house with no cover from the sun at all, like that’s supposed to be useable. Then you have to buy a big awning to put out there that costs a lot of money, but does save you on cooling costs. Shouldn’t the house have come with that? Older homes are designed to be cool in the summer, because they were built before air conditioning. Today they don’t use those techniques, because they are just going to install central air. But what if we used the older techniques? Central air could still be available, but you wouldn’t need to use it as much and when you did it wouldn’t work as hard. We do have better forms of insulation today, but again I say, if you put the porches around the house in the style of the older homes, plus having modern insulation, you would have a very comfortable and efficient home.

            • I hear you – actually I live in a ground floor apartment in an old building made of stone/concrete/bricks and it’s nice a cool in the summer. When I go downstairs to do my laundry its so nice and cool down there and that is totally natural. I agree with the principal that they should make more of an effort to build something perhaps a bit more expensive to start with but then it means saving energy and money from there on out. The cheaper things get done the more expensive they become. (did that rhyme? I think it did 🙂 )

        • Here’s what really mystifies me in the US. There is a huge problem with termites in certain parts of this country. (Not where I live, thank goodness.) Why is everything built with wood down there? Why do they continue to build with wood so much? If the area is known for termite infestations, isn’t that kind of just asking for it?

          • lol, well kind of, i mean that’s pretty darn serious actually. Termites are serious. If you have more than one floor it gets dangerous – my friend in Toronto had to do extensive work on her house because of Carpenter ants. What a name for ants, anyway they made a mess of the first floor, inside it, and it became a bit of a dangerous situation.

            My dad had a grand piano passed down the family to him but sadly that got destroyed by some kind of little something or others that made tons of tiny little holes in the inner workings of the it’s structure.

          • That is something that mystifies me too because in Britain every house is built in brick. The wood home is very USA.

            Where does the wood come from? I hope it is sustainable but I doubt it.

            The USA is heading for a fall, a big, big fall economically. Let’s wait and see. It will take time.

            • Really? Worse than Europe? They have all of northern Canada to chop down if they need more wood. Canada has a terrible attitude towards sustainability because it has so much space and land it doesn’t need to make and effort to protect it. Southern Ontario along with Texas was the most polluted area in North America when I was living there about 6 years ago. People associate Canada with clean air and natural lifestyles but it’s the direct opposite.

              • One thing I do like about the lumber industry is that the loggers keep out those who would build crappy hotels and ugly condominiums over every square inch of land up north. What’s owned by logging companies and paper mills stays forested. They replant as much as they harvest. Very sustainable and it keeps out a lot of development. There’s a lot of forests north of my hometown because of a paper mill up there. It is less spoiled than my hometown.

            • This is slowly changing in the U.S. The newer upper middle class communities are brick and stone.
              Those of us who believe in alternative energy and bldg matls. construct with berms, haybales, old worn tires, stucco, concrete blocks, stone, giant timber bamboo, down, did I mention haybales. Many other possibilities. Took a class twenty yrs ago here in Lincoln NE at our Southeast Comm. College on “Alternative Building Design.” Someday when I own a piece of land, I know pretty much how I am going to build, and it will be green. (I’ve been collecting solar panels at auction for yrs now.) Those of us poor folk either rent, buy in older rundown hoods hoping to bring the neighborhoods back to respectability or scrimp and save, waiting for that day when we can build on our own patch of land.

              • I love alternative building materials. In the UK it would be difficult to organise that and very few people build their own homes. Modern build in the UK is far worse quality than in days gone by. In certain parts of the USA there are certain dangers posed by nature and building regulations should accommodate that. California lies on a fault line doesn’t it. Do they impose regulations on earthquake proof buildings? In order to protect families including cats homes should be tailored for the environment.

    • At least tornados don’t last long. A hurricane can last for days, but a tornado is over in a matter of minutes. The hard part would be whether to move all the animals in the basement for a watch? Or do you wait for a warning and hope you have enough time? A tornado watch means conditions are right for a tornado, but none have been spotted. A warning means one has been spotted, either a rotating wall cloud, a funnel cloud or one on the ground. A watch can last for six hours or more and can happen a few times in one week during peak tornado season. Are you going to cram all the cats in the basement every time?

      During storms Monty goes under our bed or into the basement and he stays there. Either place would be quite safe for him even during a tornado. I always joke if we have one I’ll be out on the porch trying to get a glimpse of it, while Monty will be safely in the basement. Luckily, tornados are rare this close to Lake Michigan. We had a lot more where I used to live, up north. Wisconsin Dells had one in the 1970’s and a woman told me she saw those old heavy metal garbage cans flying through the air. She was watching out her living room window. If she had a cat, he was probably in the basement.

      • I remember a few Tornado watches when I was out of Toronto for summer weekends along lake Huron – you can’t spend the whole time in the basement. They need to come up with some kind very accurate warning system – maybe they have and I just don’t know about it. It would strike me as being necessary to have a battery powered radio to guarantee such a warning communication given power cuts and so on.

  2. Marc, not all wooden houses get flattened. Depending on the strength of the tornado, it is usually just the new ones, the poorly constructed ones. It has become standard practice to skip using bolts to secure the house into the foundation. Instead there are just some nails which are easily ripped out during a tornado. When a tornado ripped through Stoughton a few years ago it left all the newer homes in this subdivision looking like a pile of matchsticks, but right in the center of it all was an old farmhouse standing tall. It had been directly in the same path of the storm as all the newer homes. They showed on the news how the newer construction techniques are shoddy compared to methods used to construct the 100 year old building. One person died in that tornado. He was in the basement, but the chimney collapsed and fell on him. He lived in what was probably a half a million dollar house. But all these McMansions are constructed so poorly that you may as well be in a trailer park during a tornado.

    When my sister and I were kids my mom hired a woman who lived in a mobile home to look after us during the day during our summer break from school. That trailer park had a main building, made of brick and having a basement, and during a tornado everyone was supposed to go there. One of my tutoring kids lives in a mobile home. I asked him where their tornado shelter is and he said they don’t have one. I can’t imagine having children or animals with me in a situation like that. There should be a law requiring the person renting out lots in that trailer park to provide a tornado shelter for everyone. I always thought that was the law.

    • Really interesting point, Ruth, because wouldn’t it make sense if the building regulations for houses in tornado alley were tight enough to make the homes tornado resistant in the same way houses in Japan are earthquake resistant?

      • I know, right? It’s just stupid that building codes allow buildings to be built in such a way that they are death traps in tornadoes, and that people are allowed to live in mobile homes, which are death traps in tornadoes, and not have any type of shelter nearby.

        Now, I know that with a severe enough storm, any home can be flattened, but in Stoughton it was just such an obvious picture of the fact that that storm wasn’t severe enough to destroy older, well built homes. We’re seeing a rise in deaths in tornadoes because of shoddy construction. But wouldn’t safe construction cost more? Not really. For the price of a few bolts a life was lost. And those homes aren’t cheap! It’s all about greed. Skimp on materials and hurry through construction, then charge an insane amount of money for this big home. But all it is is big. There is a small trend towards smaller homes which are well built, away from the “McMansions” or bigger homes that are just slapped together.

        Luckily for Monty and I, we aren’t rich enough to afford a new home. I feel safe in our duplex, built in 1925. It would take a pretty severe tornado to collapse it. I don’t expect any building code to make homes safe in every tornado, and most tornadoes aren’t the really severe ones anyway. But building codes should be such that homes can stand up to the less severe storms which are very, very common around here.

        • It’s all about greed. Skimp on materials and hurry through construction…

          It is about a modern phenomenon: thinking short term and ignoring long term issues and sustainability. Making the buck quickly but not looking long term for growth.

          Doing things properly and taking longer over it reaps rewards in the long term.

          It also saves the lives of people and cats and dogs and other animals.

          One of the problems in the UK is that government offices (civil servants) are not efficient anymore. They are not “fit for purpose”. Government systems and functions are failing which means that government can no longer govern.

          That is a dire situation and it shows in the state of the country. I sense that some of those problems are present in the USA too.

        • I prefer a smaller home with a bigger garden anyway. I notice in the US when I explore on google maps that the houses there are often huge and fill up most or all the plots of land. There are many big big houses out there. I wouldn’t know what to do with all that space. I’d love a little cottage or house and maybe a nice little barn/big shed (if I’m out of town) so I can work on my bikes and display them in there. But actual living space/house size I don’t need to be big. It’s true the quality these days is getting really bad. I think it should cost a bit more and be a bit safer. I have a friend in CA who bought an entire house with a garage that has a little apartment with it and the whole huge thing only cost 95 grand. So cheap it’s really different to europe. It’s hard not to be a bit jealous sometimes. But I think that we should pay more for safer houses that consume less energy. It should be made into the law that there be insulation standards that will save energy. To build crappy houses and then over use heat and air con is wasteful and the houses aren’t strong in case of a storm.

    • Oddly enough in Switzerland everybody has an air raid shelter under their house and it is the law that even new houses have them. They have huge big doors that seal the rooms in case of radioactivity in the air. I guess they are prepared for nuclear war as much as it is possible to be. Having said that, a tornado wouldn’t kill anyone in these shelters. If there was a nuclear power station problem or radioactivity in the air it would take quite a few days to dissapate probably so having these shelters could save millions of peoples lives here in Switzerland.

      The office I work in is in a building that was built in the late 1400s – it’s about as old as they come albeit redone in parts. This house wouldn’t move an inch in any kind of storm I would guess. The walls are almost 1 meter thick in places.

      • I can’t even imagine being in a building built in the 1400’s. We don’t have anything that old here. Something built in the late 1800’s to early 1900’s is considered very old in Wisconsin.

        • There’s alot of old farmhouses built in the 1500s and 1600s here – they are often expanded upon or renewed but inside at the base there are some extremely old walls. Up in the mountains it’s common to see them. They have tiny windows set in about 3 quarters of a meter into the wall which is so thick. Not much light in them though. We were peeling off wallpaper in one of the newly built rooms of a house and under it was newspaper from the late 1800s. That’s how old the second layer of wallpaper in the new room was. 🙂

          • Must have been fun to read those newspapers, if you we’re able to at all. My parents found newspaper from the 1950’s in their walls. The house is insulated with newspaper. That’s kind of scary.

    • You would think that modern construction was better than old fashioned construction but no. The same problem exists in the UK indicating a lowering of standards across the board – meaning in respect of everything (sorry).

      • Don’t be sorry for saying the truth, Michael. There is a lowering of standards going on across the board. I’ve been using really old textbooks when I tutor because they are so much better than the new curriculum the tutoring company purchased. I use their materials because I’m required to. Then I pull out the older books and help the kids to really get it. The older textbooks are a year to two years ahead of the new books. No one seems bothered by this. What, are kids dumber today? We’ve just set the bar so low. They don’t know what they’re not being taught. Just like most people buying a new home don’t know how cheaply it was constructed. We are seeing a systemic downward slide that has real world consequences, but few people seem to care.

        • It is the same in the UK. The UK is busted. What are we doing? It is a sort of self-destruct. A failure and lack of self-esteem at governmental level. Is that it? We don’t like ourselves and lower our standards to meet that.

          You know what a well respected economist is saying? He is saying that chronic inflation is about to engulf the USA because the government has pumped trillions of dollars into the economy. What I mean is they have printed money in the trillions. It can’t work.

          The UK and Europe have done the same thing. Let’s see what happens in the long term. There will be a bubble and a false economy.

    • Thanks Dan. I have taken the liberty to publish one here:

      The photo is from SFGate.com, and by Sue Ogrocki, AP. I think people will let me use the photo under fair use principles.

          • Isn’t that so true? One of the few redeeming qualities our species has is the ability to help the other spp. alas, we are also the major predators. And yet, I like to think that this quality will save all of us, hopefully.

            • The Ability [why do you think that they named it “Abilify.” to help other fellow species. Come on, Anglophiles, Britiphiles, -I-am-sorry-those-of-you-who-are-so-arrogant-because-you-came-b4-U-aRE more important than the British Navy and the American Seals, and my beloved uncle who was a Green Beret in Vietnam–do you Brits even realize [sorry, Michael, I’m not surprised, you didn ot want me to speak out on this subject.] Do YOU Brits (I’m Welsh, Brit and Cherokee Native], DO YOU BRITS even realize how many in your country are just as opionated and hateful towards YOUR gov’t, as we are in the states, towards ours?

              So. Why do you choose to show so much animosity to me? as a catlover liek you have NO idee.

              • Caroline, I have not had time to read all the comments but if someone has been annoyed by your comments it is probably because they are a bit provocative. I don’t mind passion etc. in comments but you might consider toning it down a bit and also keep the comment more straightforward. I write that with respect. Don’t take it the wrong way, please.

    • Our thoughts and prayers are out for humans and animals alike. Dozens of horses flew away while their caretaker clung to a post in the barn. He had run out there to let as many as he could lose, but the storm hit so quickly. He barely had time to grab that post. He was in shock last night. Maybe some of those horses can be recovered.

      The kids in the basement just breaks my heart. That teacher did the best should could. My sister explained that the stairs would of been the safest place, since the basement floods quickly and there are snakes, etc. She must of been new to the area and didn’t know this. I certainly didn’t know.

      • I wouldn’t have known that. For tornado drills as a kid we went into the basement. The kitchen actually because it had no windows.

        It sounds like this tornado was so bad that even the most well constructed buildings were not going to be able to stand against it. In this case at least we can’t blame lax building codes and poor construction methods for the deaths, because this was one of those storms that was so powerful it wouldn’t have mattered. It’s actually amazing the death toll wasn’t higher.

        What bothers me is when we have storms that really aren’t all that powerful and all the newer buildings look like it was an F5, but the older homes are still standing.

        • We have microbursts here. They are when a mighty force of air slams down in one area. The wind around it is often in the 90 mph. At least it was when the trailer park we lived in was hit in 1980. Our trailer was lifted up and moved eight feet forward and set back down on the cement pylons that held the trailer above the ground. 50 yards south of us a woman’s trailer was left in splinters. All the other trailers were untouched. It was just a pure dumb luck.

          Thankfully there wasn’t another one today.

          • Trailer park homes seem to be common in the USA. What I like about the USA is you can buy a decent home cheaply compared to Europe. They seem very good too. The guest house at A1 Savannahs is a prefabricated trailer park type home but big and superb in quality of accommodation. I think it cost about $60,000, which is dirt cheap by UK standards. When I stayed there we had some severe weather like huge hail stones crashing onto the roof at night. This is strange and a bit scary for a Brit but day to day like in Oklahoma.

            • The sound of just rain or wind is loud in trailers. I have had it pouring rain, with 50 mph winds and not even known about it until I looked out of our double-pained windows. It’s bliss!

            • I have lived in tornado-prone areas here in the Great Plains all of my life. I can remember being on a highway when our family was returning in our station wagen, with our sailboat hitched behind. We had enough weight that my dad wasn’t worried about this small tornado, but it did scare the rest of us (I think he just didn’t want us to know his fear), and our sailboat “sailed” up into the dark sky, rudder intact. THAT was surreal, esp. to a five-yr-old.

              My only reason for commenting here again, is that I really think, Michael, you might get Martin or Kathrin to comment on this one. How did they feel? How safe did they feel? I am so curious, that I might just have to call. But, I won’t. They do have something to say on that devastation, I am certain. Please?

            • Okay, I was holding off on commenting here.
              My daughter chose to ignore her grandfather who offered to buy her a beautiful home, and instead after working at Panera Bread here in Nebraska, bought a trailer in the most TORNADO-PRONE- area of our lovely town. What do you think that her mother does every instance that she hears there is a warning? [Thank god my daughter and husband have more herewithall than I.

        • That seems to be the ultimate “test to destruction” that house builders can’t employ. Only nature can do that and it is a good test of quality. What you say indicates building standards have declined slightly. I agree that the death toll was low and I believe it is because Americans have a decent warning system for severe weather and homes have cellars and bunkers to go to, which must have saved many lives. Shame they have to come out of their bunker to…”nothing left”.

          • Brookfield is talking about getting rid of their tornado sirens over time by just not replacing them as they fail. The reasoning is everyone has tv, radio and the Internet. But what about at night after everyone goes to sleep. The tornado that destroyed Barneveld, WI came after the ten p.m. news shows after everyone had gone to sleep.

            West Allis blows their tornado sirens for every tornado in a fifty mile radius. I remember going into the basement and bringing Monty with me. Finally after ten minutes of nothing happening I turned on the tv. The tornado was sighted in Racine and wasn’t even heading in my direction. The tornado siren should only blow in a real emergency. I think they just love blowing that thing. We must be the only community left with a noon whistle.

            • The warning sounds a bit haphazard but you have something. In the UK, if there was a similar situation I would doubt we would have that or it would be even worse.

              • Oddly, I find the noon whistle comforting. Maybe because all the small towns where I grew up had one? I don’t know. If Monty and I are eating lunch or playing outside and the noon whistle blows in West Allis it is kind of comforting. Not for any rational reason like, we know for sure our warning system works unlike Brookfield, the big dummies. The sound is just comforting. Like the trains going by just north of us or the church bells at a nearby Lutheran church chiming familiar hymns at 6:00 in the evening while I stand out there with Monty and try to remember the name of each tune I hear.

              • I think it is the routine that is comforting– the same sounds at the same time each day. A signal that everything is ok, life going on just the way it did before. Our cats value routines over almost anything. The aftermath of a disaster such as a tornado must be particularly devastating to a cat, even if he is not injured or physically harmed. Suddenly, all that is familiar has been altered and none of the daily routines can take place.

        • I used to grab my daughter Madeline, and carry her down the basement stairs when she was sound asleep… put her in the bathtub with blankets and pillows, then go back upstairs and carry down my cats. We would stay in the bathroom (me awake), riding out the tornadoes.

          • Love this comment because it tells me that there are (a) bunkers/cellars where there is some protection and (b) cats are involved.

            Was there is a bathtub in the basement?

            • A full-bath in the finished basement. We lived in a duplex at that time. It was brick and the fireplace was actually located in the basement. (I had to open the window to start the airflow up the chimney at that level. 😉 ) But, as the bath was located centrally in the basement, I knew to take her and the cats there. And of course, iron bathtubs are safer besides “feeling” more secure?

            • Michael, I’d truly like to know why you maintain this website. E’en though you limit comments, and continue to apoligize for it, it still happens. E’en when an catloving individual places a comment… please respond. I respect this site.

              • I maintain the site to (a) help the welfare of cats through education and present the best pictures of cats and (b) for my own enjoyment and to keep myself occupied in retirement. We all need a purpose.

                I don’t limit comments unless the person is Woody! The software selects out spam, that is all.

                • Woody is “Woodsman” a well known nasty person (male) who likes to shoot cats with a .22 rifle. He is certifiably mad. I hope that explains it.

            • Would you like to talk about bunkers, Michael? Look no further than Hastings, NE. South. I’ll tell you what, if you would like to buy an old ammo bunker, my goodness, I am ready to sell… 😉

  3. I think it is the routine that is comforting– the same sounds at the same time each day. A signal that everything is ok, life going on just the way it did before.

    I think you have it. I think this is why Muslims find the call to prays comforting. Even I liked it for the reasons you state and I think “communal sounds” or events brings the community together, which is also comforting.

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