Are Apartments Safe During Severe Thunderstorms?

Every year in the United States, there are approximately 100,000 thunderstorms.  10% of these thunderstorms, or about 10,000, get severe warned by the National Weather Service. 

There is a big misconception out there that tornados don’t hit major cities (for whatever reason), and that any building as large as an apartment complex is too big for a tornado or severe storm to do real damage too. 

And while the number of thunderstorms is much larger than the number of urban areas across the United States, direct hits DO occur more often than you might think. 

The safest place to be during a severe storm is in the interior of a building on the lowest level, underground preferably, or in a stairwell or bathroom to provide support and give protection from exterior winds and potential airborne objects.

An apartment building is only going to be as safe as its construction given the storm that is hitting it.  There is no getting around the laws of physics. Much of it is going to boil down to what your apartment building is made out of when it was built, and again, what type of storm is hitting it, from what direction, and with what intensity. 

Just a severe storm can generate straight-line winds via squall lines and downdrafts that can push 100mph or more.  This can take the roof clean off of a building if it hits from the right direction.  

Another concern is not necessarily what is being torn off your apartment building but what the storm is blowing from the building and trees from down the street. 

Once debris gets picked up, either by straight-line winds or a tornado, it can travel an incredible distance in the air. 

This is why TV meteorologists are always telling people to take their chairs and umbrellas and toys in from outside before a severe storm hits because they literally can turn into missiles.

Where Should I Go In My Apartment Building During A Severe Thunderstorm?

Most people don’t take shelter from a bad severe storm the way they do when a storm is tornado warned.  There is a perception that “it’s just heavy rain and some wind.”

The problem with this mentality is that a severe storm CAN spawn a tornado in a matter of seconds, not to mention the fact of the damage just a severe storm can do to a building through the wind, driving rain, and large hail.

The best place to go in your apartment building during a severe storm is an interior room on the lowest floor you can manage to get to. 

You want to put as many layers of the building between you and the storm raging outside.  Even if you don’t feel like going to a different room in the building due to either laziness or the fear of looking scared during a storm, you should at least go to the bathroom in your apartment if it isn’t on an outside wall. 

This is going to give you much better protection should a roof come off or a wall collapse due to the pressure of the wind outside. 

The best places you want to go during a severe storm are: 

-The Lowest Floor Of Your Apartment Building




Common sense says that you don’t want to be by any windows, and if you really DO get hit by a bad storm, the more walls you have between you and anything flying around outside is going to be in the middle of the building. 

Also, the higher you are in an apartment building, the higher the winds are going to be in a storm.  There is more friction for the wind at ground level than it is just 30-40 feet up.

This means that the winds get stronger the higher you get off the ground. 

If something happens, the best place to be is on the lowest floor of your apartment building, maybe in a stairwell if you have one in your building. 

Can A Tornado Take Down An Apartment Building?

While the complete destruction of a skyscraper or high-rise apartment building hasn’t happened yet, the destruction that they can endure can be devastating.

The picture below is from the Fort Worth tornado back in 2000.  As you can see, the building sustained HEAVY damage, and while it wasn’t “Taken Down”, the damage was extensive. 

Tornado State of Mind | Roots, Boots 'n Rambles

If you are in a building like this during a tornado, every floor higher you are, the more dangerous it is going to be.  There are essentially no walls except windows on the entire perimeter of the building. That means that anything flying through the air isn’t going to have a hard time getting through.  

Next, tornados and severe storms have a component of low pressure to them.  Every breeze you have ever felt is caused by low pressure being somewhere close and “sucking” the wind into that area.  

With a skyscraper like this, which would be akin to a high-rise apartment building, that means that once the windows get blown out either due to debris or a pressure change, that air, and interior objects, are actually going to be sucked out of the building. 

Also, once there is a path through the various floors of the building the wind can go through, it is going to act as a wind tunnel and concentrate the wind even stronger through those small areas.

There is probably no structure on earth, besides something that is underground, that could survive a direct hit from an EF5 tornado.  But when we talk about “surviving”, what do we mean?

Does the building look like the picture above where it is essentially gutted but the foundation is secure?  Or are we talking wiped off the face of the earth? 

While a normal severed storm might not do QUITE as much damage to a high-rise building as shown in the picture above, it absolutely could for a few unlucky floors. 

And the last place you would want to be is on those floors when it happened. That’s when a quick elevator ride to the basement is the way to go. 

What To Do If You’re In An Apartment During A Tornado

I have already written a piece on this very subject regarding Are Apartments Safe During A Tornado.  I go over where to be BEFORE a tornado or severe storm hits, and where to go DURING a storm in your apartment building.  

The Storm Prediction Center has also put together a Tornado Safety Guide that has some good information in it as well, especially if you live in an area of the country where you get frequent severe weather.  

This is doubly important to those people who have moved from a region of the U.S. that isn’t used to dealing with severe weather all the time, to Tornado Alley. 

Knowing what to do and when can be the difference between life and death. 

The last thing that we recommend you do is to get a Personal Weather Station for your apartment.  One of these little devices is not only fun and educational, but they can also connect to your phone and make sure that you are always getting the most up-to-date weather information available. 

Check out the different models that Apartment School reviews and recommends at the link above. 

While a severe storm is typically not as destructive as a strong tornado, it still can be incredibly dangerous.  The safest place to be in your apartment complex is on the bottom floor and in the interior of the building as much as possible. 

Keep yourself away from the window and remember it is NEVER a bad thing to take as much precaution as you can during severe storms.

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John Boettcher

Co-Founder of Apartment School and a previous renter turned owner of many multi-family properties across the United States, with many years of experience in all aspects of the apartment, real estate, and investing world.

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