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Should you get in your bathtub during a tornado?

A bathroom is a good place to hide during a tornado only if it's one of the most interior places of your house.
A bathroom is a good place to hide during a tornado only if it's one of the most interior places of your house.
© Jim Reed/Corbis

Listen up: There is no shame in wanting to hide in your bathtub when a tornado approaches, if only for the quite reasonable assumption that it's a convenient place to wet yourself in fear. But that doesn't quite answer the question of whether or not it's the safest place to be to ride out a storm. There are a ton of "try this in a tornado" myths out there, and you don't want to be caught testing out a worthless old wives' tale in 200 mph (322 kph) winds when a cow is flying at your head.

Just to err on the safe on side, let's start with a few places you should not hide in a tornado: freeway underpasses, mobile homes and your car. Underpasses create wind tunnel effects and leave you vulnerable to airborne debris, while mobile homes and your car are all one gust away from liftoff in tornado conditions.

The one place you should definitely go? A safe, secure shelter in a modern, reinforced concrete building [source: Stanford]. (Although designated shelters in places like churches and schools should be taken advantage of as well.)

Well, that's all fine and good, you might think, if you have the time to get to your nearest shelter. But if you're currently standing in the middle of your home and watching a tornado approach, you're probably looking for something quicker. And we guess you're not appreciating this wordy introduction before answering the question at hand. So, let's get to the point.

A bathtub can be a safe place to find shelter at home. However, this comes with a few conditions. If your bathroom is one of the most interior places of your house, go for it. But if your bathroom or bathtub is on (or even in a room with) an exterior facing wall — or if there are outside-facing windows — best to leave it for a more secure space. The idea is that you want to have as many walls between you and the tornado as possible, so interior rooms are best [source: Austin]. (Think closets or laundry rooms, usually snugly fit in the house.) Do try to cover yourself with cushions or heavy blankets to shield yourself from debris.

So, while it's not a foolproof plan — remember that bathtubs aren't inherently heavy enough to stand firm no matter what — sheltering yourself in the tub is a good idea if your bathroom is windowless and interiorly located.

Science on the Web: Tornados