Tornado Survival – Beware of Carbon Monoxide

Tornado Survival – Beware of Carbon Monoxide

Apr 30
Tornado Survival – Beware of Carbon Monoxide

(Image credit: @MsTeacher1908) If you’ve been watching the news, you probably saw the numerous tornados that have struck in the Southeast. In Colorado, Tornados are common. But oftentimes, the biggest issue is after the storm when people are often hospitalized for deadly carbon monoxide.




Citations, Links and articles:


When you’re in a situation where you don’t have electricity, people get desperate. In 2006, I was in Seattle, and with the hurricane-force winds, I was fortunate enough to work at AT&T, and the office had a diesel backup generator; but many people were not so lucky.

The hurricane-force winds knocked out electricity to 1.2 Million people for a week in December, many people were homeless.  The Hospitals were also unprepared. Only two people died as a direct result of the storm, but when the electricity was out, Over 300 people were hospitalized for carbon monoxide, and 18 people died; all after the storm The main cause was using BBQs and generators indoors.

Washington legislators found the danger so compelling that they approved new regulation after the storm.

DO NOT use a grill or generator indoors. People may resort to using a BBQ to heat the house, but using any grill or generator indoors will create deadly Carbon Monoxide gas.  Again, most of the casualties were after the storm, and from people hospitalized with Carbon Monoxide by using grills and generators indoors.

If the statistics are right, plan for potentially thousands of people with carbon monoxide poisoning. During the Seattle Storm, only 2 people were hospitalized during the storm; but AFTER the storm, 300 people were hospitalized, and 18 people died from Carbon Monoxide. If the statistics are duplicated, potentially thousands of people may exhibit flu-like carbon monoxide poisoning.
The best way to combat this is with education.

Emergency Preparedness & What you can do:
If you’re in Government, work with the cell phone companies, (Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, etc) to use emergency text message using the Amber Alert or similar system to everyone in the affected areas to warn about Carbon Monoxide. Send a message like “Beware of Carbon Monoxide- Do Not Use BBQs and generators indoors”. Colleagues at T-Mobile and AT&T were able to do this.

If you’re a resident that is affected, there’s nothing better than preparation. But many people don’t know that gas fireplaces often require power to run the thermostat electronics. Newer gas fireplaces (5 years) require less than 20 watts to accomplish this. We used a Computer Battery backup/UPS to run the heater. This setup ran for a few days.  If your fireplace is forced-air, the fan will use up to 20-times more power than just running the fireplace, so if your can, disconnect the forced-air fan.  Some fireplaces may have an exhaust fan.  If you’re in doubt, plug you should plug in the exhaust fan to let the exhaust leave through the flue.

Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning (From: )

Low levels of carbon monoxide poisoning can be confused with flu symptoms, food poisoning or other illnesses and can have a long term health risk if left unattended. Some of the symptoms are the following–


  • Shortness of breath
  • Mild nausea
  • Mild headaches

Moderate levels of CO exposure can cause death if the following symptoms persist for a long measure of time.


  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Light-headedness

If you’re affected, follow these steps:


  • Get to fresh air immediately.
  • If you can not get the people out of the house, then open all windows and doors. Any combustion appliances should be turned off.
  • Take those who were subjected to carbon monoxide to a hospital emergency room as quickly as possible. A simple blood test will be able to determine if carbon monoxide poisoning has occurred.

A few things to purchase.
A Power-inverter is a device costs around $30-$100 at Walmart, Target, or RadioShack, and it and converts 12-volt car cigarette-lighter power into a standard 120-volt outlet. Purchase one that’s at least 300 watts to run a laptop, and a cell phone battery charger.

Also, make sure to get have an extension cord long enough to run it safely into the house. This way you don’t have to remove the car’s battery, when you use the electricity indoors. Also, remember, you can always start your car and run in the driveway to re-charge the car battery.

If you buy a gas generator, make sure you have a long enough extension cable to safely run the gas generator outside and away from windows.

Now that you have temporary power, you have to decide what to plug in. Don’t use in inefficient items. For example, don’t plug in the clothes or hair dryer, curling iron, refrigerator or stove. These are very inefficient appliances that consume a lot of power and you’ll be out of electricity within a few minutes. When you’re in survival mode, you have to realize the food will spoil, and your clothes will be wrinkled. It’s happening to everyone. Instead, plug in a laptop and also charge your cell phone. Most reputable cell phone providers have battery backups in the towers, so you should be able to make and receive calls, text messages, and such. Try to limit calls because the cellular network may be at capacity. Text-messages are much more efficient, and you can usually send the same message to everyone in your directory.

If you can, use internet. Your cable internet connections and DSL oftentimes will work provided you hook up the cable modem or DSL modem (and router, if you have one) to electricity. This is a better solution unlike television where you often have to wait for the news articles. This can be very inefficient. Laptops and smartphones are great for getting news updates from authorities and local TV stations. Use Twitter too!

If the water is not working, Check out this article from the Government of Louisiana’s page. This water in a toilet TANK is generally cleaner than runoff water as long as you’re not using a toilet-cleaning chemical in the tank. It should go without saying– don’t drink water from a toilet bowl or FROM waterbeds- they usually may have chemicals in their water, but their other tips may help!

Following these tips, you’ll be able to weather the storm.


  1. Headed to athens to look for batteries, ice, and coal. Phone battery is dying but the laptop is still at 70%.

    • Jeff Anttila

      I hope you buy a $19 battery-operated carbon monoxide detector while at WalMart too! It’s well worth the investment!

      The problem is that coal burns at a higher temperature than wood, and the research the State of Washington did indicated that most gas fireplaces won’t provide adequate ventilation for coal burning.

      Washington researchers also found that people resorted to using coal in gas fireplaces because its packaging kept it dry during the storm, but any fuel consumption still needs to be done outdoors. Gas fireplaces don’t provide adequate ventilation, and propane has a different temperature than natural gas.

      So keep the coal, generator, or car exhaust (if you use my idea of the of the electrical inverter) outside of the house by 15 or more feet.

      Also, keep any generators and BBQs out of the garage. Fumes will enter into the house.

      Instead, as corny as it may sound, invite some friends over and have a camp-out!

      Don’t end up like these folks:

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