The Bathtub Defense is Real


This week, many of you taught me about tornado safety. Today, I’m sharing what I learned (this is, after all, titled “now I know”) in case it helps you one day, although I hope you’ll never need it.

I live in the northeastern United States and have my whole life. There aren’t a lot of tornado strikes here — I can’t think of anyone I know who was impacted by one in this area. That’s probably not me misremembering, either. I grew up in Connecticut, not too far from Bridgeport. The map above (via Wikipedia) shows tornado strikes in Connecticut from 1950-1999 — that’s half a century of data — and there aren’t many of them in general, and barely any of them near Bridgeport. I’ve moved out of Connecticut since but still live in the same general area, and I think we’ve had three tornado warnings in the past ten years here. So we don’t really worry about them. And in the rare case where our phones tell us to seek shelter, it’s not a big task; my house has a basement, so we just go downstairs and wait it out.

Which is why, on Tuesday, I shared the following in the bonus item — with a little aside (I made it bold for our purposes today):

In 2017, Charlesetta Williams, a 75-year-old woman from Texas, was probably saved by her bathtub. That January, a tornado struck her town, and Williams, for reasons unclear, decided to seek shelter in her tub. The idea didn’t quite work, but it turned out okay: as KSLA (a local TV station) reported, “the tornado lifted the tub out of the home and deposited it in the woods with [Williams] still in the tub.” She was unharmed.

Basically, it would never occur to me to hide in a bathtub. How would that help you survive a tornado?

A lot of you wrote in to tell me that this was standard advice offered by those who would know. Reader Lynn L., for example, pointed me to the website of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, which states that if you’re in a house with no basement, “a bathtub may offer a shell of partial protection” and that “you should cover yourself with some sort of thick padding (mattress, blankets, etc.), to protect against falling debris in case the roof and ceiling fail.” Readers from Alabama, Kansas, and areas unshared also echoed similar feedback, with a few even mentioning that they’ve crawled into the tub. 

I went digging into this a bit further because I am not in the habit of giving advice and am coming dangerously close to doing so by sharing this, so I wanted to make sure I painted a full of a picture as possible. And this Washington Post story is the most accessible explanation I can find. Basically, the article says to find an interior room in the house, away from windows, and on the lowest floor possible. Bathrooms often meet that description and some come with an advantage: per the story, “bathrooms on the interior of homes tend to be surrounded by thick walls with pipes that act as additional anchorage.” As for the tub itself, it acts as a shield against flying debris, apparently. Per the story, “old steel tubs, generally found in older homes, provide more protection than the fiberglass tubs found in homes today that are easily penetrated by flying objects,” but even a fiberglass tub is better than nothing.

But again, don’t take tornado safety advice from me — I don’t know anything about them other than they’re rarely a concern for me. I grew up not thinking about tornados; instead, I worried about quicksand.

The Now I Know Week In Review

MondayThe Office Cleaner Who Accidentally Became a Russian Mayor: Sham elections sometimes don’t go the way you think.

Tuesday: ALF’s Bath That Went Down the Memory Hole Drain: As longtime reader Jesse shared, there’s also now a 24-hour ALF channel (!). (OK, it’s just that ALF is available to stream.) I checked the episode and it’s the censored, handmixer version. What’s really interesting, though, is that the producers even changed the logline (a what? this) for the episode: it says “ALF bumps his head and loses his memory,” which isn’t what originally happened.

WednesdayThe Nazi Propaganda That Disproved Itself: A story about the perfect Aryan baby… who didn’t actually fit that description.

ThursdayThe Worst Way to Target a Lower Stock Price?: Don’t do this.

And some other things you should check out:

Some long reads for the weekend:

1) “Generation Connie: I Got My Name From Connie Chung. So Did They.” (New York Times, 14 minutes, May 2023). Here’s a great quote:

Connie Chung was trusted and respected — qualities that my mother herself had enjoyed in China. So when I picked my name, my mom readily acceded. What more could she hope for from her own Connie?

What my family didn’t know was that a version of the same scenario was playing out in living rooms and hospitals across the country. Asian American families from the late 1970s through the mid-’90s — mostly Chinese, all new immigrants — had considered the futures of their newborn daughters and, inspired by one of the few familiar faces on their TVs, signed their own wishes, hopes and ambitions onto countless birth certificates in the form of a single name: Connie.

2) “AI and the American Smile” (Medium, 10 minutes, May 2023). This is fascinating. I think better generative AI prompts could account for what the author is objecting to here, but her overall point is solid — as generative AI expands, we’re going to see a lot of images that really don’t make historical or cultural sense, and most people won’t even notice. We already see that happening in media (here’s a good example that, as explained by the story selected below, I also noticed), but generative AI is going to ramp that up dramatically. 

3) “The History of the Baseball Cap” (MLB, 19 minutes, May 2023). I collect baseball caps — well, Mets caps. I don’t know if I’ve shared that before in this newsletter, but I’m wearing one right now, for whatever that’s worth. Oh, also, the person who wrote this article is a friend of my brother’s from high school, for whatever that is worth, too. I’m sharing this because it’s a really great history, though, not because I collect Mets hats or because of the loose family connection. 

Have a great weekend!