This past weekend a spate of tornados hit the Midwest and South, including the heart of Kentucky's horse country.

The random and differential amount of damage tornados can inflict is difficult to predict, and much of the information about the storm is not known until after it passes. Knowing exactly where tornados will strike is difficult, leaving a helpless feeling for those of us who've sat watching a developing storm. Fortunately, direct strikes by F3 + tornados are rare. But when they hit horse properties, the results are devastating.

Current Storm News

Here are a few horse-related examples of destruction caused by this latest storm:

  • Fifteen horses in Crittenden, Ky., perished during this intense storm. Minimal details are available at this time about whether the animals were inside the barn or loose in paddocks.
  • A barn filled with horses in New Liberty, Ky., collapsed on Friday.
  • A helicopter crew caught this bird's-eye-view video of a horse facility in Cabarrus County North Carolina. It is difficult to tell if this facility lost any horses or how many were injured, but it is a rare video that shows what the structure of a barn looks like just minutes after a tornado has torn off a roof. The people in the building are taking a sensible approach to remove all the debris so they can reach the horses, instead of attempting to lead horses out of the stalls with too many obstacles in the way.

Protect Yourself and Your Animals

No formal studies of the impact of high-wind events (hurricanes, tornados, thunderstorms) on horse barns and facilities are available, but some themes have come from studying these weather phenomena:

  • You will rarely have much more than minutes to react when you realize a tornado is about to strike. You and your family need to have a safe place to hide in your home, the basement of a building, or a specially built tornado shelter, preferably underground. The safety of you and your family has to take precedence over your animals.
  • In catastrophic high-wind events, your horses are safer outside, especially if they have access to a large pasture and a copse of trees or ravines for shelter. In lesser wind events, they might be okay inside a building, especially if it is concrete block or very heavy-duty construction. Lightweight, wood-constructed buildings might not be designed to withstand the shearing forces of wind at catastrophic velocities of 70 mph and more. The large surface area of roofs and the face of buildings make them an easy target for the wind to rip them off.
  • You want to minimize the chance of objects becoming flying "missiles." These items include garbage cans, loose posts, jumps, etc. This is a good thing to do no matter the weather conditions, because it reduces the obstacles on your property that horses can get injured on. Of note: In catastrophic events, wind has picked up horse trailers and flung them hundreds of yards; pickups have ended up neighboring properties; and dead horses have been found miles from where the storm vortex picked them up.

A final comment: Our hearts go out to the people this week that are grieving losses of their family members, friends, animals, and horses all over the United States from these events. Please share your time, talent, and treasure if you live close enough to directly assist them. Otherwise, donations are best made to the American Red Cross or other local disaster response efforts tasked with helping these folks.

And, of course, we want to hear your stories if you've ever experienced a tornado. Next week we will explore your comments and also talk about what you can do during the "Golden Hour" after a weather event to reduce losses and increase your animal's chances of survival.