Never mind toasters, blenders, and slow cookers. Joplin, Mo., tornado survivors Kayla and Ricky Smith had a more practical wedding gift request—shelter from the next big storm, reports the AP. The Smiths were on the leading edge of an odd trend in Tornado Alley: Engaged couples using bridal registries or word of mouth to request donations so they can purchase safe rooms, which are strong, pre-fabricated shelters typically installed in houses or garages. Several tornadoes have ravaged the Midwest and South in recent years. A month before the May 22, 2011, tornado in Joplin, which killed 161 people and destroyed 7,000 homes, hundreds died in a series of deadly tornadoes in the South. The devastation raised awareness about the need for safety in homes that don't have basements. Safe room sales skyrocketed, aided in part by FEMA grants and rebates that help pay for them in some states.
The pre-fabricated rooms feature thick steel walls and doors that can withstand winds up to 250mph. They are windowless with no electricity. Most are small and built in a garage or closet. Safe rooms typically cost $3,000 to $7,000, depending on the size. As the Smiths' wedding approached in 2013, they asked for safe room donations as gifts, eventually building a $5,200 safe room in their garage. "It was really just our main necessity, something to keep us safe," Kayla Smith said. "I know of a guy who asked a father to marry the daughter, and the father said, 'Not unless you have a safe room,'" says John Hunter, co-owner of Atlas Safe Rooms in Joplin. Bridal registries increasingly have quirks, adds the executive editor of The Knot. "Couples are getting married a little later in life and more times than not they're living together. They already have the things you would traditionally register for." Says another safe-room bride: "My husband says it's the one wedding gift we really hope we never have to use." (Read more Joplin tornado stories.)