Tornado Awareness Month – Preparation Tips and Other Information

What are Tornadoes?

Known for their destructive nature, these vortexes of terror are a natural force that we definitely need to know how to prepare for. Before I get into the preparedness piece of this blog, I thought it would be good to briefly go over what a tornado is and how they form.

According to Merriam-Webster, a tornado is “a violent destructive whirling wind accompanied by a funnel-shaped cloud that progresses in a narrow path over the land.” For a good, detailed description of how these storms occur, check out the video below. This video is voiced by James Spann, chief meteorologist of ABC 33/40 in Alabama.

While tornadoes can happen during any season, the National Severe Storms Laboratory says that there are peak times in the United States when a tornado may form.

  • Southern Plains = May-early June
  • Gulf Coast = earlier spring
  • Northern Plains/Upper Midwest = June-July
  • Usually occurring between 4-9 p.m.

Tornado Watches vs. Warnings

Sometimes people are confused about difference of a tornado watch and a tornado warning. See the graphic below for a comparison of the two.

Tornado Watch = Conditions are favorable for tornadoes to occur. Have your tornado plan ready just in case. Tornado Warning = Take action! Get to your safe space. Tornado event is imminent or actively occurring.

Planning for the Unknown

Planning for a disaster long before an immediate threat occurs can mean the difference between life and death. In the event of emergency, you may only have a few seconds to react and the more you prepare ahead of time, the less time it will take you to get your family safe.

Where Can We Go?

When a tornado strikes, you may not be able to stay out of its path; however, you can find a location that will provide the best protection at the time. For the purposes of length, this blog is primarily going to cover safety at home; however, I will share additional tips on my Facebook page (Do It For Don – Emergency Preparedness Information).

Open door to storm cellar.

If you live in an area where there are a lot of tornadoes, you might consider owning a storm cellar, an underground bunker that you can shelter in during severe weather. These shelters may be built directly beside the house or a few feet away in the yard.

If a storm cellar is not an option for your family, find the lowest spot in your home that is away from windows. This could be a spot like under the stairs in your basement or in a hall closet. The goal is to find a location that puts as many walls as possible between you and the storm.

Once you are in your designated safe space, get underneath a sturdy part of the house (like a basement staircase) or piece of furniture and cover your head. It has also been suggested that if you own helmets, put them on. Wearing a helmet can help protect your head in the event of tornado damage. You may also consider placing infants in their car seat/carrier to provide them with extra protection if they are jostled about by the tornado. Then stay in your designated location until the storm passes and it is safe to move.

Check out this video from the National Weather Service on what to do during a tornado.

What Should We Bring?

It is important to have a “go bag” kept near or in your designated safe space. This bag should include a few essential items that can be of use before and after the tornado. Most of the following list is one that I found on Missouri’s StormAware page; however, I have added a few items of my own.

  • NOAA Weather Radio (battery-powered)
    • This radio will keep you up-to-date on the weather watches and warnings in your area.
  • Flashlight(s)
  • Extra batteries for the flashlight(s) and weather radio
  • First-aid kit
  • Water (1 gallon a day/person)
  • Canned/dried, nonperishable foods (3 day supply)
    • Include a manual can opener if you have canned foods.
  • Prescription medications
  • Additional clothes and shoes for the whole family
  • Baby wipes
    • To wipe yourselves clean if you have no access to running water
  • Tools (crowbar, hammer, etc.)
    • In case you need to break out of your safe space after the storm passes
  • Work gloves
  • Whistle
    • To let emergency personnel know where you are if you are trapped.
  • Laminated list of emergency contact information

I also suggest, when you know that a strong storm is possible, to keep your wallet/purse and cell phone(s) near the designated safe space to take with you.

If you have children, you may consider keeping something in your safe space that can help keep them as calm as possible. For instance, a small stuffed animal for the child to hug/play with while waiting for the tornado warning to be over.

Household Pets

If you have pets, do not forget to include items they may need in the emergency kit as well. For dogs, keep their leash near your designated location and put it on them during the tornado warning. You may also use a carrier to keep your pets safe, just in case a tornado passes through.

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Storms are just as stressful for the pets in our lives and they may bolt if they are aware of the storm and will put themselves in additional danger. If they have a collar, keep it on them just in case you are separated. You may also consider getting your pets micro-chipped to help ease the reunion process.

Storage of Important Documents

The Missouri StormAware page also suggested storing your important documents in a fire and water proof safe. These documents may include the following.

  • Birth certificates
  • Ownership certificates
    • Automobiles, boats, house, etc.
  • Social security cards
  • Insurance policies
  • Will
  • Household inventory
    • List of household contents with serial numbers, if applicable
    • Photos/videos of the contents of each room
      • Individual photos of high-value items (jewelry, collections, equipment, etc.)
  • Emergency cash
  • Emergency contact information

Practice, Practice, Practice

Creating an emergency plan for your family on what to do during a tornado is a great idea; however, the only way that the plan can truly work is if you communicate the plan with everyone and complete practice drills.

Family Disaster Plan

Not only adults need to know what the plan is, children should be included as well. Talk through what they should do in the event on a tornado warning or actual tornado. Show everyone where the safe spaces are for your home and where the emergency kit and important documents are stored.

Schedule and complete regular drills for your household and act out what everyone should do during the warning or actual tornado. While an actual tornado will still be terrifying, practicing what to do will make everyone feel more confident when a tornado warning sounds in your area.

Conclusion

The important thing to remember is to keep yourselves safe and to stay as calm as possible. Hopefully you will never have to live through an actual tornado; however, if you do, I hope you have some of these preparation tips is place. Stay safe everyone!

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