As I write this, in my little house in Indiana, I’m half-waiting for another tornado warning to sound off. Today, we’ve had two warnings so far. Having grown up in Indiana, I’m quite used to such warnings and know what to do. Story, on the other hand, panics a bit. I can’t blame her. She has seen pictures and videos of the destruction tornadoes can cause, and she’s lived through one — though she was only about a year old when it happened and she slept through the whole thing — that caused quite a bit of damage to our house.
During the first warning, Story, my sister Lora, and I were out shopping and had to duck into a bookstore to ride it out (while continuing our shopping). Story asked a thousand questions, most repeated a few times over. She brought all her toys from the car inside with us and worried about those she left at home. To her credit, she did worry about our lives as well, but on a lower level. Lora reassured her that we’d been through this several times before and we would keep her safe.
While at home, we had another tornado warning, and I called Story downstairs to take shelter. She brought several toys down with her and asked to get more. Lora grabbed her bag, which had her insurance papers, a flashlight, her phone, and a power pack. She wins the day. I had my phone. Because I don’t have a basement, we sheltered in the closet under the stairs. I realized how very poorly prepared I was and how poorly informed Story was. So, with that in mind, I visited Weather.com to update myself, and now you, on what to during severe weather.
First, let’s take a look at the terminology. According to Weather.com, the following terms are used to indicate the category of severe weather:
- Severe thunderstorm watch: Conditions are conducive to the development of severe thunderstorms in and around the watch area. These storms produce hail of ¾ inch in diameter and/or wind gusts of at least 58 mph.
- Severe thunderstorm warning: Issued when a severe thunderstorm has been observed by spotters or indicated on radar, and is occurring or imminent in the warning area. These warnings usually last for a period of 30 to 60 minutes.
- Tornado watch: Conditions are favorable for the development of severe thunderstorms and multiple tornadoes in and around the watch area. People in the affected areas are encouraged to be vigilant in preparation for severe weather.
- Tornado warning: Spotters have sighted a tornado or one has been indicated on radar, and is occurring or imminent in the warning area. When a tornado warning has been issued, people in the affected area are strongly encouraged to take cover immediately.
If a tornado warning is issued, take shelter immediately and heed the following tips:
- Get underground. In whatever building you are in, get to the lowest level. A basement is best, but if you don’t have a basement, get to the innermost room or hallway of the first level of the house. Get as far away from windows as possible and try to put as many walls between you and the outside as you can.
- Put on your shoes and a helmet. Trust me on this one, you’ll want shoes on if your windows shatter. I didn’t have shoes on when our house got hit, and trying to avoid broken glass in the pitch black while carrying a baby was no fun at all. Also, if you have a bike or sports helmet, put it on. A lot of injuries during severe weather are due to flying debris. Protecting your head should be your number one concern.
- Bring a weather radio or other device with which you can keep up to date on the weather situation. Tornadoes can hit quickly and seemingly out of nowhere, so it’s best to know that the threat is gone before venturing out of your safety zone.
- Remember your pets. Story failed this one. While she brought down several toys, she did not bring her bearded dragon. Tsk, tsk. Pets are family, so you need to ensure that they are contained, have a leash, and are safe, or at the very least that they have identification should they get loose during the storm.
- If you are driving and there isn’t time to get to a sturdy building, leave the car, get in a ditch, and cover your head. The rule about getting low applies here as well.
- Each season, remind your children about the safety plan to avoid a thousand questions when you’re already stressed.
Source: Breslin, Sean. (2016). 7 Things You Should Never Forget When Tornadoes Strike. Retrieved from https://weather.com/safety/tornado/news/tornado-safety-tips