In Oklahoma (and a few surrounding states) it's pretty safe to assume that March is the best time to begin prepping for severe weather. Specifically, severe thunderstorms and tornadoes.
While these can occur at any time of the year, in any state, they seem to "breed" in spring, and terrorize certain areas (sometimes relentlessly) until the hotter months of summer, when they get lazy and slack off for awhile.
We just had our first "serious" storm yesterday, so that means it's time to officially prep for storm season. Although people who live in these areas are used to the lifestyle, it can be stressful (and dangerous) to newcomers and visitors.
Here are few tips and recommended supplies from a seasoned Okie, in case you will be here awhile during storm season:
Tips and Tools for Surviving Thunderstorm and Tornado Season
1. Keep A Storm Bag
We don't have a storm shelter. Depending on the severity of the storms, (or how advanced our warning is) we either head for the hallway, or evacuate to safer location well-ahead of the cell.
Since we can never be sure which way it will be, we always keep storm bags packed during spring. These either sit in the car or in the hall where they can grabbed quickly.
These aren't essential survival bags--they don't have like tents inside or anything. Just a change of clothes, some snacks, water, and kid favorites in case we have to be away for awhile.
Some of what we keep in our bags include:
- Clothes (including a light jacket)
- Small flashlight
- Fleece blanket
- Favorite toys/books
- Bags of dry snacks (dried fruit, crackers, etc.)
- Slim Jims ( hey, they are survival food!)
- Water bottles
- Important documents (or copies)
- Copy of medical information, insurance card numbers etc.
- Small first aid kit
- Prescription medication
It's rare that you have to leave your home for more than a few hours (sometimes overnight). The worst case scenario is that your home is damaged or lost while you are away.
You may be tempted to grab everything, such as photos, keepsakes, etc. But you need to focus on the items you will most likely need over the next few hours or so, and what you will need should something happen to your home in your absence.
If time is limited, the most important thing is to get yourself, your children and your pets to safety.
2. Keep Important Documents In a Safe Place
It totally trashes our organization system for awhile, but we move all the most important stuff to a small plastic tote that we can grab quickly during severe weather. The stuff inside includes:
- Birth certificates
- Vehicle titles
- List of account passwords
- Insurance information
- Medical folders
- Important phone numbers
- Copies of family photos (on removable drives or cards)
- Irreplaceable mementos (hospital bracelets from when the kids were born, etc.)
Again, if danger is close, then you don't have time to start gathering this stuff up. It should be kept in one place where it can be picked up as you evacuate.
3. Stay Dressed
Have you ever said "I wouldn't want to be caught dead wearing that"?
Sorry to be grim, but during tornado season, it is a very real possibility that you could be caught dead.
You could also be pulled alive from rubble in a heroic and emotional moment captured on a million cell phones.
Or you might have to leave your home or hotel and walk miles through rubble and debris.
"Comfy" should probably take the back seat to "practical". I don't know about you, but if there is any chance whatsoever that I might have to walk through broken glass, rusty tin, splintery boards, tree branches, and other sharp and ugly things...I want to be wearing some tough jeans and sturdy shoes. Not a lace nightie and some fuzzy flip-flops.
The same goes for any time I might be crammed in a room full of strangers in a public storm shelter.
Fully dressed with shoes is the house rule here when we are under any watches or warnings. (Naturally, you don't have to stay that way through the whole spring! Just when the weather looks "iffy".)
4. Stay Updated During Stormy Weather
Lots of people get into weather-related predicaments when they think "Oh. That's nowhere near where I am." and just stop listening to the alerts. Then they panic when a storm is on top of them.
Weather is way too tricky to ignore. It takes no effort to set alerts on your phone or to turn on a weather station that will notify you of updates.
When you know what MIGHT be coming your way, you can prepare well in advance.
5. Don't Be an Idiot
There is right time and a wrong time to evacuate an area. There is also a right and wrong way to do it.
The right way would be to already have a plan in place, such as where you will go in an emergency and which routes will get you there.
A good plan also includes storm drills for your family, so that no one panics when the time comes to actually leave the house or seek shelter in a central area.
The wrong way is to wait until the weather is very bad outside, then get in your car and drive all over trying to evade the storm (or worse, tornado).
When people do this, they put themselves and other people (such as rescue workers) in danger. It can also block evacuation routes from other areas that are in serious danger.
Instead, know where you will be going, and know at least 2 different ways to arrive there in case one route is flooded or blocked.
If you are visiting the area, make sure you ask where the nearest storm shelters are whenever you check into a hotel or visit a public area such as the zoo or a museum during storm season.
(If you visit the lovely OKC zoo, you will see numerous signs marking both the exits and the public storm shelters available on the zoo grounds.)
Keep Emergency Supplies On Hand Always
Is there anything more annoying than people who rush to the store in a frenzy when rain or snow is predicted? I'm not talking about the normal people who just want to pick up a loaf of bread and a pack of batteries.
I mean the people who are snatching up everything in sight and throwing it in the cart like they will never see it again.
Yeah. It's bad when people do that for snowstorms, but there are always a few weirdos who do it when there will be severe thunderstorms too.
Yes. You do need to have some emergency supplies on hand. But you know...maybe plan ahead a little.
Its pretty old news that sometimes the utilities go out when there are bad storms. So prepare ahead, and keep these things available at all times:
- Light source
- First Aid Supplies
- Clean Water
- Ready-to-Eat foods
- Manual Tools/Utensils
I've seen some people lose a lot of money because they shop for thunderstorms like they will be blocked in for weeks. They don't figure on the possibility of a utility outage, and all that perishable food goes bad.
In most scenarios, you are only going to be staying inside until the storm warning is expired. However, sometimes flash-flooding and downed trees/powerlines can block the roads for a short time. It's okay to be prepared, just don't do a frenzy shop at the last minute, while the storm is raging outside.
5. Extra Baby Supplies
Naturally, if you have a baby, you will want to keep a little stockpile of diapers and formula if you use it. It never hurts to keep at least a week's worth, in case the roads are blocked for awhile or the stores are sold out.
If you have a child that is attached to a blanket, pacifier or toy, make sure that item is near the storm bags when the alerts go into place.
This mean getting out the house quickly and stress-free (or relocating to your inside safe zone). It also means that should the worst happen and your home is damaged, your child has a familiar item to help them with coping.
6. Paper Goods
I don't really care to use disposable plates and forks, but during a power outage, these are awesome.
I keep a supply in the "emergency" bin. So much better than a stack of dirty dishes to tend after two or three days without water and power. I recommend:
- Paper plates
- Disposable utensils
- Plastic cups
- Paper napkins and paper towels.
Another useful item to have during storms is a pack of disposable baking pans. You can use them on the grill if you don't have power, or line other pans to use on your stove so you have less clean-up if you don't have running water.
You never know when you might have to hack your way out of your house after a bad storm. Or at the very least, you might have to cut something, tie something, or rig something to work temporarily. So it helps to have a few essentials in the house (not a detached garage or outside building you might not be able to reach):
- Rope or twine
- Decent knife or cutting tool
- Grill lighter or Zippo
Pet Safety During Storms
During one of the lectures I attended on storm-spotting, they gave a brief lesson on pet safety. The speaker advised moving pets to their carriers when you are first notified of severe storm warnings.
This is for several reasons.
First, some animals become terrified when storms grow nearer. It may be much harder to catch them and move them to safety or to your car when things get worse.
Second, if they do something erratic out of fear, such as run outside, then both you and your pet are in danger when you try to rescue them.
Third, if you can't rescue them, they can become some of the hundreds of animals that are hurt, killed or lost during storms and tornadoes.
If you are trying to find a lost pet outside during the height of a storm, then you are possibly leaving your family in danger when you should be getting them to shelter.
So, for the sake of both pets and humans, secure your animals and have them with you.
One Last Storm Tip
I know that all these tips so far have seemed pretty obvious. But I have seen people move from non-stormy places and be totally lost when they are faced with their first tornado alert.
So I am offering one more tip that should be obvious...but we all forget it sometimes.
Fill your gas tank up.
Keep it full during the storm season. Not only does a full tank mean you can evacuate without having to stop and pump gas during a lightning storm, it means that if you get stranded somewhere due to flooding or traffic, you can keep your heat, air, radio etc. on for a longer time.
To Sum Up Severe Weather Planning:
Although it sounds terrifying and chaotic to face season after season of vicious storm cycles, it doesn't have to be. Smooth planning really does make the season easier.
- Keep all of your items where they can be accessed quickly based on your needs. (Evacuation bags near a door or in the car, stay-at-home emergency supplies in your shelter or designated area, etc.)
- Know where nearest, public storm shelters are even if you have one of your own. Know where shelters are located in areas where you will be shopping or visiting.
- Know alternate routes to and from areas.
- Set weather notifications for your phone or check local forecasts often during storm season. (Even on pretty days!)
- Listen for alerts that tell people in your area to either evacuate or move to shelter immediately.
- Don't panic while evacuating and drive aimlessly.
- Have a good idea towns and counties around you because their weather may soon be your weather.