When should you start preparing for storm and tornado season? What should you do?
In Oklahoma (and a few surrounding states) the best answer is to always be prepared. Severe storms and tornadoes can pop anytime and surprise you!
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.
Here are few storm safety tips and recommended severe weather 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 or nearby to grab 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). Usually if you DO have to evacuate, you can return as soon as the storm (and any that may follow) are over. 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.
If you are visiting, then you at least want to have your wallet/ID and any medications you need to take with you.
NOTE: If you (or anyone with you) has a medical alert tag, bracelet or card, be sure you are wearing it in case you are injured and cannot inform emergency personnel of the condition.
3. Stay Dressed
Have you ever said "I wouldn't 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 through rubble and debris. Or you could end up shoulder-to-shoulder with a dozen other people in a cramped public shelter. (If it is underground, it could be icky.)
"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 some thin sleepwear and cutesy 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 you are under watches and warnings, or the skies look peculiar.)
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.
To Sum Up Severe Weather Planning:
- 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.