I'm sure you've all heard about the tornado outbreak in Oklahoma last night, and about the devastating loss of life and property in Joplin, Missouri, just a few days ago. Such strong and powerful storms we've had this year, with long-tracking, wide tornadoes causing such damage. I've heard that the people of Joplin had only 5-15 minutes' warning that a tornado was imminent, and I'm sure that many others had no idea what was coming.
Our newscasters gave us a few days' warning that the weather would be severe on Tuesday. There would be tornadoes, they said, the only questions were where, how many, and how strong they would be. The weather was much more unstable than it had been when Joplin was hit. After the storms, the news reported many stories of families who usually shelter at home but had gone to friends' homes with better storm shelters instead... and came home to no house at all.
Are you in a tornado-prone area? Do you have a plan, just in case? Where would you go, what would you do?
A tornado watch means that conditions are favorable for a tornado-producing storm. A warning means a tornado has been spotted. "Watch for a warning," my children say. Today's excellent radar technology tells us when a storm is coming long before it gets here, and we have a sweeping view to the west and see storms long before they reach us. We can hear thunder from many miles away. Hopefully we wouldn't be taken by surprise.
When a tornado watch is declared:
- Put on sturdy shoes.
- If you will take your pets to your shelter, put collars on the dogs and have leashes handy. Put cats in their carrier. Consider putting the cat & carrier in your shelter at this point. (You've practiced getting the dogs down in the shelter, right?)
- Have flashlights ready at the door. Make sure they work.
- Be sure you have a clear path to your shelter, with no clutter in the way. Make it easy; you might not have much time.
- What items are important to you? Purse, cell phone, keys, important paperwork - put them by the door. If there is a lot, consider moving some to the shelter before the storm reaches you.
- Make sure your cell phone is charged. A man in Joplin was saved from the wreckage because he was able to send a text message.
Stock your shelter ahead of time with towels, weather radio, flashlights, batteries, bottled water and so on. Think ahead of time about what you might need: a change of clothing, paper/Sharpie/tape for notes, snacks, tools, and so on. We store our picnic gear there. Try out your cell phone and weather radio to see if you have a good signal. Test both the calling and texting features of your phone.
If your plan is to wait out the storm at someone else's shelter, you'll need to make even more detailed plans. Discuss stocking their shelter ahead of time with flashlights, water, etc.
In various places we've lived, we've sheltered in underground "hidey holes", our basement, and our church's basement. Whatever your plan is, have a plan! Stay safe.