How We Prepare for Tornado Season

Suggestions for preparing for severe spring storms and tornado season.

How we prepare for tornado season

Many years ago, our future-daughter-in-law and her parents lost their home to a massive F5 tornado. They made a last-minute decision to leave the bedroom closet where they'd always sheltered and go to their neighbors' underground shelter instead.

All that was left of their home after the storm passed was that bedroom closet. Their city looked like a war zone.

Tornadoes occur on every continent; in North America they are most prevalent across a swath of the central United States. Oklahoma seems to be where many of those storms are spawned: Oklahoma City has more tornado strikes than any other city in the United States.

Back in 2009 we had a storm shelter installed here at Oak Hill. We've never had to use it, although I did once stand at the back door, wavering over whether or not I should run for it. Still, the peace of mind has been worth the cost of having it put in.

Since we never know what the future will hold, it was a good investment. Like our daughter-in-law's family, we might be really thankful for it some day.

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Before Tornado Season Arrives

Tornadoes can happen at any time of the year, but are most likely to occur between late March and August, with what Oklahomans call "the other tornado season" in late October and November.

Assess your risk - are tornadoes possible in your area? What kind of home do you live in? Do your neighbors have a storm shelter, or perhaps there's a public shelter near you. At one of the churches we served years ago, members and neighbors took refuge in the church basement.

Is there a tornado siren within hearing distance? Download your local news app on your phone so you'll be warned of coming storms. Pay attention to the weather outside and to the weather forecasts.

Then make a plan, what will you do if a tornado is rushing towards your home?

If you don't have a storm shelter

It's even more important to make an action plan if you don't have a storm shelter.

Take shelter in a basement if you have one. If not, identify a "safe spot" in the middle of your home, away from windows and the outside walls of your house, such as a closet or in the bathtub.

Cover yourself with heavy blankets or comforters to help protect you from debris.

Helmets are an excellent precaution, especially if you have children in your home. Bike helmets, football helmets, and riding helmets are relatively inexpensive to buy, or look for them in thrift shops and yard sales.

If possible, store these items in your safe spot so you won't forget them or have to hunt for them at the last minute.

Perhaps you, like our daughter-in-law's family, have neighbors or friends who will squeeze you in in an emergency.

Do not ride out a tornadic storm in a mobile home.

Gather Supplies

You and your family will be more comfortable in the shelter or in your "safe spot" if you plan ahead. Storing a bin of supplies in the storm shelter is an excellent plan.

Think through the entire process of running out to the shelter during a storm and make a list of what you might need when you get there. Gather these items and store them in a plastic bin to keep them clean and safe from bugs and mice.

You might include the following:

The shelter will be pitch black when you are inside with the door shut, so flashlights, a camping lantern or tap lights will be very welcome. Replace the batteries in these items every spring when you clean out the shelter.

Next to the steps into our shelter, we placed a plastic shelf unit that holds a case of bottled water and our plastic bin of supplies. Our folding chairs store nicely between the side of the shelving unit and the corner of the shelter.

We have a "power's out" kit (also known as a black-out bag) for power outages. It holds enough food for three days plus some paper goods and hygiene supplies. It's heavy though, so it's not something we could carry with us out to the shelter in a hurry. We can move it out there before a storm though, just in case it might be needed.

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Keep The Shelter Neat and Clean

We have a rule: keep junk out of the tornado shelter. If we need to use it in an emergency, we want the space to be open and well-organized. I don't want to run through heavy rain to a dark place with stuff jumbled on the floor, plus I hate creepy-crawlie bugs, spiders and icky surprises.

I do store the insulated coolers and picnic basket under the shelter's steps but that's dead space so it's acceptable (according to my rules, anyway).

Our in-ground storm shelter

When storms are in the forecast

Start preparing before the rain begins. Put on sturdy shoes. Put your grab-and-go emergency binder in your shelter. Charge up your cell phones and other electronics.

Put collars and leashes on your dogs if they will accompany you to the shelter. Put pet cats in a carrier and move them to the shelter before the storm begins. If you give your pets anti-anxiety medications, administer them prior to the bad weather.

Locate coats, flashlights, purse and other items you plan to carry with you near the door where they will be easy to grab on your way out.

It's possible that a tree or large debris could land on top of the shelter door, trapping you inside. Test your cell phones from inside your shelter to be sure you can call for assistance and to let family members know you are safe.

Our storm shelter with some unexpected guests
Seriously? I think Dakota dared her to try it!

Many homes in Oklahoma and other states in "Tornado Alley" have a storm shelter installed. Some, like ours, are in the ground outside. 

Others are located in the garage floor; a car can be parked on top of the flat top during off-storm seasons. 

Our daughter-in-law's parents now have a safe room installed inside their home, a metal structure that is designed to withstand tornadoes even though it is above-ground.

Installing the storm shelter; preparing for tornado season.

How a storm shelter is installed

The company brought our new storm shelter to our property in two pieces and dug a hole with the backhoe they'd brought on another truck.

Installing a storm shelter; preparing for tornado season.

Then they lowered the two pieces into place. They were bolted together and the earth was back-filled around the concrete shelter. That dirt has settled over the years and we should probably bring in another load.

Having our storm shelter installed

Every March I clean out the shelter, sweep the floor, wash the towels and blankets, and replace the bottled water and batteries.

Do you have a plan for tornado season, winter storms, hurricanes or whatever natural disaster is likely in your region? No matter where you live, be weather-aware and stay safe!

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Here's what to do to prepare for tornado season and severe spring storms.

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  1. Anonymous7:35 AM

    I have the same items in mine plus a tote with a complete change of clothes, jackets, couple of quilts and an extra pair of shoes. Just incase we loose our home.

    1. Excellent ideas, Sue. Thank you for sharing that!

  2. We had a small tornado hit the next town over last week. Our home was hit with straight line winds which are also damaging. We are lucky to have a basement in our home, but after taking shelter down there last week, I realized that I need to reevaluate that space myself.

    1. Jamie, so glad to hear that you weren't in the path of that tornado. We've had some experience with straight-line winds too.

  3. I live in north Georgia, at the foothills of the Blue Ridge mtns. The mountains help break up many storms before they reach us so we've never taken tornado warnings seriously. Then, a few years ago the weather station said a tornado could hit our town any second. Again, not taking it seriously. We were fortunate that the storm swayed and took another path but the next town over was demolished by an EF4 tornado. Now we take it much more seriously. A storm shelter is a goal for my homestead. I like hearing what others have planned. Do you have tips on shopping for a shelter? Thanks!

    1. Oh my goodness, April! That was a wake-up call. There are a few different kinds of shelters: a "safe room" that goes inside the house, an in-ground shelter that goes in your garage floor, and the type we have. Since we wanted in-ground and don't have a garage, our choice was easy. Friends recommended a company that installed them. I've watched stories on the news about companies who didn't install them correctly, so the recommendation was something we appreciated.

  4. With so many options out there I have to say I like this one and then I've heard the horror stories where shelters flooded and the people died. What to do is difficult because we get tornadoes in North Texas too. Normally if it gets real bad we just hide out in the closed in wall bathroom. We're in the process of selling and our next set up will be very different. This was helpful, Thank you!

    Carole @ Garden Up Green

    1. Last year some areas received so much rain that this type of storm shelter sort of floated out of their holes. This is why it's important to have a good installer. Up here at the top of the hill we don't have that problem, but our installer gave his opinion about the best spot to locate our shelter.

      I'm glad to hear that you'll have a better set up in your next place, Carole. Sometimes an interior room just isn't enough.

  5. I have never lived in an area that was prone to tornados. Sounds like you are well prepared however!

    1. I hope we are, Nancy. I'm always tweaking the plan though. You are fortunate to not have to deal with them, but I think everywhere has its own threat, whether it's earthquake, tornado, hurricane, flood...

  6. Though we only have micro-bursts up here in NH, as a kid growing up in Arkansas we saw plenty of tornadoes. Never got that close to them, but I remember watching them from a distance and being enthralled. Thanks for sharing on the blog hop, and bringing back some groovy memories:)

    1. I bet you saw quite a few in Alabama!

  7. We have something similar and we keep it well stocked in case of emergency. Found you on Homestead Blog Hop.

    1. Everyone in tornado country should have some sort of plan, for sure! Thanks, Candy.

  8. Good information, Kathi. We have a basement with a back room that serves as our shelter. We've had to hunker down there several times. Our closest tornado since we moved here was about 3 miles away...too close for comfort! I need to look at our sheltering spot and think about ways to make it better. Thanks for sharing!

  9. I would add a bathroom bucket and sawdust for covering the poo in case a tree falls over your door and you become trapped for a few days. It is just as important as food. We take it seriously here. My family's hometown was devastated by a tornado 7 years ago. Plus having lived in Ohio, we know what destruction can be caused. We have a semi basement here (dirt floor) but we use it no matter what if the sirens go off along with the weather radio. Thanks Kathi for this informative article.

    1. That's very practical advice.


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