How We Prepare for Tornado Season

Treatening skies and dark clouds warn of an impending storm. How you can prepare for a tornado.

Learn how to prepare for tornado season, and the precautions you should take when severe weather is in the forecast. Make a plan and know what to do when your home is threatened by a tornado.

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 vehicles were tossed into what had been the backyard. Their home was a pile of bricks and lumber and debris. Their city looked like a war zone.

Where do tornadoes occur

Tornadoes occur on every continent, but most often occur in North America. They are most common across a swath of the central United States. 

Although many other states are affected by tornadoes, Oklahoma seems to be where many of those storms are "born." Oklahoma City has more tornado strikes than any other city in the United States.

We invested in a storm shelter

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.

Make a safety plan before severe weather is in the forecast.

Assess your risk

  • Are tornadoes possible in your area? 
  • What kind of home do you live in? If you live in a mobile home, make plans to shelter somewhere else.
  • Do your neighbors have a storm shelter? Or perhaps there's a public shelter near you. For instance, 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. 

Now 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, especially if you 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 tornado 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. Store a bin of supplies in the storm shelter or in your designated safe place.

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 in 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 (sometimes 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 not really for "in case of a tornado," but it's a good place to store it and it has some snacks inside too.

This bin is heavy, so it's not something we could carry with us out to the shelter in a hurry. We could move it into the shelter before a storm in case it might be needed, or it can be stored inside the shelter, which is what we decided to do.

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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 certainly don't want to run through heavy rain into a dark place with stuff jumbled all over the floor, plus I hate creepy-crawlie bugs, spiders and icky surprises.

So we keep it well-organized and clean.

We store our insulated coolers under the shelter's steps. It's dead space so they aren't in the way, and would serve as extra seating if we had additional people in the shelter with us.

Our in-ground storm shelter

When storms are in the forecast

Start preparing before the rain begins. 

  • Put on sturdy shoes. 
  • Charge up your cell phones.
  • 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.
  • Put collars and leashes on your dogs if they will accompany you to the shelter. (And if they won't go into the shelter with you, where will you put them?)
  • Our house cats are put in a carrier and moved to the shelter before the storm begins. 
  • If you give your pets anti-anxiety medications (our veterinarian calls them "thunder pills"), administer meds before the bad weather arrives.

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!

Types of storm shelters

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. In a deep garage, you can park the car as far forward as possible and still access the shelter, or you can park the car outside the garage during storms (which leaves it vulnerable to hail, but people are more important!).

I've noticed several homes that have a shelter in their front or side yard, because the heavy equipment needed for installation couldn't access the backyard. This is one of the advantages of the in-the-garage-floor type of shelter - it's easier for the installers to access.

Our daughter-in-law's parents have a safe room installed inside their new 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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