8 Ways to Keep Your Family Safe in a Tornado

Health & Wellness on 03.13.12
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Photo: Mike McCune/Creative Commons

Ryan posted some tips on tornado safety last year, but as shown by the horrific events in Indiana and elsewhere over the last few weeks, you can never be too prepared for tornadoes, hurricanes and other extreme weather. And yet experts often argue that one of the biggest hurdles they face is simply convincing people that it actually might happen to them.

So while the memories of the destruction and misery are still fresh in our minds, it is the perfect time to brush up on tornado safety - and to talk to your kids about being prepared too. Because, much like making sure your children know what to do if they get lost in the woods, some of the most important steps you can take should happen long before they are ever needed.

emergency radioPhoto: Alan Levine/Creative Commons


1. Talk, Talk and More Talk

Find opportunities to talk to your kids about emergency situations. When storms hit elsewhere, use the news stories to explore possibilities. When a tornado watch is issued, show them that you take these warnings seriously by avoiding unnecessary travel and going over what to do if a twister does hit. Explain to them how to keep calm in an emergency; what to do if no adult is around or conscious and able to help them; and show them where important supplies like a first aid kit is kept. Be sure to look over this guidance on how to talk to kids about disasters too to ensure you don't scare them unnecessarily, but they should nevertheless be ready in case the worst happens. Make sure your kids also know important emergency numbers and contact details for relatives.

2. Keep Emergency Supplies Handy

Some bottled water; a first aid kit; batteries; fire extinguisher; an emergency radio. These are all good things to have around the house. Whether or not you are ever hit by a tornado, being prepared for power outages or other disruptions is just common sense. And if you are putting these items together, why not ask your kids to help you and make a project of it?


tornado emergency kit
Image: weatherreport1109/video screen capture


3. Identify a Safe Place

Most advice on tornado safety suggests heading for the lowest point of the house, such as a basement - or at very least a windowless room on the lowest floor. But the last thing you want to happen is to get into an argument about which spot is best as a twister approaches. So make sure you talk through the options with your family, and decide on a place where you can all be safe. If you live in a mobile home, you might want to identify alternative safe spots - like a nearby building. Or at least think through some heavy furniture or other items you can hide under. While you are at it, why not put a few toys and reading materials in your safe place? That way it becomes easier to get the kids down there before disaster strikes - and keep you sane as you sit it out.

4. Know Your Terms

There can be a lot of confusion about "tornado watches" versus "tornado warnings". A tornado watch is simply a state of preparedness that is issued when meteorologists believe the conditions are right for a tornado to form. A tornado warning, on the other hand, is what is issued when a tornado has actually been spotted. If you hear about a watch, stay tuned to the radio or internet; check your supplies; and go over your plans with family. Avoid unnecessary travel and stay indoors. If a warning is issued, it's time to hunker down and hope for the best.


tornado animationImage: weatherreport1109/video screen capture


5. Watch the Skies

Tornadoes are dramatic things, and that means they are hard to miss. But it is worth familiarising yourself with the early warning signs that a tornado may be forming. The Red Cross' tornado preparedness page suggests the following signs may be an early indicator of trouble ahead:

  • Dark, often greenish clouds-a phenomenon caused by hail
  • Wall cloud-an isolated lowering of the base of a thunderstorm
  • Cloud of debris
  • Large hail
  • Funnel cloud-a visible rotating extension of the cloud base
  • Roaring noise

Why not plan a science project around tornadoes and what to look out for with your children?


6. Cover Your Kids

There can be nothing more terrifying than the story of Indiana mom Stephanie Decker who protected her kids by lying over them as their house was ripped apart. Besides preventing any debris from hitting them, by covering kids like this you can stop them from being picked up by the storm's funnel. Decker had also been smart enough to tie a blanket around the two of the kids to help ensure they weren't ripped away from her. Hiding yourselves under sturdy furniture or covering yourselves with a heavy blanket is also a good idea.


tornado from carPhoto: Lisa Jacobs/Creative Commons


7. If You Are On the Road

If you are not in a building when a tornado warning is issued, you have a few options. As the video below explains, the last thing you should do is take cover under a highway underpass or bridge - these can be more dangerous than the open air. Instead, you can either try and make it to the nearest building or shelter. Or if that is not possible, either lay low in a vehicle (keeping your seatbelt on) and cover yourself with a blanket. Or, alternatively, hide in a nearby ditch or gulley.


8. Stay Alert

After a storm passes, there are still dangers to be aware of. Keep listening to the radio and do not leave until the tornado warning has been lifted. Be wary of damaged buildings. And be careful not to create sparks or use open flames if there is any possibility of a gas leak. Turn off utilities if there is any damage to the building. And then pick up the phone and start checking that other folks are OK too.

Here's a short video on more tornado preparedness tips:

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