Tornado season is right around the corner, so today I want to talk about how you can prepare your home and your kids for potential bad weather.
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Growing up in Oklahoma, the spring and summer months have always been a toss-up. Some years, we don’t have to take cover from a tornado at all, and other years, it seems we’re in our shelter every week.
Or it could be like 2019, where we were in our tornado shelter at least once a day for a week straight. Let me tell you how fun that was with a toddler and infant twins! (It wasn’t.)
So what can you do to get your family and your home ready for tornado season? I have a few ideas for you.
Prepare Your Kids Without Scaring Them
Depending on the ages of your children, there are many different approaches you can take to prepare your kids for tornado season. You also have to be aware of how you prepare them. There’s a delicate balance between letting them know that it’s a serious matter and scarring them for life!
Tiny kids really can’t be prepared. They go wherever you take them and don’t have a whole lot of say in the matter. Just make sure you have ways to entertain and comfort them. More on that later.
Toddlers and Preschoolers
Toddlers and preschoolers are a tough age group because they have lots of questions and big fears. Little Miss had lots of “Why?” questions this past year and wanted to know the details of what was happening and why we were taking cover.
I’ll admit, I wasn’t overly prepared to answer those questions in a kid-friendly way when I was trying not to let her see that I was freaking out on the inside.
Here are a few tips that I plan to use with our girls:
- Let them help you stock your shelter. They’ll feel like they’re contributing, and you can discuss why you have specific items in your shelter.
- Read a picture book or two about weather. These can spark conversation and make severe weather a little more concrete in their minds.
- Draw pictures of everyone safe in the shelter. You could even hang them in the shelter so you can refer to them if and when you have to take cover.
Elementary Aged and Up
As your kids get older, they’ll probably remember tornado seasons of the past and have a better grasp of what’s going on, but you can still help them prepare.
With older kids, you can:
- Have them help make the list of what to put in your shelter (double-check it, just to be sure everything is listed) and help you gather the items.
- Watch documentaries (we love CuriosityStream) and read books about tornadoes and other severe weather.
- If you homeschool, do a weather unit study in early spring.
- Tour a weather station and talk with a meteorologist.
What’s In Your Shelter?
Now that we’ve talked about preparing your kids for tornado season let’s get to the nitty-gritty of what you need in your shelter.
Actually, before we even go there, let’s talk about where you plan to take shelter. If you live in a tornado-prone area, I’m going to assume you know this already. But just in case you don’t, here are some tips from the National Weather Service about where to take shelter in your home.
A few years ago, due to some pretty intense anxiety on my part, we purchased a safe room. We loved it so much that we had it disassembled and brought to our new house when we moved! Check out Atlas Safe Rooms if you’re in the market. (Not an affiliate link, I just really love their product!) So when there’s a tornado warning in Northeast Oklahoma, that’s where you’ll find our family!
Ok, now let’s get back to the original question. What’s in your shelter?
The contents of your shelter will really depend on where your family shelters in case of a tornado. If you have a dedicated storm shelter, you can leave your tornado preparations in there for the entirety of tornado season.
Stocking a Dedicated Storm Shelter
Here are a few things I would recommend keeping in your shelter. These are just the absolute essentials that you should keep in your shelter throughout tornado season. I’ll talk about what other items you might want to take into the shelter with you later on in the post.
- Light– This could be flashlights (we like magnetic flashlights because they attach to the steel walls and ceiling of our shelter), a lantern, or any other kind of light (preferably battery powered).
- A battery-powered fan– it can get pretty stuffy in a closed-up storm shelter! This is especially important if anyone in your family is claustrophobic or anxious.
- Some way of listening to the weather report. Odds are, you’ll lose cell service during the storm, so you don’t want to rely on your phone to keep tabs on the status of the weather. We have used a weather radio in the past, but we prefer these headphones now. With the headphones, an adult can listen and be aware of what’s going on, without the kids hearing and getting anxious.
- Water and snacks
- A first-aid kit
- Somewhere to sit. We have used our lawn chairs in the past, but I think Dillon is going to build us a bench this year. This really depends on how much space you have in your shelter. It might be more practical for everyone to stand if you have a small space.
- A safe with all of your essential documents. We have a fireproof safe that stays in our shelter year-round. It contains birth certificates, passports, car titles, etc.
On the other hand, if your shelter is a closet that you use frequently or your bathtub, you won’t have the luxury of leaving all of your tornado prep in there. My suggestion for you is to create a “Tornado Go-Bag.” It should be easy to grab and take to your shelter during a tornado warning.
Stocking a Tornado Go-Bag
This list is pretty much the same, but only includes what you can keep in your bag. Again, these are only the essentials, and I’ll mention a few other things to take with you later in this post.
- Light– For a small bag, I’d suggest a few flashlights. They won’t take up too much room in a bag, but they’ll be invaluable if you lose power.
- Some way of listening to the weather report. You’ll be in your house, but might not be close to the TV, and you may lose power, so don’t rely on that. I’d suggest a weather radio or the headphones I mentioned above.
- A few bottles of water and snacks for your family
- A first-aid kit
- Somewhere to keep all of your important documents (see the section above). If you don’t want to mess with a safe, you could also put your documents in a large Ziploc bag and keep it in your tornado bag during tornado season.
Preparing When Bad Weather is Forecast
Now that you’ve got your shelter and/or Go-Bag ready let’s talk about what you can do to prepare when bad weather is in the forecast.
Modern weather technology is really pretty incredible. We are alerted to the potential of storms and tornadic weather several days in advance, with the timelines and areas that could be affected made clearer constantly.
I don’t watch the news at all, but I do always pay attention to the weather forecasts. I have a reliable weather app on my phone, and I follow a couple of local meteorologists on social media. That’s where my weather awareness begins, especially during tornado season.
The meteorologists typically have a pretty good idea if there is potential for storms upcoming, and they will let you know about them. Once bad weather has been forecast, that’s when my mind starts planning.
I pay attention to times and locations that are mentioned, and I check my calendar to see what we have going on that day just so we can be aware if we’re out and about. I’ve been caught trying to get home with tornado sirens wailing and a toddler in my backseat before. Let’s just say I never want to be in that situation ever again!
A Tornado Watch Has Been Issued
In our area, the National Weather Service tends to put out a Tornado Watch several hours before any bad weather arrives. Once the Tornado Watch is issued, I start getting things ready. Here’s what I do:
- Open the door of the shelter and make sure there aren’t any critters in there. I love nature and all, but spiders or snakes are not welcome to take cover with us! If you don’t have a dedicated shelter, clear out space in your shelter of choice and take your Go-Bag to that location.
- Take my purse (with keys, wallet, and prescription medications) and the diaper bag (with plenty of diapers and wipes) to the shelter.
- Make sure that each person has shoes, a jacket, and a drink. When the twins were smaller, I made sure that I had bottles ready to make if I needed them. If you’re taking shelter inside your home, it might be a good idea to have a helmet of some kind (baseball, football, bike, etc.) for each member of your family to wear.
- Gather entertainment and comfort for the kids. For Monkey and Cub, this looks like books, small toys, and their lovies/pacifiers. For Little Miss, this looks like a favorite stuffed animal or blanket, and the iPad with headphones. She gets very anxious, and we’ve found that the iPad distracts her. The headphones keep her from getting caught up in adult conversations or nervousness.
- Gather pet supplies, such as Riley’s leash and a small bowl for water.
- Calmly tell Little Miss we might have to get in the shelter later if a storm heads our way. (Keep it light- there’s no reason to panic or get your kids all riled up.)
The Storm is Nearing Your Area
Whether there’s a tornado on the ground or rotation headed toward us, I take a few more precautionary measures. At this point, I:
- Put shoes on everyone.
- Everyone goes to the bathroom, and I change diapers.
- If the storm happens in the middle of the night, I just take shoes to the shelter, and we don’t worry about waking the kids up to go to the bathroom or to change diapers.
- Make sure the dog is nearby, so I don’t have to hunt her down when the sirens go off. This one isn’t too hard usually, because Riley is my shadow during storms. But your pets may hide, so it’s a good idea to get an idea of where they may be.
A Tornado Warning Has Been Issued
This is when I take the girls and the dog, and we get in the shelter. (If it’s in the middle of the night, we wake everyone up and carry them down to the shelter.) If Dillon is home, he typically watches TV for as long as we have a good signal and heads to the shelter when the storm gets closer. I should mention, our shelter is in our garage. If yours is outside, you’ll probably want to get in much sooner. And make your husband get in too!
What To Do in Your Shelter
So now you’re in your shelter. What can you do to ride out the storm and make sure the kids aren’t too scared? I already mentioned that Little Miss is usually pretty content with the iPad, so she’s not paying much attention to the rest of us. But electronics may not be the way you want to go, so here are a few other ideas:
- Read a book. If there’s more than one adult in the shelter, one can read, and the other can listen to the weather report.
- Play a game. Play rhyming games, letter games, or even make up a story. In this situation, the sillier, the better.
- Pray. I typically pray in my head all day and during a storm. Still, a prayer out loud with your family just might give everyone some extra peace and calm during a scary time.
Once the storm has passed, survey any damage, check to make sure there are no water or gas leaks, check your power, and get everyone back inside. You should take a few minutes to let everyone catch their breath and calm down after such an intense situation.
When you know that you are in the clear and no more storms are headed your way, you can bring in the extra supplies you took to your shelter. Now would also be an excellent time to return your closet or bathroom to its previous state, if needed.
Whew! That was a long one! Thanks for sticking with me! What has gotten you and your family through tornado season? Did I forget anything? Leave a note in the comments section below.