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As we sit down to lunch on a sunny, beautiful summer day in 1998, my husband tells me the local news at noon reported some very bad storms to the Northwest. If he hadn’t checked the news while I was making lunch, we would never have known. There were no ominous clouds to be seen that day. It was picture perfect. We enjoyed our lunch with our then 4 year old daughter, and I was planning to do some gardening and pick raspberries that afternoon. We weren’t terribly concerned about the storm reports, but we periodically checked the local weather alerts as we went about our afternoon. We were not prepared for the dangerous weather headed our way.
While I’m picking raspberries and my daughter is playing in the yard, I watch the dark clouds approaching and I’m getting concerned. They are not the typical summer storm clouds. These clouds are black, purple, green, roiling, angry, and moving in FAST. The wind begins to howl and tornado sirens blare as my husband comes out the back door and yells, “Get to the basement now! The storm is headed right for us and it’s BAD!”
He grabs our daughter, and I run as fast as my pregnant legs will carry me. He gets to the basement first, and as I head down the stairs behind him it’s pitch black. Suddenly, it sounds like a truck slams into the house. The air pressure changed and my ears popped. If I hadn’t been pregnant, I would’ve jumped down the stairs.
We huddle in a corner, and the typical storm noise that sounds like a freight train roars overhead. In less than 5 minutes, it was over. We were lucky. We were just grazed by the edge of the storm. Less than half a mile away, it looked like a steamroller had been driven over the landscape. Corn fields were flattened with all the corn laying the same direction. Huge, beautiful trees were uprooted and laying the same direction as the corn (it had been a wet spring and summer, so the trees didn’t break off, they just uprooted and laid over). Houses were badly damaged. It was weird how things weren’t thrown around like a typical tornado would do. Things were just flattened all in the same direction.
We had roof damage, the swing set was blown into the chain link fence around our yard, and the sapling tree in the front yard was leaning over, but hadn’t fallen. Debris had blown into the house under the closed front door which had faced the direction from which the storm arrived. We were scared but okay, and our home remained intact. I don’t remember if we lost power or not.
What we had experienced wasn’t a tornado, it was a mezzo cyclone. Tornado winds act like a vacuum cleaner sucking things up and throwing them around. A mezzo cyclone is like a steamroller with fierce horizontal winds that knock everything over in the same direction.
When that cyclone hit, there wasn’t time to grab anything. It was an atypical, freak storm that moved 70 mph and had the weather forecasters buzzing for days.
Lesson Learned – Be Prepared for Dangerous Weather
Since that experience, I keep a storm preparation kit handy. Had our house been destroyed, we would’ve had nothing but the clothes on our backs.
A storm preparation kit can be easily made. Not everyone’s kits will be the same because everyone has different living situations and different needs. This article is to show you what I do and to give you some ideas to consider that may work for you and your family.
Weather Underground has a great web page with information about preparing for tornadoes. I highly recommend reading it.
It’s best to prepare and have a plan beforehand because, by the time dangerous weather arrives, it’s too late. You just have to get in a basement or shelter somewhere until it’s over. While you can’t predict what the damage will be, if any, you can be a little more at ease when sheltering through a tornado that you’ve at least done what you can to improve you and your family’s odds of coming through a potentially deadly situation.
My storm kit is in a gym bag. You may want to keep yours in a plastic storage bin and store it in the area of the basement where you will shelter.
In it I keep a bottle of water for each person and the dog, a couple of picnic blankets, a first-aid kit, flashlight, extra batteries for the flashlight,and a box of protein bars. I note their expiration date in my planner so they can be eaten and replaced before they go to waste. There is small plastic container of dry food for the dog. I keep a photocopy of my driver’s license in an envelope in the bag, in case I don’t have time to grab my purse. It’s a good idea to have some form of ID in case everything is lost.
If you or a member of your family depend on a medication, talk to your doctor about keeping some on hand for emergencies. At the very least, keep a list of your medications in the folder along with the pharmacy and prescription number so replacement is easy. List any medical conditions that could be life-threatening in an emergency situation.
Baby care items should go into your kit if you have an infant. Small children appreciate some toys to keep them distracted or a stuffed animal or doll for comfort while waiting out a storm.
Keep a dog leash in your kit or by the door so it’s easy to grab on the way to your place of shelter. If you have a cat, a cat carrier can be stored in your place of shelter so you can carry your cat to safety and have a place for it to wait out the storm with you.
If you have a basement, the best place to keep the storm kit is in the part of the basement where you’ll be waiting out the storm. If you live in an apartment building, make sure you know where your building’s storm shelter is located. I would have my storm kit in a backpack or gym bag stored in the closet by the front door so it’s easy to get on your way to the shelter. If you live in a home with no basement or outdoor storm shelter, keep the kit in the room or closet where you will go for safety.
While you can’t always avoid being caught off guard by dangerous weather simply because a storm can be unpredictable, you can help make yourself more aware of its presence by installing on your smartphone your local television or radio station’s app and set it to notify you when severe weather is in your area. You can also get a weather radio and program it to sound an alarm when dangerous weather is a possibility.
- Assemble a storm kit to store in your place of shelter or carry with you to a place of shelter in the event of dangerous weather
- Some items to consider are: picnic blankets, flashlight, first aid kit, extra batteries for the flashlight, bottles of water, protein bars, food for pets, photocopy of your driver’s license, extra necessary medications or list of medications and prescription numbers, toys or stuffed animals for small children
- Keep a dog leash in your kit, and store a cat carrier in your storm shelter
- Download a weather alert app (usually available from your local tv or radio stations) onto your smartphone, or get a weather radio
I hope you are never in the path of a dangerous storm. But if you are, I hope you give yourself a little peace of mind by making a storm preparation kit. You’ll know you did what you could to be ready and to protect yourself and your loved ones. If you live in a part of the country where something other than tornadoes are a problem (wildfires, hurricanes, earthquakes…), consider researching ways to prepare yourself in case a dangerous situation happens.
Having a bag or plastic storage bin with a few emergency supplies doesn’t mean you’re a doomsday survivalist. It means you’re aware that bad things can happen, and that you want to give yourself and your loved ones a few tools to get through it.
All the best,
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