I’ve always lived where tornadoes are a fact of life. As a kid, we had tornado drills. We heard the tornado sirens tested on Wednesdays at noon, and my siblings and I passed more minutes than I’d like to think about under a mattress in our hallway or, later, in the earthen dugout shelter beside our house.
I’ve had a few near-misses. Once, my dad, who always watched for tornadoes out the front and back doors, came running into the hallway where my siblings and mom were already crouched under a mattress. He slid under it like a baseball player sliding into home base and held his end of the mattress down, shouting, “This is only a drill!” Even then, my siblings and I knew that it wasn’t, but luckily that tornado hopped over us without any significant damage to our home.
More recently, I was driving home from the dentist during a storm that suddenly cropped up, as storms tend to do in summer. I turned my radio to a local station, and the familiar unpleasant emergency alert started playing while my phone simultaneously starting buzzing. There was a tornado in my neighborhood. As I whipped into my driveway and ran through the driving rain, my husband held the door open for me and we ran to a closet where we waited for the storm to pass. That tornado never reached the ground.
My sister-in-law, niece, and nephew, weren’t so lucky. In 2015, they were in a deadly EF-4 tornado that destroyed houses and killed people on their street. The roof was partially lifted off of their home, the dishes thrown out of all the cabinets and dishwasher. My nephew’s bubble popper exploded. My niece’s room somehow remained untouched while the rest of the house was a disaster.
Thank God my family members were ok. My sister-in-law had the kids in an interior closet where they waited things out. A neighbor helped her pry open the garage so that she could drive the kids to a safer place after the storm. The experience was scary and traumatizing for all of them.
Since I’ve experience working with children, I’ve ran through drills with them for fire and tornadoes in school settings. I’ve always tried to be prepared for emergencies–especially those that happen frequently in my area, like tornadoes–but becoming a mother has added a whole new layer to emergency preparedness. As a mom, not only do I need to prepare basic provisions for myself, but I need to find ways to soothe or distract my kids while keeping everyone as safe as possible. Here are my tips:
- Stay calm! This is always the first thing you have to remember in any emergency, but if you are scared of tornadoes this can be very challenging. Take a few deep breaths, repeat a mantra, or focus on your kids to keep you present. If you have a deep fear of tornadoes, you might need to deal with that through talking with understanding adults or a therapist so that you aren’t making your kids unduly frightened. They pick up on all of our moods, and being in a cramped tornado shelter with a group of upset kids will only make everyone more upset in the long run. Being calm is key.
- Be honest. I’ve lived 36 years in areas that get tornadoes, including growing up in Tornado Alley. I’ve never actually been in a tornado, even though I’ve had some close calls. I tell my kids that so that they understand that the threat is real, but chances are good that we will come out unscathed. My children also know about their aunt and cousins being a tornado; I reassure them that although it was very scary, they stayed in their safe place until the tornado was over and so they were okay. This reassures my kids that we should take tornadoes seriously but will be alright after the storm passes.
- Have supplies. Have a first aid kit, flash lights (one per person), food, and water in case something does happen and you have to relocate quickly. I like keeping Clif bars in the emergency kit because they are filling and keep a long time. Also have a solar charger for your devices and a weather radio. I also like to keep something for the kids to play with in the kit. This can range from a deck of cards for older kids to color books for younger ones. I had toys that were just for hiding out in our tornado closet to keep my kids more engaged. I also keep our old or spare bike helmets in there–any kind of helmet will do–to protect our heads from falling debris in case we really are in a tornado.
- Cell phones are not toys during an emergency. Unless you have a full battery and are confident the storm will pass quickly, I wouldn’t let me kids play on my phone. During tornado watches or warnings, loved ones often try to find out if you are safe, new weather updates come through, and you might lose power. As soon as I see a weather report that includes any kind of inclement weather, I make sure that my phone is charged. I’ve even kept an extra charger in the nearest outlet and slid it under the door of our safe closet to keep my phone fully charged through the storm.
- Be alert. Tornadoes are most common in spring, but they can happen year-round. Nobody really expects to have a tornado in January, but they do happen and are often deadly because people are caught unawares. If you aren’t one to watch the local weather report daily, sign up for severe weather alerts through your local broadcast weather station or through an app on your phone.
- Learn about tornadoes. Kids are naturally curious and have tons of questions. Pretend to be meteorologist and teach them what causes a tornado and how to spot one. If you aren’t sure, head to your library to find a book–you will all learn something! Even though tornadoes are scary, understanding how they form and what they are helps me and my kids to stay calm.
Please let me know below if you have any more tips to prepare kids for tornado season!