It's tornado season—here's how to prepare
The best time is now
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Now that spring is upon us, tornado season has also made its entrance—and it’s likely to be a destructive one. Due in part to the ongoing La Niña weather pattern, tornado activity is forecasted to be slightly above average this year, with 1,350 to 1,500 tornadoes expected across the U.S. in 2021, according to AccuWeather meteorologists.
Just this past week, thousands of homes were left without power as a strong storm front moved through the South, spawning at least nine tornadoes ranging from Louisiana to Alabama. Unfortunately, this may only be the beginning.
So, now is the time to start preparing your home for tornado weather, if you live in the region and haven’t already.
Whether you have a few days warning before a strong storm front or are caught in a sudden dangerous weather situation, here’s how to prepare the home—and your household—for a tornado.
Prepare the home in advance
While tornado season is already in full swing, you can still prepare your home ahead of a dangerous weather situation.
Installing retractable storm shutters—which can be opened and closed upon a moment’s notice—can help to minimize damage inside the home and can keep you protected. Among them, there are some permanent shutter options available that you can close in an instant to immediately shield your windows from flying debris.
Additionally, keep trees in your yard trimmed of damaged or weak limbs, as these could become possible projectiles with strong winds or a tornado. Likewise, clean up any heavy debris like branches, bricks, or firewood surrounding your home.
If strong storms are in the forecast for your area, bring in any patio furniture, grills, trash cans, or even plants to avoid damage to them and your home. Again, heavier items can become dangerous projectiles when strong winds are in play, so try to move or secure these items beforehand.
The American Red Cross recommends creating a list of items to bring inside, which may make quickly preparing for an emergency that much easier and quicker.
Have an emergency kit ready to go
You never know when an emergency, like a tornado, may strike. That’s why you should try to have an emergency kit of essentials on hand before the emergency happens.
Ready.gov, FEMA’s partner site, has recommended a list of emergency items to prepare in one or two easy-to-carry containers. Here are just a few of the essentials:
- Water (at least one gallon per person per day for several days)
- Food (try to stock up three days worth of non-perishables like canned and dried goods, dry snacks, and for parents, baby food and formula—and don’t forget a can opener, too)
- Battery-powered or hand-crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert
- First aid kit
- Cell phone chargers (make sure to have portable power banks on hand to keep them charged)
Of course, your emergency kit will vary depending on your household’s needs and abilities—this fact sheet from the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provides a comprehensive checklist based on specific needs. You can find more information on building the right emergency kit for your home at Ready.gov.
In addition, you can also make your own survival kit or buy one in case that you may need to evacuate your home. This kind of kit should include some of those essentials featured in an emergency at-home kit. You may also choose to include a sleeping bag, a portable shelter (i.e. a survival tent, survival tinder, portable toothbrushes), and more on-the-go items.
We’ve tested several survival kits and found our top choice to be the Emergency Zone Urban Survival Kit—this particular kit features pre-packed drinking water, shelf-stable food rations, hygiene products, a folding knife, work gloves, and much more.
Stay alert and know when a tornado could strike
If strong storms are in the forecast for your area, stay up-to-date with local radio and TV stations on local weather conditions. If your power goes out, make sure to keep phones charged using a portable power bank and to use a battery-powered or hand-crank radio for real-time alerts.
Be aware of tornado watches or warnings being issued and the difference between the two:
- Tornado Watch: This refers to the possibility of a tornado or a tornado near the watch area.
- Tornado Warning: This means that a tornado has been sighted or indicated on a radar and there is imminent danger to life and property. Shelter should be taken immediately.
While it’s important to stay informed, tornadoes can strike without any time for warning. Keep an eye and an ear out for warning signs of tornado danger—this may include dark, green-colored clouds or sky, a wall cloud shape, cloud of debris, large hail, funnel clouds, or roaring noises that sound like a freight train. If you notice any of the following, it’s time to take cover.
Know when and where to shelter
Do not wait until you physically see the tornado to begin sheltering. Rather, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends practicing common sense and caution. If you believe you are in danger, seek shelter immediately. Use local government guidance as well as any alerts sent directly to your phone or on your radio and TV.
When it’s time, know where the safest spot in your home is. Move to an underground shelter like a basement, if possible.
If your home doesn’t have one, move to an inside room without any windows on the lowest floor of your home—this may be a bathroom or closet. If you are in a mobile home, the American Red Cross says to evacuate to a nearby sturdy building or shelter, as mobile homes aren’t safe to be in during severe weather.
The CDC says you can add protection by sheltering underneath something sturdy like a heavy table or workbench. Additionally, you can cover your body with a mattress or blankets. If anything, protect your head with whatever is available.
For people with disabilities and special needs, make sure you have a specific plan in place for sheltering well in advance.
Those in wheelchairs should move away from windows and into an interior room, sheltering under any tables or desks, if possible. Again, if anything, use any object to cover your head—even your hands if that’s all you have.
For those unable to move from a bed or a chair without assistance, use any blankets, pillows, or the like to cover from projectile objects.
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