Friday, February 23, 2007

How to deal with living in Tornado Alley

It's unusually warm this week and we're expecting thunderstorms and possibly even a bit of tornado action overnight tonight. This afternoon my MOMS Club email list discussed how to deal with living in Tornado Alley, because one of the new members is new to our area and was really stressed over the talk about possible tornadoes. Here's what I wrote.

The spring after we moved here my husband wanted to storm chase and I had a two-month old baby at the start of spring chase season. I was kind of freaked about tornadoes, too. Here are some tips:

Usually we have fantastic, tremendous, amazing thunderstorms in spring, summer (some), and fall... lightning, hail, wind, rain (and no tornadoes). On occasion a tornado might develop, and few tornadoes are strong enough to do much damage. Not all tornadoes even touch down onto the ground.

The overwhelming majority of tornadoes are weak, rated F0 through F3. The tornadoes that do a lot of damage, F4s and F5s, are rare. Really rare. An F4, if I remember correctly, is the lift-the-roof-off type (yay safe room, closet, bathroom). An F5 is super rare, and is the nothing-left-but-foundation type (yay storm cellar).

Also, tornadoes are really skinny compared to the storm they're in, or compared to an ice storm, tropical storm, hurricane, etc. And they don't last long.

The powerful, mile-wide, and/or long-lasting tornadoes are imprinted on people's memory because they are rare (and awful), not because they are common. I found it helped me a lot to learn that.

The great thing about being in the heart of Tornado Alley in tornado season is that all the weather folks LOVE severe weather and are chomping at the bit to cover it.

So... if there's even a hint of a good possibility, the news media go All Storm Watching All The Time, and you'll have more info than you'd ever want. On local TV they dump ad time for weather updates, and they run little maps of the state with the watches (=pay attention) and the warnings (=go to your safe place).

If a tornado is sighted anywhere in our part of the state, the local TV and associated radio stations are Live For Hours with every possible detail. Each local TV station is carried live on a local radio station as well. The weather media track the tornadoes live by rural towns and roads, and even by suburban/urban street intersections! You will not need to worry that they don't know where a tornado is or might be -- they're all over that like white on rice!

Our town is blanketed with sirens to alert us to danger even if we have no idea. And those puppies are LOUD!

If a tornado is actually in our county, a tornado warning is issued and the neighborhood sirens sound. Head to your safe place. Oh, and Do Not Freak Out when the weather radio runs its weekly test and the neighborhood sirens run their weekly test; they are both at noon, one on Wednesdays and the other on Fridays. They only do the tests when there is NO possibility of severe weather. If it's a cloudy or thunderstormy day, the sirens and alerts are real, not tests.

I've only heard sirens go off for tornado warnings (in our county) maybe twice in 7 1/2 years.

Get a NOAA weather radio, preferably one that is programmable.

It will alert you to any weather watches or warnings. If it's programmable you can narrow down the counties whose alerts it notifies you about (you especially want counties west and southwest of ours, plus ours, but not distant counties). Put the weather radio where you can hear it in your sleep, so you can sleep easy even if storms are expected overnight. The weather radio made a huge difference in my comfort level, as did the media coverage (at first; then it became sort of annoying unless the weather might hit our town!).

Learn what part of your home is the best protection from tornadoes.

It is usually a ground-floor closet or bathroom, a small room with no walls joined to the exterior house walls. Or, if you have a storm cellar/shelter, that's your safe place. Plan to go there with a radio if possible if the siren sounds or the weather folks ever say about your area, "go to your safe place now."

Make a mini-plan of what to do if you're at home, and what to do if you're in your car.

Then you'll be (or I was, anyway) less panicky when the weather media start ramping up because you've already made those decisions.

You could also pick up the severe weather safety info that becomes commonly available in the newspaper, at McDonalds, etc. at the beginning of March.

Or go to the National Weather Service Web site, or the local American Red Cross chapter. Most people don't think of the preparedness stuff, but it might help you feel more comfortable with this new thing.

I've written a book, and that's everything I can think of! Breathe, deeply breathe, slowly breathe...

And now I try to remember this stuff the first time this spring we have a seriously amazing severe weather day where lots of fun stuff is heading toward our town. Gulp.

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