Although I'm a two-time wildfire survivor who narrowly escaped flames that consumed by next-door neighbor's California home and emptied out my entire community for a week at a time, I'm a newbie at tornadoes. Mother Nature has a way of dishing out all sorts of challenges specific to geographic areas.
Last night, lightning blasted our Midwest community at a rate of 300 - 500 strikes every ten minutes. We lost power for three hours. A lightning bolt hit a tree about 100 yards from our kitchen window causing it to split in half and crash into our neighbors backyard. Then, the high winds pelting our home ceased. My wife said, "when the winds stop, it's the most dangerous time...this is how it looks before a tornado touches down." Before she could finish talking, I was headed for my son's room in our walkout basement to join our children, already camped out in his closet. We may be repeating these actions today and tomorrow as the jet stream is aligned just right to produce the perfect storm with possible tornadoes. If you ever visit an area where tornadoes are likely, follow this checklist:
- Flashlights for every family member is a must. We use the LED flashlights that have a hook for your belt. Once the power goes out, you can use the flashlight as a lantern or a traditional flashlight.
- Make sure your cell phones are fully charged. They are your life-line when you lose your TV signal. This happens often for us because we have satellite TV and the high winds cause a signal loss.
- Download a weather app for your smart phone. This warns you if a tornado is in the vicinity. It's more effective than sirens because many funnel clouds can't be spotted during the night by the people who activate the sirens and the weather app is more accurate.
- Keep blankets and pillows in the area designated as the safest location in your home. For us, it's our son's bedroom closet in the back of our walk-out basement.
- Keep a bag of ice in the freezer. In case of power loss, transfer the bag of ice to a cooler and avoid opening your refrigerator or freezer until your power returns.
- Designate one person outside your area to be the contact person. Modern technology allows the whole world to know when you're in a tornado watch zone. You will drain your cell phone if you are not careful. Let one person be in charge of keeping other family members updated and avoid using your cell phone as much as possible.
- Do not go outside. Even if the funnel cloud is miles away, hail is likely to accompany the tornadic winds. We had reports of hail the size of oranges in a neighboring community last night.
- Stock up on bottled water and easy-to-eat dry foods.
- Keep bicycle helmets in your safe zone. It's important to keep your head safe from flying debris.
- Stay calm. This works best when you are prepared. You have everything you need to get through the storm. Be patient. The storm will pass. And the more times you deal with Mother Nature, the easier it gets.