Monday, May 27, 2019

Tornado Tips From a Scaredy Cat

I was born and raised in Oklahoma so severe weather and tornadoes is something I'm very familiar with.  It's nerve-wracking - especially with kids, but it is nothing new to us Okies.  However, 2019 has brought more tornado warnings and flooding than we've seen in a while.  Being on alert and 'weather aware' is exhausting and worse when it extends multiple days in a row.  This scaredy cat has learned a few things about coping with tornado season that might help you if you're new to the subject.

First, understand that Oklahoma has some of the best technology, education and people on the job when it comes to severe weather and tornadoes mostly because we have to.  The National Weather Center in Norman, OK is located there for a reason!  Our weather is so unpredictable and varied that it is the perfect place to learn.  That means there is a LOT of time, money, equipment and energy being put into keeping people safe.  Knowing that helps me not feel so alone when I start to get nervous about the weather.

Second, know that more people die from flooding (drowning) than from tornadoes.  So, if you are sitting at home worrying about a tornado risk, you are already more likely to be safe than if you were out driving in a storm.  Even with all the tornado watches we have been under at my house this season, we only went to the storm shelter once and it was just in case. 

Still scared?  I understand and get nervous too, but there are a few things I've learned to do in order to not be a crazy person about it.

1) Geography. Know where you live on a map, including surrounding towns, counties, and local highways.  When news/radio people start tracking storms, they are going to start throwing out names of places.  If you have no idea where you are, how will you know to expect a storm or not?

2) Meteorology. Okies typically have a base understanding of severe weather science.  If you don't, here are a few terms to familiarize yourself with: Wind sheer, hook echo, dry line, funnel cloud, cap, power flash, etc.  Educate yourself on how storms typically move (northeast) so you can anticipate which storm is heading your way eventually.

3) Media.  Know and use your weather sources wisely.  It is always reassuring and wise to have more than one source of current weather information.

  • News/Radio. Here in the OKC metro, we have 3-4 competing major news stations that provide weather coverage and those are often streamed live on radio stations during severe weather.  They all are very competent while having their own personalities and styles, but still tend to heighten my stress levels. There is a local meteorologist that has developed his own app and utilizes Facebook and YouTube to predict storms.  He takes a much calmer approach that I prefer mostly because he tries to educate rather than create drama.

  • Social Media.  Decide which weather guys you prefer and follow them on social media! Facebook can be useful for forecast maps a day or two ahead and watching a live stream of weather coverage when you aren't using a television.  Twitter is a great source for up to the minute coverage and area specific information.  When we went to Arkansas and had a tornado threat, I got the best info from Twitter by searching #arwx (arkansas weather).  The same works for every state so my most searched hashtag is #okwx
4) Shelter. No matter where you live, not  having a safe place to go when in danger is THE scariest place to be in.  That doesn't mean you have to have the latest storm shelter, but it does mean you need a plan.  Never be in a mobile home or trailer if you are in the path of any kind of a tornado. NEVER. Find a friend, family member or neighbor who has a basement or storm shelter that you can share.  If you live in a house, know that a bathroom or closet in the center, lowest level of your house is the safest place to be with blankets, helmets, and/or a mattress.

5) Plan.  Make a plan in case you are in the path of a tornado.  If it requires you to drive somewhere, know how long it takes.  My father-in-law blessed us with a new storm shelter in our back yard after we moved here so I know it takes about 1 minute to get my stuff, myself and the kids from the house to the shelter with a closed door.  Longer if I'm bringing the dog.  I have a box of important documents (birth certificates, ss cards, journals to my kids, etc.) and my camera bag sitting next to the back door ready to go on severe weather days.  What or whoever is in your charge, just make sure you have a plan that you can execute if necessary.

6) Finally, but most importantly, pray.  From the moment you start worrying to the point that the storm has passed, be in communication with God.  It builds your faith, calms your soul and gives you something productive to do when your anxiety is spinning out of control!

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