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Preparing Your Home for a Tornado – Part One

You’ve seen the devastation caused by the tornado that touched down in Missouri last month. Weeks ago an F-5 tornado devastated Oklahoma City, OK just like the one that killed 161 people in Joplin, MO two years ago. With severe thunderstorms a common occurrence here in St. Louis, you know tornado warnings are not something to be taken lightly. You want to protect yourself and your family the best way you can. Here are some tips for preparing your home for a tornado.

Tornado CloudsBefore severe storms strike, it’s important prepare your family by discussing a plan and practicing it. You’ll want to create a list of contacts, insurance information and out of town contacts for emergencies. Everyone in your family should know where to go and what to take with them if a tornado hits. Take important documents like birth certificates, insurance information, social security cards, etc. with you if you have to evacuate. You should also have a plan for communication should a tornado hit. Everyone in the family should know how to get in contact with each other. Be sure everyone has phone numbers for school, work and each other’s cell phone numbers either entered into your cell phone’s contact list or printed and kept in a safe place. You’ll want to include the babysitter on this list as well. Your family should know where the nearest evacuation center is located. In most cases, the safest place to be is in a school, community center or city building. These are buildings that have medical supplies and attention and are ideal places for your family to meet up after the storm.

In addition to preparing your family, there are additional steps to take to prepare your home. Create an emergency kit with enough water and food to last at least 72 hours. A hand cranked radio or satellite phone are important tools to have when it comes to getting information and communicating with loved ones. First aid supplies, clothing and toiletries as well as flashlights, batteries and any other essentials for survival should ideally be kept in a safe room like a basement, garage or interior room on the first floor. Such a room should have no windows and be anchored to the ground to avoid any uplift and be strong enough to withstand any flying debris that may occur as a result of a tornado. Another good practice is to arrange furniture away from windows, using eye bolts and brackets to secure larger furniture to the walls and floors.

Being prepared for a tornado also means knowing what to do during the storm. Tornadoes typically develop in the presence of thunderstorms. Be aware of lightning, rain and hail along with darkening skies that are greenish in color (an indication of hail) or orange (from dust blown around by high winds). Keep your eye on the sky for strong and persistent cloud base rotation. Listen for a rumble or roar of continuous thunder similar to a train or jet. Other signs of a tornado are calm conditions during or just after a thunderstorm, whirling debris near the ground, blue-green and white flashes at ground level and power lines that snap due to high winds.

But signs of a tornado aren’t always recognizable and so tuning into local TV or radio stations for weather reports is the best way to stay informed about storms moving through the local area. Strong storms often take out power lines and so having a self-powered radio/flashlight combo is a good thing to have when the power goes out. The best way to get information about storms is on a NOAA weather radio. NOAA weather radios with backup battery power and the tone-alert feature to warn you about severe weather watches and warnings are best.

Read Part Two on Preparing Your Home for a Tornado