Tornado Safety Tips For Your Family
Many of us were caught off guard as severe storms, including at least one confirmed tornado, swept through the Dallas-Forth area Sunday evening.
But you may be surprised to also learn that severe weather is actually quite frequent during this time of year.
While we normally think of this type of weather occurring from March to June, WFAA reports that October has the most tornadoes of any of the remaining months of the year. Kyle Roberts, a meteorologist for WFAA, called October our “second severe weather season” in a tweet.
WFAA states that Dallas County has seen 11 tornadoes on record in October, with the last occurring on Oct. 21, 1996.
With tornadoes capable of occurring almost any time in Texas, Kaysey Pollan, Environmental Safety and Emergency Management officer at Cook Children’s, says everyone should have a plan in place in case of severe weather.
- Discuss with your family before severe weather where and how to seek shelter.
- Know where your first-aid kit and fire extinguishers are located.
- Know where utility switches or valves are located if there’s time to turn them off.
- Teach your family the basics of first aid, CPR, how to use a fire extinguisher.
- A growing trend during a storm is for families to wear helmets. Make sure the helmets are accessible. The Centers for Disease and Prevention warns that “Looking for a helmet in the few seconds before a tornado hits may delay you getting safely to shelter. If people choose to use helmets, these helmets should not be considered an alternative to seeking appropriate shelter. Rather, helmets should be considered just one part of their overall home tornado preparedness kit to avoiding any delay.
“If you don’t have access to an underground shelter, move to the interior room or hallway on the lowest floor and get under a sturdy piece of furniture,” Pollan said. “If you live in a mobile home, get out and find secure shelter.”
In addition to knowing where to seek shelter, families should have a designated meeting place away from home (a neighbor’s house or a street corner in the neighborhood) where you would gather if you were separated during an emergency. Make sure everyone in your family knows where the meeting place is located.
The CDC warns everyone to stay away from windows. An exploding window can injure or kill.
“The safest place in the home is the interior part of a basement. If there is no basement, go to an inside room, without windows, on the lowest floor. This could be a center hallway, bathroom, or closet,” according to the CDC.
“For added protection, get under something sturdy such as a heavy table or workbench. If possible, cover your body with a blanket, sleeping bag, or mattress, and protect your head with anything available–even your hands. Avoid taking shelter where there are heavy objects, such as pianos or refrigerators, on the area of the floor that is directly above you. They could fall through the floor if the tornado strikes your house.”
If you are driving during a storm, stay in your car and try to find shelter (but not under an overpass). The only exception is if there’s a tornado coming toward you. If you can’t find shelter, get out of the car and find the most low-lying area (ditch, ravine, etc.). Lay flat on your stomach and cover your head with your hands. If it’s hailing, stop driving and find a place to park like inside a garage, under a carwash or a service station awning. If you have small children with you, put them under you and cover their eyes.
Whether or not your child is afraid of storms, it’s important for parents to stay calm during severe weather. Children are quick to pick up on their parents’ fears and anxieties and during an emergency and they will look to you for safety and reassurance.
“Parents should do their best to manage their own anxiety. If parents are calm it will help calm their children,” said Kristi Mannon, Ph.D., a psychologist at Cook Children’s Medical Center. “Parents should do their best to avoid watching news coverage in front of their children. Parents can check on weather updates on their phone or a device away from their children in order to stay informed.”
Dr. Mannon also advises parents not to dismiss their child’s feelings or to scold them.
“If a parent needs to complete a task such as preparing dinner and their child is expressing fear, they can take a break for a few seconds, make eye-contact with their child, acknowledge their fear, and tell them they will talk about it as soon as dinner is ready,” she said.
It is also important to be honest with children about what’s going on. However, make sure the amount of information and detail you share is appropriate for their age level.
Dr. Kristi Mannon, a psychologist at Cook Children’s, shares her advice on how to ease a child's fears about storms:
Before the storm parents can let their kids know that there might be a storm. Reassure your child of their safety. Let your child know you are prepared (we have flashlights, we know what to do in storms, etc.)
During the storm, keep the blinds drawn so they can’t see the rain and wind. You can also help by providing a distraction that keeps their mind occupied and off of the storm. Parents can use favorite music, reading books, building a puzzle, or watching their favorite movie as ways to spend time with their child and offer a distraction from the storm. Fear often comes from the unexpected or feeling out of control.
Parents can reduce this fear by explaining the importance of rain for our plants to grow and water for animals. They can also explain that even though thunder is loud and scary that it cannot hurt them. Parents can explain where thunder comes from. When lightning cuts through the air, it’s very hot. The heat of the lightning makes the air hot, which makes the loud noise of thunder.” Parents can also let their child have a flashlight close by so they feel secure if the power goes out.
After the storm, parents can watch an educational show about the weather such as 'The Magic School Bus' or read books to their children about storms. Once their child understands more about storms, their anxiety and stress are likely to decrease.
It’s also a good idea to know the difference between a Watch and a Warning.
A Watch means conditions are favorable for severe weather to occur over the next several hours. The National Weather Service advises you to continue activities as normal, but monitor the weather and be ready to act if a Warning is issued.
A Warning means head for cover! This is an indication that severe weather is imminent or already occurring at your location. Seek shelter on the lowest floor of a sturdy building and stay away from windows.
One easy way to prepare for severe weather is to download the tornado app created by The American Red Cross. It provides alerts, watches, warnings, and plan-ahead lists right to your phone.
The American Academy of Pediatrics also has compiled a thorough list of how to prepare for a disaster. You can find it here.