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Wednesday, May 25, 2011


As I write this blog, the National Weather Service has issued a tornado watch for my area. As a Midwesterner, tornadoes have been a part of my life my whole life.

When I was a child, tornadoes occurred with far less frequency than they do today, however. My mother used to usher my two sisters and me into the basement while she and my father remained upstairs. I never understood why she and my dad would be safe upstairs while we anxiously awaited their presence downstairs. Did tornadoes not allow adults to fly up their funnels?

Children pay attention to their parents' behavior, and I must confess that I, too, have been guilty of placing my children in a safe spot, then running to the windows and looking outside for signs of a tornado.

But if you truly want to protect your children, stay with them. They might be frightened and will need your assurance that everything is going to be OK.

During one particularly bad storm, about a mile from my childhood home, the third floor of an apartment building flew off and landed across the street. Fortunately no bodily damage occurred, but it shook our little suburban Chicago town, and it reminded us that none of us is safe when it comes to tornadoes.

Years later I moved 50 miles south of Chicago and purchased a mobile home in what I later found out was called, "Tornado Alley" by the locals. My children and I, during that first storm, went to a local Denny's, because people in our mobile home community told us it was the safest place to be. The restaurant was surrounded by windows. How safe could it be?

We returned home and entered a windowless bathroom, where we told stories until the storm was over. I had been told that the bathtub was the safest place to stay.

Today I live in a mobile home community again. The safest place for all of us to stay is in a small alcove between all of the back bedrooms. The space is large enough to accommodate all five of us. But it's still a mobile home. Not safe. But then is any structure safe anymore?

What I've discovered is that the bathtub isn't necessarily the safest place to stay. Fixtures can be pulled from the ground and come crashing down.

One family recently, probably through the grace of God, decided to put a helmet on their child during a tornado. When the sink propelled from the bathroom floor, it smashed down on the little boy's head. The helmet later flew off and was found crushed to pieces, but before it flew off his head, it saved his life. Now I know why people recommend sitting beneath mattresses.

The best way to deal with a tornado is to educate yourself about tornadoes.

According to FEMA, the first thing you need to know is the difference between a Tornado Watch and a Tornado Warning.

Tornado Watches mean that tornadoes are POSSIBLE. A Tornado Warning, on the other hand, means that a tornado has either been sighted in your location or is indicated by weather radar. Warnings require you to take immediate cover.

If you're not in the habit of listening to the radio or watching TV, look for approaching storms. The sky will be dark and will have a greenish cast. Large hail precipitates tornadoes, so listen and look. Look also for large low-flying clouds, especially those with rotation. Listen for a loud roar. It will sound similar to a freight train. Take shelter IMMEDIATELY if you notice any of these tornado indicators.

If you are in the midst of a tornado, get away from windows, doors, and outside walls. Put as much distance between you and the outside walls as possible. Protect your head and neck. And DO NOT open the windows.

Mobile homes offer little protection in a tornado. Your best bet is to find a shelter designed to handle tornadoes. Some communities offer shelters on the premises. Others don't. Find out where your nearest safe shelter is. Sometimes you don't have enough time. Protect yourself and your loved ones with enough blankets and pillows to prevent fatalities.

If you are outside and you see a tornado, never try to outrun it. DO NOT sit under a bridge or overpass. Lie flat in a ditch. Cover your head and neck. Watch for potential flooding, and pay particular attention to flying debris. Most of the fatalities and injuries come from flying debris.

Tornadoes can arise quickly. No building is safe. If a hospital can be torn asunder by a tornado, how safe is any structure? But by following FEMA's advice, you stand a chance of outliving a tornado.

For more on tornadoes, please visit the FEMA web site (click the link).

And if you would like to read more from this author, look to your right under the donate button.

Thank you for visiting!

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