I’ve noticed a particular type of anxiety that affects many Texan children. Maybe you’ve noticed it, too. It’s anxiety around tornadoes, lightning, and storms—with a really overwhelming feeling of powerlessness. As parents and caregivers, we can help.
A group of moms I’ve met have been discussing how they’ve helped their families overcome this particular fear. Two things: education and planning.
This month is an opportunity to start the conversation, prepare your family for weather emergencies, and provide information necessary to implement your plans.
How to Prepare for Tornado Season in Texas
First, a tornado primer:
- According to the National Weather Service, tornadoes are violently rotating columns of air that extend from a thunderstorm to the ground. They bring intense winds over 200 miles per hour and look like funnels.
- Tornadoes can destroy buildings, flip cars, and send deadly flying debris into the air.
- While late spring/early summer are the seasons when tornadoes happen more often here in Texas, they can happen anytime, anywhere. (We still aren’t completely sure of the specific weather conditions that causes tornadoes to form.)
What’s the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning?
- A tornado watch usually is issued several hours in advance—it means conditions are favorable for severe weather development. Be prepared for things to potentially escalate.
- A tornado warning means a tornado has been sighted or strong circulation has been detected by radar. A warning typically runs for 30 minutes to an hour and covers a relatively small area up to one or two counties. If a tornado warning is issued in your area seek shelter immediately!
Remember, tornadoes can still occur if only a tornado watch is in effect.
Texans are no strangers to tornadoes, flooding, high winds, and other severe weather. Planning is the single best key to minimizing disruption and devastation. I’ve learned a lot from our friends and neighbors about being prepared that I’d like to share with you.
Preparing for severe weather:
- Know the county where you live (and a few surrounding counties). All National Weather Service warnings are issued by county.
- Consider purchasing a NOAA weather radio with a warning alarm tone and battery backup. This will automatically be activated when a warning is issued. (Be sure to have backup batteries for this as well.)
- Figure out your home’s safe places and share their location with all family members. Ideally, it’s a room without windows on the ground floor (a hall closet, a bathroom) or somewhere you can crouch behind heavy furniture to be protected from windows.
- Talk about your plan for getting yourselves and supplies to the safe place(s) ahead of time.
- Be ready to move to your safe place with these emergency items—it’s a good idea to collect them and have them ready before you need them!
Severe Weather Emergency Kit
- Battery-operated flashlights and lanterns
- Extra batteries
- Gallons of water (one for each person)
- Non-perishable foods
- A manual can opener
- Sleeping bags/pillows
- First aid kit
- Whistle to signal for help
- Medications and infant formula
- Important documents for you and your family
- A fun kit to keep your kids busy with stickers, coloring pages, crayons
- Cell phone charger or power block
Our schools help prepare children for tornadoes with drills. For some children, this may be the first time they hear about tornadoes. Many are lucky enough never to experience them. But all of it can be a lot to process. It’s important to remind them that even though tornadoes can be scary, cool-headed preparation and following directions can help keep everyone safe.
A few tips for children who are afraid of storms:
- As a special coping strategy when storms are expected or have started, it’s ok to keep children’s lights on while they sleep, so they don’t notice the lightning. Or maybe they are comfortable wearing a sleep mask, so they don’t see the lightning flashes.
- A white noise machine used every night will muffle the sounds of a storm rolling through.
Now is a great time to discuss your family’s severe weather plan. It’s best to raise the issue casually at dinner or at the park, rather than when a storm is approaching. Every child is different. You’ll know the best way to navigate your child’s curiosity or nerves, but having cool confidence that you’re prepared—and walking them through your plans—is a great place to start.
And during a storm, your children will look to you for emotional cues. Your demeanor will set the tone.