Tornado Season Is Here!

Daffodils and tulips are popping up to bring us the first bright colors of spring. Kids are excited to leave winter coats in the closet and run outside to play. Parents are pumping up bike tires and counting down to the last day of school. Yes, it's true. Spring is finally here!

Along with this new season comes some not so fun stuff, too. I'm not talking about mowing the lawn. April marks the beginning of tornado season. When I first moved to Kansas, I was terrified of tornadoes. Every time the sirens went off—even for the monthly test drills—I grabbed my kids and off to the basement we went. Over the past two years, I've learned more about tornado preparedness and now, even though I still cringe every time a siren goes off, I'm not as terrified as I used to be. Here are four steps to get prepared for tornado season.

#1 – Buy a Severe Weather Radio

Severe Weather Radios alert you any time there's a NOAA National Weather Service Announcement. These are the announcements that as kids we hated because our favorite TV programs were interrupted by that long annoying beep and deep staticy voice. At our house, we watch lots of Disney and other cable channels that don't provide the NOAA announcements for our area. We actually have two radios; one upstairs in our living area and another down in our storm basement. I love that you can program the radios to alert you just for the counties you want monitored. Then whenever those counties have a severe weather announcement, that very same long annoying beep goes off and that same staticy voice tells you what's happening. But you know what? I can handle annoying and staticy if it means my family is safe.

#2 – Memorize the Tornado Lingo

Every time a watch or warning came across the radio, I'd freak out. I couldn't remember the difference between the two and what they meant. Here's some lingo for you to memorize:

Tornado Watch
Tornadoes are possible. Remain alert for approaching storms. Watch the sky and stay tuned to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio, or television for information.

QOTC Tip: I discovered that when a watch is announced, I can get on the NOAA website and go to their maps to see exactly what the path of the coming storm is. Then I can figure out if I need to start preparing for a possible tornado warning.

Tornado Warning
A tornado has been sighted or indicated by weather radar. Take shelter immediately.

QOTC Tip: This means you get the kids and high-tail it to the basement. This is no practice!!! It doesn't necessarily mean the tornado is headed directly for your house or even your neighborhood, but it does mean there's a tornado in the area that could come in your direction. I know several people who actually go outside to see if they can see a tornado. DO NOT be stupid, people! Be SAFE!!! If you want to see a tornado, watch Storm Chasers on the Discovery Channel.

#3 – Know Tornado Facts and Warning Signs

  • There are approximately 800-1000 tornadoes each year in the U.S.

  • Every state is risk for tornadoes.

  • Tornadoes can strike quickly with little or no warning.

  • They can appear nearly transparent until they touch down to the ground. At this point, dust and debris are picked up and make the tornado easy to see.

  • Tornadoes are sometimes hidden by rain or low-hanging clouds.

  • They can move in any direction.

  • Their average speed is 30 MPH, but they can also stay in one location without moving or be as fast as 70 MPH. Their wind speed can reach 300 MPH.

  • Tornadoes usually form during thunderstorms and can be accompanied by large hail. Tornadoes also develop during tropical storms and hurricanes.

  • In the Great Plains area, tornadoes often occur when it's not raining.

  • Tornado danger signs: Dark, greenish sky; Large hail; Large, dark, low-lying cloud (may or may not be rotating), Loud roar like a train

  • Peak tornado seasons: Southern U.S. - March through May; Northern U.S. - late spring through early summer (approximately May through July).

#4 – Have a Plan and Practice It

  • Choose a safe location in your home for your tornado shelter. The best place is a basement with no windows. If you do not have a basement, choose an area on the lowest level of your home on an interior wall. Put as many walls between you and the outside as you can. Stay away from windows. A closet or space under the stairs is a good location.

  • Put together a tornado emergency kit. In the corner of our basement, we have water bottles, fruit snacks and other munchies, a first aide kit, pillows, blankets, children's books, and our weather radio. We also grab our home phone and cell phone, if we have time. While we are in the basement, waiting to see if there will be a tornado nearby, we sit on the pillows, read books, and munch if we get hungry. Next on my purchase list: a 5 gallon bucket porta-potty. It never fails that when we're in the basement for a warning, one or more of my kids needs to go to the bathroom!

  • If you have children of various ages, talk with the older children about helping younger children to the basement. Have a roll-call as soon as you are together.

  • Practice your plan every month during spring and summer. In our city, the first Wednesday of each month at 11 am, the tornado sirens are tested. This reminds me that it's time for our family to practice our tornado drill that evening as well. Choose a day to consistently practice with your family. The more often you practice, the less scary it is when there actually is a tornado warning.

  • Talk with your kids about what to do if the tornado sirens go off and they aren't at home. What if you're outside with no where to go? Lie flat in a nearby ditch or depression and cover your head with your hands. Do not get under an overpass or bridge! And never try to outrun a tornado in urban or congested areas with a vehicle. Other drivers are in a panic and there's a great potential for bad accidents. It's safer to leave your car and head for safe shelter. No matter where you are, watch for flying debris. It causes the most fatalities and injuries during a tornado.

To learn more about tornadoes and tornado preparedness, visit the following websites:



The Disaster Center

Network for Good

The Weather Radio Store

Tornado Guide

Would you like to comment?

ali cross said...

Wow, Danyelle--that post was awesome!

Great advice for all of us. Thank you!

Danyelle Ferguson said...

Thanks, Ali! You're so great! I hope you're doing well. I can't wait to see you at the conference!

Josi said...

Wow, I think I would break into tears every time the sirens went off--what a great idea to have your little corner in the basement. You're such a great mom.

Unknown said...

Moving from California to Texas, I had the same fears, although earthquakes don't faze me!

One time I was training the local police department to have a cub scout den when they went off. I drove home (stupid), then was relieved to see the little heads pop out from underneath the mattresses in the "safe place". I asked the girls if they were scared, but they said they weren't because "John made us Kool-aid!"

Yay for eagle scouts!

Teri said...

I know I would be freaked at the sound of a siren, but like Lynn I'm really not phased by earthquakes....I am more prepared for those now than I used to be though. I'm sure that has something to do with it! I'm glad you're prepared!!o

Danyelle Ferguson said...

Ah, Josi, you're so nice. Thanks!

Lynn - I can totally see you driving home to check on your kids! :)

Teri - The first year was really freaky for me. When they go off for the monthly checks, I always look at my calendar to make sure it's "safety check day". :) Being prepared has really helped our family be a little more, well not calm, but at least at peace knowing we're ready and educated.

Thanks for your comments everyone!

Anonymous said...

Wow. When ever I think about moving to the midwest I forget about that stuff.

SCARY! But you are so prepared. You go girl!

Danyelle Ferguson said...

Carolyn - It would be soo cool if you moved out here!!!! :)

Northern Nickle Clan said...


A little slow on the post. Sorry. I say the following, of course never having lived in a tornado alley (or common place for tornadoes to happen). I am fascinated by weather. I love the weather channel, storm stories on the weather channel, and any other "weather" story. So, the pictures of tornadoes are just cool to me. Thanks for the post. If you ever see a tornado and can take the time, would you take a picture for me?:)


Danyelle Ferguson said...

Hi Katie. I really like Discovery Channel's Storm Chasers. They chase tornadoes. It's fascinating. But let me tell you - there's no way I'll be outside to take pics of tornadoes!!! I'll be in my basement praying it will pass us by!

C. Michelle Jefferies said...

A few years ago I lived in Tooele and as I entered the church one rainy spring evening I looked out to the west and saw green yellow clouds. I laughed and said to my friend, "if we were in the midwest I'd be worried about those clouds they look like tornado clouds." she looked at me as if I grew horns.

A few hours later someone came in and said there had been a tornado in Grandsville. I wasn't surprised.

I also witnessed a tornado 20 years ago in Sandy Ut. Proof that they happen anywhere.

Danyelle Ferguson said...

I still remember the tornado that went through downtown Salt Lake about ten years ago. I had friends working on the conference center, holding on to beams while it went through downtown. Tornadoes truly can happen anywhere!

Christine said...

I used to live in Kansas as a kid and remember all the tornado education my parents drilled into my head. It was scary for a child. I love all the info you posted. Sure brought back a lot of memories.

Danyelle Ferguson said...

Christine - I remember learning about tornadoes in PA, but here they are definitely more pro-active in teaching the kids about tornadoes, etc. I worry about the kids being in school during a tornado. There's no basement for them to take cover in. Even in PA, we had a basement. I just don't understand anywhere in KS not having a basement!