How to Tornado

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Not a tornado, just some pretty clouds

A good friend in New England has a son who recently moved to the Northerly Suburban Sprawl region of Texas, trading Nor’easters and whiteouts for heat waves and terrible state government. Via texts and phone calls, my friend is fairly familiar with our tornadic tendencies, especially after the Soakpocalypse of ‘19, but hearing about it and experiencing it are two different things. Which is exactly why I was unsurprised to receive an alarmed text with a picture of a squall line ahead of the recent tornado outbreak down in the Lone Star state. 

“Don’t worry too much,” I texted back. “Squall lines just mean springtime has come. As the schoolchildren chant, ‘April squall lines bring summer’s oppressive heat.’” But a moment later, I reflected on how terrifying tornado sirens could be to a New Englander, and I immediately offered some helpful advice that in retrospect was probably not at all helpful: “Just tell him if there’s sirens, get in his fraidy hole.”

My husband will remind me that we’ve never actually seen a tornado anywhere remotely close in all of our 46 years of Oklahoma life, which is technically true. But we did live about three miles away from where one hit. And we did once experience a microburst on a bluebird day that put our neighbors’ trampoline on their roof. And we did have a rather large tree fall in our backyard after a storm. Smallish things from the standpoint of our safety, but not exactly not potentially scary. 

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Lucy’s first tornado drill, Saint Francis Hospital hallway

Now that it’s April, we’ve already had at least one tornado siren event that I know of this season, and we can certainly expect more to come, no matter how many prayers we offer to Saint Travis Meyer. And hey, I reminded myself, I’m a firefighter’s kid and a trained CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) responder, having completed my triage and search and rescue training at a whopping 8 months and 3 weeks pregnant with Arthur. Surely I should have some helpful advice for my friend’s son. 

The correct answer is that we should all follow the advice outlined on

  • Before the storm: Stash some snacks and water in a convenient place where you can grab them and take them to your fraidy hole. Don’t forget your inhalers or medications. 
  • Have a safe shelter picked out in your home on the lowest, most interior room.
  • Secure your cats, dogs, chickens, and significant others. 
  • Avoid windows. Windows bad. 
  • Maybe avoid doors and exterior walls as well. I don’t want to say why.
  • Listen to the radio or news. Or Radiohead. 
  • Stay off your porch and/or roof. You know who you are. Husband.
  • Keep your phone charged. I’m talking to you, chronic seven-percenters. And also myself. 
  • If you’re outside, get to a safe shelter fast. 
  • Avoid bridges and overpasses. Tornadoes are friends with these guys and they’ll mess you up.
  • If you’re absolutely stuck outside, get as low as possible and as flat as possible like the world’s least fun limbo. Think ditches. As in “Ditches don’t get you stitches.” Hopefully. Just remember, if the tornado can’t see you, it may decide to move on by. Just kidding! It’s wind, not a velociraptor. You need Chris Pratt for those. 
  • Never try to outrun a tornado. They work out. 
  • If you get full-on Dorothy Galed and debris comes a-flying, cover your head and neck with your arms. Also watch out for red stilettos. 
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Travis Meyer parts the green sky

So that’s the official-ish advice for handling a tornado warning. Now here’s what happens at my house. Travis Meyer and Dan Threlkeld, shield thine eyes. 

  • Three days out: Our son begins relentlessly asking if there will be tornadoes coming, having heard casual mention of a storm front on the way. We check the weather and tell him it’s not that serious because everyone who reaches adulthood in Oklahoma thinks they are an amateur meteorologist. 
  • Day of: Spying yonder squall line, we hustle to the friendly neighborhood Aldi for whatever we need just in case the storm hits hard. Not because we’re afraid of disaster, but because who wants to get wet? Ew. 
  • After an errant chair blows by in the backyard, we do the last-minute backyard cleanup that we’ve been putting off for a week. No, for two weeks. A season. Baseball bats, legos, scooters, throw pillows, all must be secured lest our neighbors realize how truly trashy we are. 
  • Realizing that okay, maybe this is going to be a real doozie, I surreptitiously gather candles into a little grouping for easy access and make sure all our devices are charged. 
  • We argue over whether we hear sirens. Our house has excellent insulation.
  • My husband goes outside to watch the storm. He took a semester of meteorology at TCC once, so now he’s an expert. 
  • Sirens confirmed, we all gather into the kids’ bathroom, which is the centermost room in the house and is not big enough for four and ⅘ adult-sized humans.
  • We remember the animals, and there’s a whole hullabaloo about gathering them into the bathroom. It doesn’t work. It is physically impossible. 
  • For some reason, two of my kids are wearing toddler-sized bike helmets I didn’t know we had. The other is wearing a pillow. 
  • Suddenly, every child is starving and needs to use the bathroom. Awesome!
  • The bathroom is inexplicably 97 degrees and climbing. 
  • I quit the bathroom chaos and linger in the hallway. There’s a flagstone wall, so I’m probably fine. 
  • The sirens end. Huzzah! We commence our previous activities.
  • The sirens start again. The kids have given up their helmets and now they’re playing video games. 
  • Seriously, the storm is finally over. Which is why it makes literally no sense when the power later goes out for three hours. 
  • Without wifi, we are lost. We linger in the wasteland of pillows and bike helmets. 
  • We remember that board games exist, and everyone is fine.

Okay so what’s your best tornado advice? Hit me up in the comments and have a tornado-free week in your little nebula. 

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