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Talking to Your Kids About Severe Weather Safety: Tornadoes

It’s spring. Practice your tornado safety now. Tornado season in the US begins early in the south, and extends into summer in the northern states. For states along the Gulf of Mexico, the season for twisters ramps up in February, but even January outbreaks of severe weather are possible. By March, centrally located states like Kansas and Kentucky become more vulnerable. Northern states like Minnesota and Michigan can experience tornadoes well into July. NOW is the time to teach your kids tornado safety.

If you live in tornado-prone state and have children, you probably often wonder “are my kids safe from tornadoes?” There are some simple steps you can take to prepare your family for a tornado, and it starts with talking to your kids about the dangers of severe weather and what to do in extreme weather.

The Importance of Teaching Kids Tornado Safety

parents teaching kids tornado safety as they gather around NOAA weather radio

As your state’s severe weather season begins, take time at the dinner table to talk about tornado safety. Prepare your family by making sure you has an emergency plan that is understood by everyone in your home, especially your children.

In May 3, 1999 there was a tornado outbreak in Oklahoma. The state health department recorded no deaths among children 18 years of age and younger, even though the tornadoes struck in the afternoon when many children were home alone, their parents still at work. The reason? Oklahoma schools teach severe weather safety relentlessly, with TV and National Weather Service meteorologists and emergency managers visiting yearly to review proper safety procedures. Whether parents are home or not, children should know what to do and where to go when a tornado warning is issued.

Have a NOAA Weather Radio in your home, programmed for your specific area, and teach your children to use it properly. When the radio’s alert tone goes off, they should stop what they’re doing, go to the radio, and listen to find out why it is alerting; then take appropriate action.

What to Do During a Tornado Watch

A “watch” is issued when conditions are favorable for possible severe weather. Being in a tornado watch means children should be encouraged to play closer to home. Ball games should be played with the understanding that threatening skies are a signal to head to safety. In the home, avoid watching DVD’s or streaming media that does not allow for automatic emergency interruptions. In the March 3, 2019 tornado in Lee County, Alabama a young man wearing headphones played a video game, unaware of the tornado watch and tornado warning for his area. When the EF-4 tornado leveled his home he was blown 200 yards, and critically injured.

What to Do During a Tornado Warning

If you receive a tornado warning for your area, take immediate action based upon what you know now, and find out more once you’re in a safe place. In other words, when a tornado warning is issued, the first thing to do is get to shelter. Once in your shelter, a smart phone, a landline phone, TV or commercial radio can give you further information. For some people the first reaction to a tornado warning is to step outside and have a look, because they want confirmation of the tornado. It is far wiser to get that confirmation from inside your safe place. We have heard many stories of individuals injured or killed when their desire for confirmation of the severe thunderstorm or tornado put them right in it.

Children can be taught to survive severe weather on their own. While it’s always best for parents or adults to be on hand, when they are not, you’ll rest easier knowing you taught your kids tornado safety, how to get the NOAA alert, and what to do about it.