Readers share how they prepare for threatening weather.
A cellar or cave is a good place to take cover during severe weather.
Whenever I hear the tornado siren go off, I grab a flashlight, a battery-operated radio, a phone and a book. I gather up my dog, and we head for the basement. Since we seldom lose electricity, I usually just sit in a chair and read until the storm passes.
When I was a child, my family lived on a farm. I remember my dad waking us up in the middle of the night and making us go to "the cave," some 20 feet from the house. We kept chairs in the cave, so we would sit and wait it out. Every now and then, Dad would raise the cave door and peek out to see what was happening.
It seemed like just when it was raining as hard as it possibly could, Dad would decide it was safe, and we would have to run through the rain back to the house.
One time when we came out of the cave, we found that the top part of the windmill had been blown off, and the chimney was laying on the roof of the house. The chimney was soon fixed, and the windmill was taken down and replaced with an electric pump to supply us with water. That was the only time I ever remember anything being damaged during a storm.
When my dad said we needed to go to the cave, my mother would always grab her purse and the two photographs she had of her mother. I was the youngest of three children, and I never went to the cave without my favorite book, The Lord’s Prayer.
Now, sometimes when I go to the basement during a tornado scare, I think back to when I had to run through the rain to get to and from the cave. I always felt safe, but I sure hated running through that rain!
Donna - Red Oak, Iowa
Crackle! Snap! Flash! Boom! Like a thief in the night, the icy fingers of winter had crept in, and I was awakened at 4 a.m. to complete darkness. The power was out over a large part of the city due to ice on the electrical and telephone lines.
Every moment of that first day, my husband, Norm, and I were confident that the power would be restored – but it didn’t happen.
Our children called every day to offer assistance and to see if we needed anything. Four of our six children still had power, but we decided to remain in our house. We donned five layers of clothing to try to stay warm. We had food, making do with peanut butter sandwiches, fruit, cereal, milk, carrots, tea and cookies. We also heated some soup over a tea candle nestled under a coffee carafe. It took 30 minutes to get it lukewarm, but it sure was tasty.
Each day when the children called, they would ask, “Are you ready for ‘warmland’ yet?” And each day our answer was, “No, thanks, we’re OK.” We played cards much of the time. However, playing cards while wearing gloves is quite awkward. And we slept a lot under a layering of many blankets, but eventually we got to the point where we were almost “slept-out.” (There’s a new word for Webster!)
Huge ice-covered limbs damaged our picket fence, as well as the swing set. The view of the place reminded us of the aftermath of a tornado. Each day when the sun set in the far horizon, the glow from our lit candles stirred our imaginations, and we imagined being warm.
Finally, by the end of the fourth day, the utility company managed to get a crew out, and they repaired the transformer. What a blessed day that was.
Susan - St. Joseph, Missouri
My severe weather plan is simple: Get the heck out of Dodge!
Unfortunately, everyone on Hilton Head Island has the same game plan, and since there is only one bridge off the island, U.S. Route 278 quickly becomes a crowded mess. So I’ve switched up my severe weather plan to: Get the heck out of Dodge – early!
Unlike tornadoes, which can form in an instant and take everyone by surprise, hurricanes give advanced warning. So, during the lengthy hurricane season from June to November, I keep a constant eye on the weather channel, following every tropical storm that forms in the eastern Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. As these storms move west and gain strength, I make a judgment call as to whether I need to continue monitoring them.
If it looks like Florida or the Gulf of Mexico will bear the brunt of them, then I abandon tracking that storm and focus on the next one. Luckily for me, most hurricanes that eventually approach my portion of the Eastern Seaboard are driven back out into the Atlantic by high pressure systems that park themselves over the East Coast.
However, if that fails to happen, it would mean evacuation for me. Like every house and condominium on Hilton Head Island, I have no basement. Furthermore, I am surrounded by trees that would “transform” into missiles and cause major damage.
In the event that I cannot evacuate the island, my plan is to hunker down in my condo and ride out the storm. I have bottled water, food, a flashlight, a battery-operated radio, extra batteries, candles and matches on hand, in case of an emergency. And I will do a lot of praying!
John - Hilton Head Island, South Carolina
In 1985, western Pennsylvania was inundated with a snowstorm that caused power outages across the area. Listening to a battery-
operated radio, we were informed that it could be days before power was restored, and it was suggested that all residents without power seek shelter at schools, churches or other places where generators were in place to provide electricity.
We lived on a 75-acre sheep farm, and also raised chickens, goats and other animals that depended on us for food, so we had no choice but to stay. Being avid campers, we had many survival items on hand, including a Coleman stove, kerosene lanterns, first-aid kits and dehydrated foods.
My husband and son retrieved an ancient iron stove from one of the outbuildings, where it had been stored for years, and dragged it into the living room. They hooked it up to the fireplace and stuffed it with wood. We knew we would get more heat from the iron stove than from our open fireplace. The stove also provided us with a flattop on which we were able to cook meals.
We spread our sleeping bags out in front of the stove. The storm lasted three days, and we survived quite comfortably, as did our animals. In fact, the storm created a lasting memory for all of us.
Janis - Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania
Bad weather seems to follow when I move to a new town.
For example, when I moved to Belleville, Illinois, in April 1993, that summer saw major flooding in the area. About a year after moving to Herrin, Illinois, the 2008-2009 winter was particularly miserable with heavy ice accumulation and snowfall. Then, in May 2009, a thunderstorm moved through the area, circled back around from Kentucky, and returned to strike a second time. When we heard what sounded like a train approaching, my husband and I grabbed our dog, our wallets, two pillows and our medicines, and ran to the bathroom to take cover in the tub.
Later, when the all-clear sounded, power was nonexistent – and didn’t return until four days later for us, and up to three weeks later for others. Thankfully our place had no damage, yet devastation reigned all around. Trees were down, roofs had been ripped off buildings, business signs had fallen onto vehicles, and much more.
Over the years, I have learned to keep certain necessities on hand at all times – a battery-operated radio, extra batteries, plenty of food and bottled water, and flashlights.
Joanne - Herrin, Illinois
During an ice storm in 2007, we found ourselves literally in the cold and dark.
Our daughter, also without power, asked us to stay with her and her husband, but we were worried about our sump pump working, which we had plugged into a neighbor’s generator, so we told her we would be fine at home. Soon our son called from Florida and asked us to reconsider our daughter’s offer – which we didn’t.
By morning of the second day with no power, our faces felt nearly frozen in the 40-degree house, and it took every ounce of determination we had just to get up. The sump pump was working fine, so we decided to go out for breakfast and hot coffee.
The fast-food place was packed with people in similar situations, and we spent an hour and a half with some wonderful people – some we knew well, some we knew slightly, and some we had just met. We congregated around hot coffee and breakfast entrees, and the conversation ran rampant as we shared our stories with each other. Some people were worse off than us, and some were not, but in sharing our stories with each other, I think we all felt a little better. The old saying "Misery loves company" really is true.
Later, some friends invited us over to their house, and we visited in front of the warm fireplace. Then we made some phone calls using their old-style phone that doesn't need electricity to work. (When everything had calmed down after the storm, we did something we had been planning to do but just hadn't got around to – we bought a cell phone. We had never needed one so much.)
We eventually decided to spend the night at our daughter's house, so we packed up the food from our freezer to take with us.
One night, while sitting and visiting at our daughter's candlelit house, the lights suddenly came on. It was late, so we decided to stay the night.
At home the next morning, our power was still out. On our way home from church we saw some utility linemen near our house, so we asked when we would have power. They came right down and fixed our line.
Sometimes it takes a calamity – or in this case an ice storm – for us to realize the many blessings we have. Although I wasn't thrilled at all the chaos caused by the storm, I know I learned a lot of things: Patience was one of them, and another was that the power of God is always on!
Doris - Hutchinson, Kansas
In the Deep South, tornado season is basically year-round. I'm not fearful when a "watch" is issued, but when it's upgraded to a "warning," I bustle into action. The first thing I do is make sure I'm dressed. After all, who wants to be blown away wearing a nightgown? Then I grab a flashlight, a battery-operated radio, my wallet, my glasses and two large couch cushions, and I place them in an inner hall where a file containing my important papers is kept.
When I was a child during the 1930s, if severe weather threatened, we headed to the storm pit – a dugout under the smokehouse. Back then there were no warnings, but my dad was a good forecaster, lucky for us. The underground shelter was cold, and even more so if we got drenched with rain on the way there.
Now, with the well-advanced warning system for hurricanes, you'd think everyone should be prepared, but that's seldom the case. We tell ourselves we're far enough inland that we'll be fine. However, Camille and Katrina proved us wrong. With Camille, we were only without power for three days, which was bad enough. Then came Katrina.
I thought I was ready for Katrina, having bought a propane camp stove. However, when I assembled it, a piece was missing, and the store was closed. When my son got a generator within a few days, he ran a cord to my apartment, and it was a blessed relief to plug in the refrigerator and a small fan, as the temperature was 100 degrees.
When the roads were cleared enough so we could get out, I was glad that I had gasoline in my car. A few stations finally opened, but there were lines as far as you could see. I got ice from the Red Cross and MREs (meals boxed with a warming device), and Tyson Foods supplied cooked chicken to one and all.
I had stocked up on library books and puzzles, so I had plenty to do to keep me busy during the three-week power outage.
By far, the most important thing one can do to prepare for severe weather and possible disaster is to make peace with God. I know that all is well with my soul, should I expire from a calamity.
Lyn - Magee, Mississippi
Growing up on a Kansas farm, tornadoes were frequent visitors in and around our neighborhood. Most farms had cellars, which served as a storage area for canned goods, crocks of lard, and baskets of potatoes and apples. The cellar was also a place of refuge during storms.
In our cellar, we kept a couple of old kitchen chairs, a lantern, some candles and matches, a shovel, and an ax. When I asked Dad what the ax was for, he just smiled and said it was there to help us slice the apples if we got hungry. When I suggested that a knife would probably work better, he made no comment.
Dad was always on the lookout for approaching clouds. Sometimes at night, he would wake us up and start us gathering up items we planned to take to the cellar, should we need to take cover. My mom always took her purse and a couple of quilts, Grandpa never left the house without his reading glasses and a coat, and I usually took a favorite doll (and picked up any kittens I saw along the way). Our dog needed no invitation; he led the way. It was a process that repeated itself throughout the spring and summer seasons of the late 1930s and early '40s.
One June afternoon when a storm chased us to the cellar, we listened to the sound of rain and hail for a few minutes, then heard a roaring sound. We joined hands and prayed, all of us wondering what the roaring was. Was it the wind that would possibly blow our house away, as it had the neighbor's barn three weeks earlier?
After about an hour of hearing the roaring, Dad peeked out the cellar door, only to discover that the storm was over. The roar, however, was not. It was coming from the wheel on top of our nearby wind charger. It had broken loose and was being propelled by the swift Kansas breeze. We said a prayer of thanks, then sheepishly climbed out of the cellar.
Although there were many threats that came our way, a tornado never struck our farm. I'm happy to say that as a Kansas native, I have never actually seen a tornado.
Now I have a basement, where I keep plenty of bedding, a first-aid kit, a flashlight, candles and matches, games, and a shovel – oh, yeah, and an ax. Several years ago, my two grandsons were staying with me when there was a tornado threat. Playing it safe, we went to the basement, where we played cards and board games and watched television to keep busy. They never asked me about the ax. They probably just thought it was part of Grandma's strange interior decorating.
Mary - Salina, Kansas
All my adult life I've lived in areas where severe weather is common – East Coast hurricanes, southwest tornadoes and West Coast earthquakes. With hurricanes and tornadoes, we went to the cellar, where we kept food, water, a battery-operated radio, flashlights and games to occupy the kids.
When we moved to California, I didn't feel the first few tremors the weather reporters called earthquakes, but when I finally did, it was sudden.
I was taking clean laundry into the bedroom to be put away when suddenly it felt like the floor dropped out from under me. The laundry fell to the floor, and all the photographs hanging on the wall in the hallway starting jumping up and down. I frantically grabbed for something to hold onto, but before I could secure a grip on anything, the rumbling stopped – and I was shaking like a leaf.
Unlike hurricanes and tornadoes, there is no warning before an earthquake. Earthquakes were a whole new experience for my family and me, and I knew I needed to get educated on how to protect myself and my family.
A couple of days later, a flyer announcing a CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) program being offered by the fire department showed up on our doorstep. The course was being held in the school auditorium, and, after reading the flier thoroughly, I knew this was exactly what I needed.
So, for the next six Wednesdays, I attended the program, along with 38 others. We learned many important things from a specially trained fire department lieutenant. All of us, who ranged from 16 to 79 years young, received our hard hats, vests and Certificates of Completion. It was the best thing I could have done.
Florence - North Hollywood, California
With southeast Kansas located in what is considered "Tornado Alley," people who live in our small town of Coffeyville make sure they have a safe place to go when a monster storm is predicted.
Because the ground in Coffeyville is spongy and allows water to leak in, not many homes in the area have basements. Instead, most of the citizens have storm cellars installed. But if they don't, there are public shelters where they can go if necessary.
Our house has a basement, and when it rains, we have small rivers to contend with. But when there's threat of a tornado, we are more than happy to have a place where we can take shelter.
My husband, Jack, built a couple of benches in one corner of the basement, in case we have to spend a significant amount of time down there. We also have a small television set up to keep us informed about what's happening outside. On a set of shelves Jack built, we keep bottled water, canned goods, dog food, a battery-
operated radio and a flashlight.
We are usually warned well ahead of time if weather conditions are favorable to produce a twister, so as soon as the tornado sirens go off, I grab my purse, we call the dogs, and we head for the basement. The only problem with our plan is that the dogs don't like the basement, and they don't like the stairs leading down into it. Shadow is small enough for Jack to carry, but Buddee is way too big and has to be coaxed with a vanilla wafer.
Jack never sits still for long, but will instead go outside now and then to check on things. I just sit and listen to the weather forecaster as he points out the location of the tornado. We sit, we wait, we keep our fingers crossed, and we pray that a twister won't head in our direction.
The prayers must be working, because the last tornado to hit Coffeyville was way back in 1917.
Ursula - Coffeyville, Kansas
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