Tag Archives: tornado preparation

Guest post: Navigating a tornado watch vs. tornado warning

Note from Hands On Nashville: The following post on getting prepared for a tornado and knowing what to do in a watch or warning situation is from the Nashville Severe Weather website (shared with permission). As we mark one year since the devastating March 3, 2020, tornadoes, many are feeling strong emotions, including anxiety, about potential severe spring weather. Preparation is one strategy for coping with storm anxiety. We hope this post helps provide some context and useful information about how to prepare for a tornado. 

A Tornado Watch means Be Ready — conditions are favorable for a tornado.

Be sure you can very quickly get to a safe place if a tornado warning is issued. Know where you are on a map so if a warning is issued, you know whether it applies to you. 

While under a Tornado Watch, mobile or manufactured home residents should closely track approaching storms and timely relocate to another, safer structure well before the storms arrive. If you wait for a Tornado Warning, you may not have time to find safe, secure shelter. Mobile and manufactured homes are unsafe, even in weak tornadoes. Identify a safe building well before severe weather strikes, and know where you can go morning, evening, holidays, at any time. 

Everyone should have a helmet. Adults too. Bike helmets, batting helmets, hockey helmets, whatever. Put helmets in your safe space. Wear helmets if in a tornado warning. 

Wear pants. Heard from at least one person who found herself without her pants as the tornado hit. 

Corral pets, especially cats. You don’t want to have to chase them to shelter them in a crate when you’re trying to get yourself to safety. 

Close your garage door. Your house is more likely to collapse once tornado winds enter your garage. So close the door. 

Charge your phone. You will need to access information if your power goes out. You will want to contact friends and family in the event a tornado strikes. 

Wear hard-soled shoes. Even if you have minor damage, there will be all sorts of hazards to your feet strewn about. You don’t want to be left barefoot. 

Essential food and medication should be in a backpack in your safe spot, or otherwise secured on your person. 

Have your driver’s license on you. That way, if your neighborhood is hit, you have proof of your address and can get back to your home. 

Have a whistle or air horn. That way, search and rescue can find you. 

A Tornado Warning means Take Cover Now — a tornado is imminent or occurring. 

Don’t go outside to see the tornado. Most of our tornadoes have very low cloud bases and are obscured by rain. You won’t see the tornado. We don’t have photogenic tornadoes like they do in the midwest or on movies such as Twister. Our storms also move fast. Don’t waste time trying to see something you won’t be able to see. 

Tornado Warnings are issued by a team of meteorologists in a local National Weather Service office. Ours is in Nashville. Tornado Warnings have a start time and an end time, although they can and often are continued or reissued. 

You know you’re in a Tornado Warning if you are inside the warning polygon. Remember from geometry class — a polygon is just a fancy word for a multi-sided shape. A polygon looks like this: 

If you’re in the red box (sometimes the box is purple), you are in the warning and should take cover. If you’re outside the red box, you’re not in the warning. 

In Davidson County, the sirens were upgraded in 2020 and now go off based on a Polygonal Alert model (rather than all sirens going off any time a tornado is spotted anywhere in the county, which was the previous system). This upgraded system will provide warnings to a focused polygonal alert area based on information coming directly from the National Weather Service. So if you hear a tornado siren in Davidson County, that means a tornado has been spotted near you, and you should take cover immediately. (Editor’s note: This paragraph has been edited from the original post, before the siren system had been upgraded. Learn more about Davidson County’s tornado siren system here.)

Sirens are not designed to be heard indoors. Do not rely on them. 

Take cover in a site-built home or structure, in a small room on the lowest floor, putting as many walls between you and the outside as possible. You will survive the most tornadoes by doing this. 

Do not try to drive away from a tornado. 

Overpasses are unsafe. 

If you’re in a mobile home, be out of it and in a safe place before the storm arrives. 

Wear your helmet. Serious injury to the head is common in a bad tornado. This is especially true for kids. The simple act of putting a helmet on them may save their life. 

Do not ignore a warning. 

Odds are the tornado will not strike you, and you will spend 30 or 45 minutes holed up with family and friends. This small inconvenience is a small price to pay for safeguarding and protecting you and your family from injury. Have a nice discussion. 

To recap:

As always, follow multiple reliable sources for severe weather information. You can get us on Twitter @NashSevereWx. You should also watch your favorite local TV station (2, 4, 5, or 17). We’ll have live coverage on Twitter with a link to watch us on YouTube Live. National providers like The Weather Channel and most forecast apps will not give you all the information you’ll need during a warning. 

Visit Nashville Severe Weather’s website here for more information on severe weather in Middle Tennessee. You can also download and print useful information on tornado survival at Ready.gov.

Guest post: Strategies for dealing with storm anxiety

Note from Hands On Nashville: The following post, written by licensed professional counselor Samuel Rainey, originates on the Nashville Severe Weather website, and is a useful guide for folks who feel anxious when thinking about or experiencing storms. As we mark one year since the devastating March 3, 2020, tornados, many are feeling strong emotions, including anxiety, about potential severe spring weather. We hope this post helps provide some context and useful information about how to handle stress that’s connected to storm anxiety. 

By Samuel Rainey via Nashville Severe Weather (shared with permission)

There’s a feeling it’s always storm season. I have a general appreciation for storms and a healthy respect about what they can do. Sometimes, my respect for the storms can make me feel a little crazy as I attempt to corral my wife and four kids into the tiny coat closet under our stairs. Each time we do this, I’m reminded of being 4 years old in my childhood home in Arkansas. A tornado was on its way, I’m in the bathtub with my siblings, and my parents have just put the twin mattress on top of us. It was a terrifying experience. Today, we don’t have room for a twin mattress, so I put bike helmets on my kids. My teenagers are especially appreciative of me when I make them put these on.  

Most people I know have a strong reaction to storms. They either love them, or hate them. I think this is because storms remind us that we are small, fragile, and incredibly powerless. Despite some really bad movie plots about weather and storms, the bottom line is that there’s really nothing you or I can do about a storm. We can’t change the direction, alter the intensity, or tell it to stop producing dangerous results. To many of us, that is a really scary experience, even to the point of creating anxiety as a storm approaches.  

Feeling anxious about storms is completely normal, and it doesn’t mean that anything is wrong with you. It’s natural to experience a wide range of emotions: from panic to stress to a general unease as a storm comes your way.  

Stress limits the body’s production of serotonin (the happy, calming chemical). We all need serotonin to feel good, safe, and happy in life. Instead of serotonin, our body produces adrenaline. Adrenaline is the chemical that amps us up for survival, a fight, or to face a threat. Storms are a legit threat to our lives and our brains don’t really care if we’re happy or calm. Our brains think serotonin won’t save us, but adrenaline might. So we lose that happy, calming chemical, and end up on edge. Stressed. 

Because we are small, fragile, and limited humans, we are deeply impacted by our surroundings. When a storm pops up, it can trigger significant feeling unsafe. At a basic level, our brain knows that when a storm is near, it has to gear our body up for a fight. Because of this, we’ve got to take care of ourselves so we can handle the incoming storms.  

Three Strategies to Combat Storm Anxiety: Preparation, Process, and People 

Preparation  

Fear is the feeling that there is danger near and that we need to do something about it. So prepare for the fear by assembling a storm kit you take with you to your “safe space” in your home. You might also consider putting a smaller kit in your car in the event a storm arises when you’re not at home. This storm kit will have everything you need before, during, and after a storm. 

Your kit needs to have:  

  • Water 
  • Something nonperishable to eat (Twinkies don’t count) 
  • First aid (Band-Aids, Neosporin, etc.) 
  • Flashlight 
  • Socks 
  • A picture of loved ones 

Optional items to include:  

  • Battery-operated handheld radio 
  • Cell phone batter recharger and cable 
  • Something to do/a project (a craft, knitting, drawing, bourbon tasting, Solitaire with a deck of cards, etc.) 
  • A weighted blanket: These work in the same way that a “thunder jacket” works with a dog, or how swaddling a baby makes them feel safe and secure. A weighted blanket helps provide external stimuli that can produce serotonin (the calming chemical). 

Process 

When stress happens, we need a process to follow to calm us down. Developing a process to follow each time a storm arises will help you to move out of reactivity. A process will comfort you.  Your process needs to become a habit you practice every time a storm comes. This routine will help you trust in something other than the “impending doom” of the storm. You’ll have a process to comfort you. 

Some processes to follow:  

  • Put your storm preparation kit in an accessible place near your safe room.  
  • Limit information intake: Smartphones are great for information, but sometimes too much information is actually more stressful. Flooding our mind with too much information can heighten the feelings of anxiety. Pick one or two sources of information to follow. Watch local TV or reliable social-media feeds.  
  • Do something along with watching the weather feed. (Projects listed above) 
  • Gratitude Jar: At the end of each severe weather threat you encounter, get a notecard and write down the date, time, and experience you had in this particular storm. Get a Ziploc bag and deposit the notecard in the bag. We are going to call this your victory bag. In the future when a storm is near and you’re getting nervous or afraid, get your kit (below), open the victory bag, and read through all of the storms that you’ve not just survived, but thrived. This will be a process for you to remember that you are ok.  

Remember, storms do their thing, and we need to do our thing. Experiment with some processes to follow and find what works for you. 

People 

This is the most important of the three strategies: we need people in our lives. We need people not just when weather happens, but when other emotional storms show up in our lives. One of my favorite authors, Frederick Buechner, says this, “Welcome to the world, where beautiful and terrible things will happen.”  

We’re not made to deal with the beautiful and terrible things on our own. This is the reason why Tom Hanks’ character in the movie “Cast Away” creates a friend out of a volleyball. He can’t live in isolation on that island. From an existential standpoint, anxiety is about being isolated. At some level we all fear being left, abandoned, betrayed, or alone by ourselves. Nervousness and worry come from a legitimate fear we have that has not been taken care of. Fears are natural to being human, and when we don’t tend to the needs associated with our fears, they can transform into life controlling worry, and sometimes even anxiety.  

The single best way to help combat storm anxiety is to be known. To be with other people. Surround yourself with people who you can care about, and who care about you. If you live alone, call someone or get on a video call with them. We are better equipped to handle difficult situations when we know that someone else is with us to face the danger. It’s amazing what happens to our stress when someone who cares about us holds our hand or gives us a reassuring hug.  

It might be that your storm anxiety is alerting you to your need to have more people involved in the difficulties of your life. Growth is a relational experience. We don’t grow in isolation; we grow because of relationships. 

Following these three strategies won’t solve all your storm related problems, but they are a great next step for you to take. If you only do one of the three above ideas, please invite people into your life. I know of no better way to reduce my own situational anxiety than having someone help me carry the burden I’m facing. 

Lastly, if you find that this anxiety you’re experiencing happens in other places of your life (work, relationships, making decisions, etc.) then it might be helpful to talk to a professional counselor about that. 

Follow Nashville Severe Weather on Twitter: @NashSevereWx.