Tornadoes in November: An After-Action Review

tornado clipart image

I thought we’d made it through the 2013 tornado season with relative ease, but as yesterday’s mid-November tornadoes tore through the Midwest, I realized that Mother Nature had other ideas.

Yesterday’s storms gave me an interesting perspective, so I thought I’d share what worked for us and what didn’t work so well.  Most folks seem to want to share nothing but success stories.  That’s not really my style though because my hope is that my readers will learn from my successes as well as my failures.  So here goes.

By the time severe weather rolled into my neck of the woods, we’d had several days worth of notice.  To be honest, I actually thought the threat had been sensationalized.  In fact, as the Facebook notices flooded my husband’s phone, and as the talking heads on TV kept warning us of the potential threat, I couldn’t help but think, “OK, guys.  It’s Indiana.  We’re used to dealing with severe weather.”

I even experienced something that seemed almost comical to me.  I needed to pick up a prescription after church, but the grocery store pharmacy didn’t open ’til 11:00.  Rather than coming back later, we decided to sit outside the pharmacy and wait.  When my husband stepped away to grab a cup of coffee, a fellow parishioner approached me.  “Oh hi, Sarah.  Are you here to pick up groceries before the storms hit?” It was all I could do not to laugh out loud.  See, people joke about running to the store for bread and milk before a severe winter storm hits, but it had never occurred to me that folks might consider doing that with thunderstorms that MIGHT produce tornadoes.

So anyway, my family finished errands and we headed home for what was supposed to be a restful afternoon that might possibly be punctuated by a few rounds of bad weather.  I put a few things away, I helped the husband and the kids get a little food in their bellies, and I grabbed a snack.  I headed into the office to spend a little mindless time with Facebook, and my husband took the kids into our room to watch Netflix.

Now this is when things started to get interesting.  When I sat down at my computer, I had some email alerts from my county.  Several warned about the severe weather that was headed our way later in the afternoon, but one of them was a warning from the Indiana Department of Homeland Security.  Apparently, they felt the potential threat was a big enough deal that folks consider cancelling their evening activities and staying at home where it’s safe.  This warning struck me as a little odd because I’d never seen that kind of advice in advance of a storm that might produce tornadoes.

That warning inspired me to do a little more digging, and at that point, we were already starting to hear about the damage in Illinois.  I also saw a few Facebook posts from a local volunteer fire department that warned of the “high risk” of tornadoes for all of Indiana.  Since the National Weather Service was saying “slight risk” back on Friday, I figured that things were getting serious.  And after chatting with my mom (who was watching the storm coverage on the news), I realized that yeah, this storm probably wasn’t anything to play around with.

Before I tell anymore of the story though, I feel it’s important to point out that I ALWAYS take the threat of tornadoes seriously.  Back when my daughter was just 5 weeks old, I lived through a historic tornado outbreak that leveled buildings within blocks of my apartment.  Before that day, I was one of the “severe weather rubber-neckers”.  You know the type — the ones that are standing on their back porch watching the storm eat their neighbor’s car.  Yeah.  That was me.  But on that day back in 2002, I had the good sense to take shelter in a bathroom under the stairs with my newborn, three dogs, and a cat, and I wasn’t even aware that our neighborhood had been destroyed until the media gave the all clear.  From that point on, I’ve had a healthy respect for Mother Nature.  Storms don’t scare me, but I take the warnings from the National Weather Service seriously.

Because of my previous experience with dangerous storms, I decided to take a second look at my preps.  I gathered the rechargeable batteries, flashlights, headlamps, and lanterns in one place.  I grabbed the CB, and my husband and I tossed our cell phones back onto their chargers.  I felt as ready as I was going to feel at that point, so I went back into the office to keep an eye on things on Facebook and the National Weather Service.

It didn’t take long for things to get crazy.  The storms were moving FAST, and they were doing so much damage along the way.  About an hour before the worst of the weather got here, I saw a post on Facebook.  Apparently, authorities had decided to open several schools in the county so that folks could take shelter if they needed to.  I’d never considered doing anything like that before, but to be honest, I’m not sure that the offer was there BEFORE the storms hit.  Apparently, all the county’s fire departments were hitting mobile home parks knocking on doors and advising folks to evacuate to the shelter locations.  Upon reading that, it occurred to me that riding out the storms in a school building that’s rated for that sort of thing might be a smarter idea than staying in my manufactured home that has no basement.  Yes, my home sits on a permanent foundation, but I always feel vulnerable when tornadic storms strike.

I told Fred what I’d read online, and I told him that I thought it’d be a good idea for us to consider going up to the school if it looked like things were going to get really bad.  Then, I called my neighbor (who doesn’t have a basement either, but at least she lives in a site-built home) and told her what we were going to do.  (If we decided to abandon ship, we figured she’d want to go too, but her husband was at work with the family truck.)

Both Fred and the neighbor agreed that going up to the school might be a good idea, so we all set out to make sure we had what we needed to “bug out”.  As Fred and I were grabbing a few things though, he suggested that we might consider bugging out to his work.  We decided we’d answer the question of where once we’d answered the question of when though.

It got a little chaotic there for a minute.  I was checking to make sure the kids’ bags were ready to go.  Fred ran a GMRS radio to the neighbor (in case we lost cell service), and by the time he came back, the weather radio was sounding a tornado warning for our county.

Fred had the forethought to bring our chainsaw.  He tossed it into the back of our SUV, and we raced over to the neighbors’ to grab them.  We decided that we had time to make it to Fred’s work, and I’m certain that we made it there in record time.  Fred was being careful, but he didn’t spare the throttle! I was actually quite impressed.

It was just sprinkling when we got to Fred’s work, but one look at the sky told us we didn’t have a lot of time to spare.  We piled into one of the safest spots in that building with plans to hit the ladies’ room if things got really bad.  We had our weather radio, we had snacks and games for the kids, and we had time to kill.

Our house lost power at 5:08.  (Fred’s phone gets a text message when our computer’s on battery power.) We never did lose power at Fred’s work though.

When the worst of the storms had finally passed, we loaded up and headed back out to our house.  Based on what we’d seen on the Internet, we weren’t sure what we’d find as we headed home, so we wanted to head home while we still had a bit of daylight left.

There was still no power by the time we got home.  We didn’t seem to have any damage though, and fortunately our chickens did fine.  We headed inside, got some light going, and started to formulate a plan.

See, there were several things that needed addressed.  It was about 6:30, and everyone was hungry.  We also had to decide if/when we were going to drag the generator out.  I wasn’t worried about my fridge, but we were concerned about our sump pump.  We knew our crawl space wouldn’t flood immediately, but we also knew that we’d want power for it if our outage  was going to last for 12 hours or so.

We decided to hold off on the sump pump, and we came back to the issue of food.  I was actually feeling pretty darned cranky because I’d eaten very little that day, and I was looking forward to my dinner of steak with mushrooms, onions, and melted cheese.  I later discovered that what it all boiled down to (for me) was the fact that I was craving fat, and since we weren’t opening the fridge, there weren’t many options that wouldn’t involve a whole bunch of work that I really wasn’t feeling up to at the time.

Something else that struck me as we were discussing food was light.  The lanterns and headlamps are plenty of light for folks with normal vision, but it doesn’t even come close to helping me.  I don’t need light to navigate.  I don’t need light to eat.  I don’t need light to use the restroom, tidy up the kitchen, wash dishes, or take a bath.  What I DO need light for is cooking.  And until last night, I hadn’t realized how much I rely on what little vision I have when it comes to cooking.  So in the end, we ended up running back into town and grabbing food from a place that had power.  While I felt MUCH better after eating, I was still grumpy that I hadn’t gotten steak for supper.

We had a warm meal, some fellowship with the neighbors, and a bit of unanticipated down time.  When it was all said and done though, we got the power restored after little more than a three-hour outage.  I was impressed!

After Fred ran the neighbors home, I had some time to do an after-action review of sorts in my own head.  There were a lot of things that went right yesterday, but as is always the case when putting emergency plans into practice, some things didn’t go as smoothly as they could have.

What I learned:

  1. Next time I have some advanced warning about a severe weather situation, I won’t skimp on meals beforehand.  I kept putting meal prep off because I thought I’d have time for it later, but in reality, it didn’t work that way.  If I would have had a real lunch, I would have been thinking more clearly when it came time to decide how to proceed.
  2. Since I’m the one who does the cooking for our family, I’m going to have to address the light situation.  I need to experiment to figure out how much emergency light is “enough” for me to cook without hurting myself.  In the past, I’d taken it for granted that when the power went out, I’d just pull out a camp stove and start cooking, but since I’d never actually tried to do that, I hadn’t discovered the weakness of my plan.
  3. I need to rethink some of my food storage.  I have plenty of food that’s low-carb, but I don’t have much food at all that’s also high-fat AND shelf-stable.  Yeah, I could have eaten some peanut butter, but I didn’t want anything sweet.  What little food I’d had yesterday was “snacky”, and I wanted real food.  Yeah, I know that if I’d been hungry enough, I would have just eaten something, but here’s the thing.  My “plan” doesn’t have me eating off-plan foods until there’s no other choice.  There was plenty of on-plan food available in my house.  Eating it would have required me opening up my fridge (which I didn’t want to do because we weren’t sure if we were gonna go through the trouble of getting out the generator) and then cooking it on unfamiliar equipment with no usable light.  That didn’t sound appealing to me at all.
  4. We should have gotten the generator ready ahead of time.  When it came time to decide whether we were using it or not, we were less inclined to use it because it would have been a major pain in the butt.  I didn’t realize that we couldn’t just raise the garage door and carry it out.  It would have needed to come through our breezeway, and under the best of circumstances, I can’t navigate our garage and breezeway while my hands are empty and there’s plenty of light let alone helping to carry and 80-pound generator in the dark.  Obviously, we would have figured something out if there were no other choice, but we were much less willing go through the trouble when it wasn’t absolutely necessary.
  5. I need to think more about the things we need when bugging out vs. bugging in.  We’ve never bugged out in a hurry like we did yesterday, so things were forgotten.  In particular, I didn’t have ANY medications with me.  While none of the meds that I would have brought were absolutely required for life, I shouldn’t have to think about going without meds because of a simple oversight.

For the experienced prepper, some of this might seem like “duh” stuff.  And of course all this stuff makes perfect sense to me in hindsight.  The fact that we experienced some of these issues just goes to reinforce the importance of good planning and PRACTICE.  It’s better to find shortcomings in your preps when perfect planning isn’t critical.

Yesterday was by no means a disaster for us.  We did a lot of things right.  Like I’ve said before though, we learned some valuable lessons also, and we’ll just do better next time.  Remember — what you do matters!



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