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Senior Advisor

Do You Have A Severe Weather Plan?

The spring weather season is starting,and we may be having more extreme weather lately, so it's a good idea to have a severe weather plan in effect for the farm.  It has to address not only family but also workers, visitors, livestock and property.

The first question is how does one tell others if severe weather is coming?  Tornadoes don't give much warning, although they don't come out of the blue.  If lightning is sparking about, it's a good idea to get in out of the field even if one is in a tractor cab or truck.  Do you use cell phones?  Radios?  A flag from the TV tower?  Smiley Happy

We have plenty of battery radios and batteries.   I also have my ham radio gear, though I don't know if the antennas would stay up in a wind - I can rig an expedient antenna if I have to.

We have a storm cellar poured into the basement, and we used it in '98 when the winds took the roof of our brand new house.  The only mistake I made is the door opens out - where it could be blocked by falling debris - I should have it changed to open in or I could just leave it open.

We have plenty of gas lanterns, gas camping stove, but we don't have much extra water.  If we have time, we would fill vessels in the house.   I'd need power for that and while I have two generators, they're both non-working.  I guess my good intentions to get them running haven't had a high enough priority.  I hope I don't regret that.

First aid equipment we have.  Also, first aid instructions on the iPad (how long will that battery last?) 

It's a far cry from when I was a kid and we expected the power to go out in big winds or bad snows.  We had the kerosene lanterns out often and the furnace was stoked with wood.  Times are better now. 

18 Replies
Honored Advisor

Re: Do You Have A Severe Weather Plan?

I've really been addressing this this year, Jim.  Our two storm shelters for this place are due here sometime with the next two weeks.  They are the biggest piece that was missing in our preparedness puzzle.


At the risk of repeating myself, I have explained here before that our extremely high water table means we cannot shelter inground here.  Thus, we purchased two 8x10 Safe Sheds, from a company in Iowa.  Freight is kind of a bite on this deal, due to the distance; but, at least the second one gets a break in hauling price.  I was advised that the mile between our houses was too far for comfort in a real tornado outbreak.  There will be a unit at each homeplace at the ends of the farm frontage. 


Either of these will accommodate up to 15 adults.  This allows adequate space for our employee's family, who lives in-between, plus some beloved pets, even if everyone was caught at one end or the other..  Since daughter often has groups of kids present at her end of the farm for riding lessons, too, we felt it was sensible to buy two of the biggest units, given the small price difference between this and a 6x6 unit  that I had originally considered for her place. 


After asking others how they know when to take don't want to go to ground every time there is a general weather watch or warning area...I signed up for Weathercall.  For a nominal fee of less than $10 a year, our physical address, which correlates with a GPS location, is entered into a call system, which will contact up to three phone numbers.  I gave ours the house, my cell, and our daughter's cell.  We have weatehrband radios, too....more on these later.


As for backup power, I think it is unlikely that a storm would disable both of our gensets, which are roughly a quarter-mile apart.  Could happen, but we also have a portable PTO-driven one.  I diuscussed the idea of having a small generator in the shelters, but so far, don't plan on it.  Maybe, down the road...but, then you have to secure gasoline outside, best buried, according to my friend Nebrfarmer.  Unsafe to store it in the shelter. 


I am stashing a couple of inverters for now...they could be run off of any vehicle or farm tractor.  Again, these are spread out over about 1.5 miles here.  Inexpensive insurance for keeping freezers cold, running a water pump, etc.  I will buy soem basic electrical stuff for making pigtails, and get Mike to assemble them, and stash a few inexpensive extension cords. 


My shelter contents will also include a NOAA solar and/or handcranked weatherband radio with charging capacity for USB and mini-USB devices, which includes cell phones and iPad.  If I lose my Internet connection, or the WiFi, my DROID smartphone has a 3G hotspot capability, so we can continue to stay in touch, monitor weather radar, etc.  


Both inverters and radios are abundant on  You may be able to size an inverter to support your HAM system. 


I have planned to place OSHA first aid kits (under $20 at Sam's Club) and rotate our arthritis meds through a locked box, which will contain copies of some crucial papers.  I have my niursign school bag, with stethoscope, etc.,  and lots of bandages, too.  With the usual rotating supply of bottled water and non-perishable foods, I will place a set of clean clothes for each of us, with probably some extra underwear and socks, some diapers for the grandson, and some toiletry items. 


We have an antique potty seat that I plan to put in mine, and I bought a "luggable loo" seat for a five-gallon bucket for daughter's shelter (amazon).  They make bags and blue tablets for these, too. I will probably just move some stuff from our RV out there.  Paper products, battery-powered camping lanterns, rotating supply of batteries, flashlights, etc.  The usual, and as you said, a lot like camping gear...(Why not store your regular camping gear in the shelter, and just move it out when you travel???) 


One thing that Nebrfarmer made me very aware of is the need for means to repair tire punctures, so I'll be adding a small travel air compressor, some plugs and plugging tool, and some of the fix-a-flat  stuff.  Debris evidently makes for a lot of flats. 


He also suggested a few tools that come in handy.  Their neighborhood evidently spreads this need out...we'll have to cover our own butts, and usually everyone around us, too.  I bought a nice complete Kobalt tool set right after Christmas on clearance, for $  has close to $400 worth of tools in it...all the basics. 


I plan to stash a spare driver/drilll in there, with battery sets on a charger.  (We are wiring and running water to right outside the shelter in our yard.)   May expand upon that to include a battery poowered skillsaw.  I have two sets of Ryobi ones, so can spare one set, and a new set is easily under $100.


Will probably include an airbed and battery-powered pump, and some old quilts.  Maybe a game of deck of cards, some folding chairs.  The buckets I am using for storage will have seat lids (again, amazon) for extra seating. 


Most of what I am stashing will be drawn from existing resources, duplicates on hand, etc.  Not much expense..  Since I also plan this to be a sort of garden installation, it will act a lot like a lawn shed, just with the majority of its floorspace left open for people and pets.  I bought a nice steel shelving unit at Sam's for about $90, adn will configure ti to store everything as neatly as possible. 


I plan two leanto sheds off each non-entry/exit side, one for the grilling area ( I am considering building a firepit just outside this shed) and one for garden tool storage area.  This allows us to gain additional, everyday benefits from the expense, and will perhaps make taking shelter not seem so daunting, if the time comes when we must. 


I will have some cast iron Dutch oven, tripod and a hibachi inside the shed, for longer term emergency cooking.  Need to add some eating utensils, paper for shortterm, resuabel for longer-lasting situations.   Empty plastic storage bins can double for dishwashing and laundry.  I have a spare hank of nylon clothesline, and some rope and tarps would be nice to have on hand. 


Our sheds were each ordered with an extra egress panel on the side opposite the door.  That addresses the outswing door/debris concern.  If I were you, I would definitely reverse that one. 


Our sheds can be additionally protected with earth berming, but it is not necessary to meet FEMA 320 standards.  I may berm the rear/west wall, underneath the egress panel, since our worst storms come from that direction as a rule.  The farm has backup electricity, with all supply lines buried. 


I have tried to be comprehensive, but have probably forgotten some details.  This tornado risk seems far more prevalent now that even eighteen years ago, when we first settled here.  Last April saw almost two dozen dead in NC, some right across our county line. 


I dragged my feet on finding these shelters, and we have already had one bad ourbreak of twisters in NC this year.  My goal was to have the sites ready my April 1st, and hopefully delivery before May 1.  So far, so good.  Most of my stash will be ready to assmebl and walk in teh door a day or two after they arrive.  The wiring and water will be when Mike has the time, but he's taken this as a family safety priority, too.


I have said before, I hope this is the best money I ever waste....

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Veteran Advisor

Re: Do You Have A Severe Weather Plan?

Kay already spelled out most of what I recommend.

I have a 2 friends who lost houses, in the same storm, about a half mile apart, and since then, a bunch of neighbors have gotten together informally, to see who had what in case of emergency. 
One thing we noted, is that there were a couple viechles that survived the tornado to the extent they were drivable, but had no gas in them.  The Sheriff came out to check if everyone was OK, and was chatting a bit, and said that happens more than you think with a tornado.  The swirling winds can unscrew a gas cap (on one place, it unscrewed the valve off a propane tank!) and the sudden vacuum can literally suck the gas out of the tank.  Keepng a 5 gallon can of gas in a 'well' below ground level is supposed to protect it from the winds, and it is suggested to put this 'well' in some sort of open front shed, so fumes cannot build up, but so it doesn't get rained on.

The only other thing I can really add to what Kay has said, is emergency equipment.  I have a generator, and an inverter, and even a crank up weather radio, but a buddy got something that I think I might be getting on of.  Instead of having a separate inverter, and air compressor, and backup battery, they make an all in one unit now.

It has a 'booster' to help start a car or pickup, a built in air compressor, that runs off the internal power pack, as well as a built in inverter, so it can run not only 12 volt items, but 120 volt also.  I think it even has a flashlight on it.  He gave about $120 from Amazon.  Heck, I've got a minute, let me do a search:


Besides the emergency use, these will be useful just for starting a car with a low battery.



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Honored Advisor

Re: Do You Have A Severe Weather Plan?

As you see, I credit you with most of the more extensive information I received, based upon direct storm experience. The typical shelter supply information probably suffices in the average urban/suburban area, where resources are more available and close by.  Then again, it wouldn't hort to be the one family with tools and the ability to repair a tire in a whole neighborhood, even in town. 


I am having trouble getting Mike to go along with the fuel "well"...we need to sink several post holes soon, and I think the 12-inch auger would make a hole of sufficient diameter to set a five-gallon bucket in, with a smaller gas can inside.  Might convince him to bury a couple of these under those two side sheds, if he has no digging to do. 


I did forget MATCHES!  I wondered after reading your post about liquid fuel vaporizing in a pressure drop if a lighter with butane would be unsafe inside a shelter.  What would you think about that question?  My policy is "if in doubt, leave it out."


I looked up that multi-purpose item after out previous discussions, finding the same Duracell one that you only reservation is that if that one gadget is disabled, you lose a whole lot of capabilities with it.  You thoughts?

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Veteran Advisor

Re: Do You Have A Severe Weather Plan?

I never thought about the butane in a lighter.  We have different needs, because of our locations.  I am assuming that you are in a place that gets tornadoes as part of a hurricane, which can be a several day storm.  
I'm in the midwest, where the tornado comes and goes, within 15 minutes, or at most, an hour.  We don't need long-term survival items, just stuff like an air compressor, and a way to fix a leaky tire, chain saw gas to cut trees over the road, etc, to get out to safety.  Waiting out a 3 day storm is something I never thought about.

As to the all-in-one gadget, I never thought about depending too much on one item, but for the price, maybe have one in each shelter, and one or the other should always work.

One thing that just popped into my head, would be a couple flags, and maybe a sharpie marker.

Around here, we have a 'code'.  If we come to a storm-damaged yard, and see green flags tied up in a prominent place, we know that everyone in that household is safe.  Generally, it would mean they either had a viechle they could drive out somewhere, or someone came to pick them up.  That way, we don't have to worry about whether or not to go looking for anybody.

A yellow flag means no one is hurt, but they need some sort of assistance (this is where the marker comes in if you remember one)  You can write on the flag, 'went to check neighbors house to the West' or 'walked to paren'ts house' or whatever.  Or, a plain yellow flag means that no one is hurt, but to look for someone walking around.

A red flag or flags is 'help'  It usually means someone is hurt, or they are not sure about what happened to one or more members of the household.

Remember, a tornado can and often does take down cell phone towers.  A simple, yet straightforward way of communicating if you are safe or not, can really help put everyone at ease.  Don't forget to have a place for everyone to meet, after the disaster, in case you can't get a hold of someone.

As for the flags, we just get colored irrigation flags, the ones with the little plastic square glued to a wire.  You can poke them in the ground, or tie the wire on a gatepost, or whatever, and in a real pinch, the wire can be used as emergency 'baling wire'.
Remember, in a disaster, simple is good, and think about the feeling of relief you would feel, walking/driving to where your grandchild lives, with the house totalled by a tornado, but seeing green flags out in front of the shelter.

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Honored Advisor

Re: Do You Have A Severe Weather Plan?

Yes and no.  Hurricanes certainly do spawn tornados.  I think If I am right, it is usually off the "back" side that there is more likelihood.  I know the winds off of Irene were harsher after the storm center had actually passed. 


We can have a week or more of rainfall and elevated winds from the approach of a hurricane, but usually only one day of the really bad stuff sticking too close for comfort.  It seems worse when they hit at nighttime, as Floyd did, with 18 inches of sideways rain between bedtime and sunup. 


The tornados last spring and again this year were not associated with any hurricane at all.  Just bad lines of storms, strings of tornados that seemed to travel for a hundred miles or more. 


Last April, one of these was tracking straight towards us, and split into two lines just south of us.  The one that tracked east into the next county killed I think it was 13 people.  Another whole string went through Raleigh area, and killed quite a few, too. 


I think the total killed in NC alone that day was 23.  We could actually end up with greater loss of life on any given day, because there are so few places to take safe shelter.  Our weather forecasters do a bang-up job of warning everyone, and yet warnings are useless if you have nowhere to go to ground. 


I like the flag signal idea.  May think of a way to adapt that here.  I guess those flags are the same ones surveyors and line crews use to mark...we can get them at Lowe's in small bundles. 

I happened to pick up a couple dozen new Sharpies, good thought, too.


I think I will buy at least one of the multi-purpose gadgets, and scab together the functions of it in the other shelter, at least for now.  I think I could get Mike to see the wisdom of having some fuel mixed for his saws, and maybe stash them underneath my office, which has got a good crawlspace enclosed by cinderblock foundation. 


I hope we never see the destruction you have seen in your neighborhood.  It will just help me sleep better at night, knowing we have done the best we can do to protect our family and the family that works for us. 


Thanks again, as always, for your thoughtful replies. 

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Honored Advisor

Here's another one for you....

USWS issued severe fire danger weather warnings for our entire region today.  Really bad, with all the timber stands around homes and businesses.  Windy as all get-out. 


So, of course, the couple that owns the empty house in front of our place, which is not where they live, decided today seemed like the right time to burn off a huge pile of limbs from Irene, which was last August.  Mike was in the back of our farm, and saw flames in the tops of trees, thought it was our house.  Fortunately for us all, not...


It did get away from them, and jumped the county road.  This put at least three houses - two of them his brother's and uncle's homes - in jeopardy, not to mention our employee's residence, the store and warehouse that are my shop and storage, and quite a bit of nice timber, most of it ours.  That is what's on the other side of the road...on this side, he'd have ruined everything we own here. 


The guy managed to cross the ditches and stamp it out....but, gee-whiz, how dumb can you get???? And, this is the SECOND nut to do this...other one had set fire to a brush pile, several years back,  with 20 acres of dry hay, five of our tractors and all the haying equipment, and three of our family members working there. 

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Veteran Advisor

Re: Here's another one for you....

The same thing happens here.  About all you can do, is have a close-cut lawn, around your house.  On the bright side, your concrete storm shelters won't burn, maybe think about some sort of masks that filter out smoke to have in there as well.  Sometimes with a tornado, lightning will start a fire, and with trees over roads, phone lines down, etc, the fire department may not get there very quickly.


(As if you don't already have enough to worry about).

Oh, and the flags are just what you mentioned, the little bundles of what we call 'irrigation flags' that cost like 99 cents for 10, or $3 for 50.

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Honored Advisor

Re: Here's another one for you....

I think I may include some dust masks and latex gloves in the shelter, but not any respirators.  Often after a disaster, you encounter a lot of pollutants and some biological materials of uncertain nature.  We learned that after Floyd. 


I do think that storing some copies of important papers there, maybe a flashdrive of some scanned stuff, makes good sense. 


I am looking at this from two perspectives: first, to survive the tornados that pop up like mushrooms after a rain here now; and, second, as potentially our only shelter to work from, at least for a while, if the house and office (which is set up to use as emergency housing, too, if the house is compromised) are destroyed, or damaged to the point of condemnation. 


Our lawn stays cropped pretty close, and the hayfields near it are usually either green and growing, or just-harvested, too.  The timber here is about 30 years old, so not all that huge yet, and the neighbor's stands are smaller than that, by at least 20 years' growth. 

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Veteran Contributor

Re: Here's another one for you....

I'll throw my two cents in. I have 12 years as a wildland firefighter and 7 as a structure firefighter. I was stationed out in the western US. As for fires, if you see smoke from a fire that is out of control that is heading in your direction. The best thing to do is move out of the way. I have seen a lot of people try to stick it out, or try to save there livestock and property. Some didn't make it through the ordeal. When it comes to wildfire, they can move faster than you can drive. In Montana we responded to a fire that was rolling and we were at 50 MPH the fire was still gaining ground in front of us. We were trying to get into a defensive spot to start a flanking attack. Unless your shelters are in the ground, don't even think about those. A wildfire can burn in excess of 2000 degrees F. You will cook in any structure that is in the fires path. This includes grass fires. They kill more wildland firefighters than timber fires. As for extreme weather, you need to have at least 48 hours worth of water and food. If you happen to be in your home or shelter when a storm hits, if you have damage to the structure the best is to stay put. If you move debris out of the way to get out you very well could possibly shift the debris in the area that you are currently in causing it to collapse onto you. Every county should have a emergency action plan. This will include causality collection points, response structure, and how the incident command will be set up. Most counties are very willing to give you a copy of there action plan. Most schools have a plan in place also if you have children in school. This is one that I have at home for our family. If a storm hits while they are in school I want to know where the pick up spots are and which hospitals they are forwarded to if injuries. Since I am currently on the Fire Dept I hope I never have to respond to the school. Our company that we own also does storm response. We went to Parkersburg, IA after the EF-5 hit. A lot of mass confusion happens directly after a major incident. It will usually take 24 hours to get a incident command team in place. It can overwhelm the local authorities until they get there. Common sense it the biggest life saver there is. Use your head and be prepared, you'll come out alive.

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