The afternoon breeze, humidity, and thunderheads cued the adults to listen to the radio. The broadcast confirmed their suspicions of impending, severe thunderstorms. We went about the business of stowing the toys, the lawn furniture, and garden tools into Grandma and Grandpa's sheds.
Mom and Dad wrapped up a bush they were transplanting to our yard and loaded it in the station wagon; the one with the vinyl seats patterned in a Western-theme with Bar-B-Q printed all over. We said our good-byes a little earlier than usual that summer afternoon, as we were concerned about getting home before the rain started.
On our way home, it got dark. Dark enough to make the street lights come on. For some reason, my parents worked quickly and quietly to get us in the house and the bush out of the wagon. Dad wanted to get that bush in the ground before the storm - couldn't miss an opportunity to soak a new transplant with a "good rain."
Mom called me back out to turn on the water for the hose and then bring the hose to her. The hose had one of those nozzles on the end that can shut off the water flow. It was closed when I turned on the faucet.
As I walked down the yard, I picked up the hose about four or five feet from the nozzle with the idea that I would slide my hand along the cool, water-filled hose to the nozzle and pull it the rest of the way. When I stood up, the hose did, too, weaving about in front of me like a charmed cobra. I'm not sure how big my eyes were, but Mom yelled to me to bring the hose quick and yelled to my oldest brother to get me and "get into the crawlspace…now!"
We used to play a game called Tornado in which we raced to see how quickly we could put dolls, toys, stuffed animals, and ourselves under the bedcovers before the "tornado" could blow us away. We'd never actually seen a tornado, but we'd been through severe thunderstorms, heard lots of talk, and, of course, we'd seen the "Wizard of Oz," featuring the Grand Mother of all tornadoes. Our "drill" became useful that evening. My brother lifted the crawlspace cover and we dropped ourselves through the floor onto the dirt several feet under the house.
It seemed like a long time before my parents dropped through, wet and a little nervous. Because of the wind and low pressure, it had taken both of them to pry open the screen door and then shove open the inside door just to get in the house. Dad pulled the cover closed and we sat in the flashlight's glow listening to the roar of the wind, the rain, and a metallic tapping at the foundation of the house.
I don't remember how long we were actually in the crawlspace, but after a bit, Dad went up into the house and came back to let us know we could come out. The electricity was out, it was pitch black outside, so we called it a night, nervously anticipating daylight to see what had happened. We were lucky - our house, unlike Dorothy's, was still there.
Recent storms cause me to remember that tornado many summers ago in Illinois. In Virginia, our "season," or the time when we are at greater risk for experiencing tornadoes, is July through August according to the Weather Channel, with the hurricane season running from June through November. Like my childhood drill, we need to take some precautions.
The Weather Channel suggests knowing a little about where you live. What county or city do you live in, and what are some of the surrounding counties? If you have that information, then a forecaster's severe weather warnings will make more sense. You'll be able to tell if you are in the path of a storm. This is true for thunderstorms (where lightning, hail, or high winds might be a threat), tornado or hurricane warnings, or snowstorms.
It is also suggested that you make a plan for where to seek shelter and what to have in that shelter. You'll want a flashlight, bottled water, a first aid kit, a portable radio, fresh batteries, a heavy blanket or old jackets, and your pets on leashes or in carriers. The Weather Channel also suggests storing important papers, prescription medicines, and some cash so that you don't waste time gathering those things when a storm is approaching. You'll need to assess your level of risk, but having an idea of what you might do and having a practice "drill" once a year is recommended.
Our old crawlspace was a pretty good shelter. It was underground, which kept us out of any flying debris that might have been present had our house been damaged. It is suggested that you go to the lowest part of your house away from windows. That place might be a downstairs bathroom or closet. You might get under a table and cover yourself with the blankets or jackets in your "shelter." The idea is to put as many surfaces as possible between you and any flying debris. If you don't have a spot like that, then you might discuss a shelter plan with a neighbor.
While the shelter plan is for the most severe weather (aside from complying with a hurricane evacuation order), having some supplies on hand to deal with a power outage resulting from a thunderstorm or a snowstorm would be helpful. Our recent storms bring the more immediate threat of lightning or hail and wind damage. Stow those things that might blow around in your yard, like folding lawn chairs, in the garage or shed even if it's just for ease of finding them after a storm. Stay indoors and away from windows when there is lightning and/or hail accompanying a storm. Remember to turn off and unplug your TV and computer and don't use the phone. It's also wise to avoid taking a shower in a thunderstorm because if lightening hits your house, it often follows the metal pipes to ground. The goal is to remain safe and protected from the elements. Let's hope that the really heavy weather stays in the movies with Dorothy and Toto.
The next morning we discovered that our swing set and kids' picnic table ended up in a neighbor's yard a couple of houses away. Huge trees along the creek behind our house were tipped over, with their roots reaching skyward. The metallic tapping noise came from several dozen empty soup and vegetable cans tilted against the cinderblock foundation of the house.
And that bush? It stayed in the ground.
In the Library
The Complete Book of Survival: How to Protect Yourself Against Revolution, Riots, Hurricanes, Famines, and Other Natural and Man-made Disasters by Rainer Stahlberg
Gives you the knowledge and skills for whatever might come your way and provides extensive checklists to monitor your progress toward preparedness.
Eye of the Storm by Warren Faidley
Storm chaser Warren Faidley discusses the techniques, dangers, and difficulties of photographing lightning, tornadoes, and hurricanes.
The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast by Douglas Brinkley
In the span of five violent hours on August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina destroyed major Gulf Coast cities and flattened 150 miles of coastline. Yet those wind-torn hours represented only the first stage of the relentless triple tragedy that Katrina brought to the entire Gulf Coast, from Louisiana to Mississippi to Alabama. First came the hurricane, one of the three strongest ever to make landfall in the United States - 150-mile-per-hour winds, with gusts measuring more than 180 miles per hour ripping buildings to pieces. Second, the storm-surge flooding, which submerged a half million homes, creating the largest domestic refugee crisis since the Civil War. And third, the human tragedy of government mismanagement, which proved as cruel as the natural disaster itself."
Isaac's Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History by Erik Larson
Provides an account of the hurricane which struck Galveston, Texas, in 1900 and killed ten thousand people.
North Carolina's Hurricane History by Jay Barnes
"...a popular illustrated history of the more than fifty great storms that have battered the Tar Heel state from the days of the first European explorers through 1999's devastating hurricane Floyd, which caused $6 billion in damages. Jay Barnes examined newspaper reports, National Weather Service records, and eyewitness descriptions to compile this extraordinary chronicle, which also features nearly 300 photographs, maps, and illustrations."
The Scariest Place on Earth: Eye to Eye with Hurricanes by David E. Fisher
Growing out of his first hand experience of Hurricane Andrew, the distinguished scientist and author of HOSTAGE ONE offers an entertaining history of hurricanes and their ferocity.
Storm World: Hurricanes, Politics, and the Battle Over Global Warming by Chris Mooney
Uses scientific evidence from the 2006 hurricane season to study the link between global warming and the ferocity of hurricanes and explores the influence of the media and politicians on commonly held ideas about climate change.
Hurricanes '95: Season on the Edge
Covers an extremely severe hurricane season with background information and actual footage of storms.
Nature's Fury from the National Geographic Society
Earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods: these colossal powers of nature have had dramatic consequences for humankind. But as massive as these forces are, the stories of heroism and tragedy are very personal. You'll meet heroes, fighting to save homes and lives, but see victims, too, suffering unspeakable tragedies. Join scientists as they study the elemental killers.
Join storm-chasing meteorologists who track extreme weather conditions in order to understand how they form. Take a ride inside hurricanes, monsoons, and tornadoes.
Hurricanes by Catherine Chambers
An introduction to hurricanes including where hurricanes happen, are hurricanes getting worse, and how to survive a hurricane.
Hurricane & Tornado by Jack Challoner
Describes dangerous and destructive weather conditions around the world, such as thunderstorms, tornadoes, hurricanes, lightning, hail, and drought with photographs, historical background, and legends.
Hurricane Hunters! Riders on the Storm by Chris L. Demarest
Learn about real life heroes who risk their lives studying hurricanes.
Hurricanes by D.M. Souza
" ...dramatically describes how, when, and where hurricanes form. Focusing primarily on the physics of hurricanes, it also includes information on forecasting hurricanes and hurricane safety tips."
Storm Warning by Jonathan D. Kahl
Provides parents and children with information about hurricanes and tornadoes, such as where and when they occur, how they form, and the damage they can cause.
On the Web
FEMA Safety Tips Brochures
The Federal Emergency Management Administration offers preparation and prevention brochures on hurricanes, tornadoes (often spawned by hurricanes and potentially more deadly), and other disasters.
Fredericksburg.com - The Free Lance-Star Online
The day's news plus local weather and cancellation notices due to adverse weather conditions.
NOAA offers tips for safety at school and at home, causes of hurricanes, and general safety from more common effects of storms like hail, lightning, and flooding.
The Red Cross: Be Red Cross Ready
The Red Cross offers detailed information on how to be ready for disaster with an online presentation: Get a Kit, Make a Plan, Be Informed. Our local Red Cross chapter says to keep listening to local radio or TV; if shelters or service centers are needed, announcements will be made as to where to go or call.
The Weather Channel
The Weather Channel lets you type in your zip code and look at local, current weather as well as note weather warnings, histories, general forecasts, activities for schools, and links to weather sites in Spanish.