In this blog post we are going to talk about tornado preparedness and derecho preparedness. My friend Jen lives in NW Illinois and has been preparing for tornados and severe thunderstorm for many years. Like I try to do every time I am preparing, I like to look at real life scenarios of people who have experienced what I’m preparing for. Today, Jen shares her experience August 10, 2020 when a derecho hit unexpectedly.
Difference between tornados and derechos
Until I started talking to Jen I didn’t know what a derecho was, so for those who aren’t quite sure what a derecho is, it is a fast-moving windstorm. It’s often described as a land hurricane. Derechos are straight line winds and they don’t rotate like tornados. With tornados you will often get a few minutes of warning, but with derechos you don’t get any warning. Both tornados and derechos can produce the same amount of damage.
“It was my son’s birthday, and we were out celebrating. Before we left the house, I checked the weather, as I always do. There was a chance of tornadoes and severe weather, but it wasn’t going to hit for a while, and we had plenty of time to celebrate. With each stop I watched the sky, gauging what it looked like and what was coming. I thought we had plenty of time.
The last stop we made was Starbucks. We were in a drive-through that had one way in and one way out. While I was waiting for the three cars in front of me to move, I looked at the radar. There was a bow echo heading towards us and it was moving FAST, but the skies were still clear. I trusted my gut, jumped the curb, and drove home fast.
Twenty minutes later we were home, and it was partly cloudy, and a little darker in the distance. The radar told a different story though. Knowing that anything that wasn’t in the ground would get launched, we rushed to put things away, folded up chairs, flipped over the patio table, tightened the ratchet straps on the trampoline, and made sure our outdoor animals were as safe as they could be.
As we were walking into the house, the temperature dropped quickly. If you’ve never felt that before, it’s like going from summer to fall in about 1 minute flat. Then, like good midwesterners, we sat in front of our picture window, watched, and waited. And this is what we saw….
That is a bow echo. It’s a fast-moving storm system that brings rolling clouds in the shape of a bow, with damaging winds. Normally, when a tornado hits, you’ll have dark skies and be able to see slow rotation in the clouds. If it’s in the distance, you’ll be able to see a wall cloud and maybe a funnel cloud. Usually, as soon as rotation is spotted, either on radar or by a weather spotter, the sirens will sound. Then you’ll know it’s time to take cover.
From calm to chaos
This time, there were no sirens. No rotation. It just showed up.
It was like sprinting down the road and slamming straight into an invisible wall. It went from calm to chaotic in an instant. As the bow echo passed over us, the 140 mph winds ripped trees out of the ground, shingles off of roofs, tore electrical wires clean off of their poles, and sent debris slamming into houses and cars.
Of course, by that time we were safe in our basement, but when we came up, this is what we found…
This storm wasn’t a tornado. It was the derecho that crossed Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana that caused billions of dollars in damage. They called it a land hurricane. The damage from it was worse than any tornado our area has seen. The difference? Derechos/straight-line winds don’t rotate, and you get no warning. No sirens. No head for cover. Same damage.
All of Northern Illinois lost power. In our small town, we were only out for 3 days. Because we are on municipal water, we still had water, could flush our toilets, and used our Berkey filter as normal. But, if we didn’t have alternative cooking sources, home canned food, generators, and gas stores, we would’ve been in rough shape.
The days following the 2020 derecho were filled with cutting apart trees to clear the roads, patching damage to windows, clearing debris out of the yard, and drying out the basement. We had full bellies and prepared meals with minor inconvenience. We had electricity from a generator and could sleep without worrying that all of the food in our freezers was going to go bad. Our kids were comfortable and didn’t have to worry about anything past the experience of that storm.
We were prepared.
Preparing for tornados
If you’re new to tornadoes, let me be the first to tell you that preparing for them doesn’t stop at having a storm shelter. In all honesty, it doesn’t even start with having a storm shelter. It starts with learning how to read the sky. In this case, if I didn’t know how to read the sky, read the radar, and listen to my gut, we would’ve had to ride that out in the car. No, thank you.
If a storm like this does hit your neighborhood, or even your house, the real struggle comes days after it’s gone. Dealing with that devastation is physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting. Having things prepared in at least TWO locations if you can is what helps us get through severe storms.
At our home, we have all the essentials. We have food, water, sanitation supplies, first aid supplies, medications, clothes, closed-toe shoes, helmets, a temporary toilet, comfort items for kids, power banks, light sticks, ratchet straps, and jacks (in case of collapse to free ourselves) and more in our storm shelter area.
During tornado season, in our cars (which pretty much runs March-December in NW Illinois) we carry first aid, food, water, medications, power banks, appropriate clothes for the season, blankets, and if severe weather is even being mentioned, all the gas tanks and gas stores get topped off.
If you have the luxury of a second property or close by family or friends, be sure to stock those locations with supplies too. Because what good is a single house full of preps going to be for you if a tornado rips it all to shreds? Plan B. And C. And D. You need to have them.
Practice, practice, practice
Tornado season is scary. Even scarier for kids. So, we talk about it frequently and review our safety plans AND we practice them. Talking doesn’t do much if they haven’t gone through the motions. Practicing etches it into their little brains. Putting your words into action is how you prepare your kids.
This derecho wasn’t our first storm, and it wasn’t our last. Even after having been through several severe storms and a few very close calls with tornadoes, we still learn something new every time.
Being prepared for tornadic weather isn’t difficult, and doesn’t have to be overwhelming or expensive. Most of what you need is already right inside your home. But, if you want an itemized list of items that could help you be more prepared for dealing with sudden severe weather like tornadoes, straight-line winds, or Derechos click here.”
Serenity Hill Farmstead
I am so grateful for Jen and her willingness to share her experience with a derecho and with preparing for tornados and severe thunderstorms.
To summarize what you can do to prepare for tornados:
1-Learn how to read the sky and read the radars
2-Listen to your gut
3-Have items prepared in different locations. Tornados are often all or nothing. You could lose everything while your neighbor across the street doesn’t lose anything. Having a secondary place for supplies is essential.
4-Create a tornado bag that every member of your house will wear in the event of a tornado.
5-Be prepared for power outages lasting several days. Have alternative cooking sources, a backup generator, and extra fuel.
6-Easy to prepare meals like freeze dried meals or home canned foods.
7-Talk to your family about what to do in the event of a tornado AND practice drills
8-Know what and how to secure outdoor furniture, trampolines, and animals.
9-Be prepared for a lot of clean up afterwards. Having a chainsaw and other power tools will come in handy.