June 6, 2017

Severe Weather Readiness: The Step-by-Step Guide

Do you want to prepare for severe weather, but don't know where to start? This step-by-step guide walks you through exactly what to do. Learn what supplies to have on hand to be ready when severe weather strikes. Plus helpful links for specific types of severe weather, including tornado, hurricaine, thunderstorm, and earthquake threats.

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A flood hits.  You grab your go bag, pile into the car, and head for higher ground.

You unzip your bag to find… a box of 5-year-old granola bars, your (expired) passport, and some congealed Neosporin?

This simply won’t do!

Severe weather preparedness is something that most people don’t take seriously enough.

But isn’t there a happy medium between being totally ill-equipped, and stockpiling supplies while wearing your latest foil hat?


The truth is, you can effectively prepare for severe weather without spending tons of money or feeling like a doomsday prepper.

What this post is not about

What I won’t be talking about today is preparing for a large-scale disaster.  As in apocalyptic, The-Walking-Dead-becomes-real-life sort of thing.

It’s not my forte.

I also won’t be discussing rapid exit preparations.  I don’t keep my passport and birth certificate stashed in a backpack in my basement, along with currency for  different countries.  That’s spy stuff.  And my life isn’t even remotely that interesting.

However, as a lifelong Midwesterner, I have been through my fair share of tornado warnings, straight-line winds, and softball-sized hail.

I’ve learned a few things about staying safe at home through year after year of severe weather season.  I want to share those lessons with you today, so you’ll be more prepared the next time severe weather strikes.

Prep school

How (and how much) you equip yourself in anticipation of severe weather depends on a number of factors.

The region where you live, your home, and your family all influence your storm preparations.

Start by thinking about what you’ll need access to while sheltering from severe weather.

  • Communication.  You’ll need to be able to get in touch with the outside world – both to send and receive information.
  • Safety.  You’ll need to be able to administer first aid, take essential medications, and protect yourself and your family from bodily harm.
  • Comfort.  You’ll need to provide yourself with warmth, food, and drink (Probably water, but if I’m being realistic, it’s going to be Diet Coke in my tornado stash).

What will each member of your household require in order to meet the above needs?

Can the items be kept in your storm shelter area?  Or will you have to grab them on the fly?

Finally, what will you do if severe weather strikes when you’re not at home?

Severe weather:  Planning vs. preparing

Dangerous weather conditions are often just a storm system away.

In my opinion, successfully equipping your household for severe weather happens in 2 stages:

  • Planning.  Determine ahead of time how your household will react to severe weather.
  • Preparation.  Gathering necessary supplies and information in advance of severe weather.

Let’s take a closer look at each of those.


If severe weather rears its ugly head, where will you go?

What will you do?

What will you need to grab on your way to shelter?

Do you want to answer these questions as the tornado (Or hurricane, earthquake, snowstorm, flood, etc) warnings are sounding?

No, right?

Then you need a severe weather plan!

A plan provides clarity and relative calm in the midst of a dangerous situation.  You’ve already done the thinking and discussing ahead of time.  Those all-important questions above are already answered.  All you have to do is act on your plan.

A plan provides clarity and relative calm in the midst of a dangerous situation.

So what exactly do you need to plan for?


How will each member of your household get to shelter safely?

Do you have children, babies, or pets who will need to be relocated by an adult?

Are there members of your household who are mobility-impaired and will need help getting out of harm’s way?

At my house, part of the severe weather plan includes getting our 3 cats to safety.  If there is a tornado watch, for example, we bring their pet carriers out of storage.  If the watch becomes a warning, I am responsible for crating our 2 female cats and getting them to our basement.  Likewise, my spouse is responsible for crating and transporting our male cat.

That little bit of planning saves precious minutes and seconds, because we’ve already determined who will do what.  It doesn’t require any discussion.  We just act.

The great thing is, this really doesn’t require hours of detailed planning.  All it usually takes is a quick discussion, or an informal severe weather planning meeting.

Be sure to cover these issues during your discussion:

  • Figure out how each member of your household will relocate to safety
  • Determine what, if any, assistance they will need (Assistance with mobility, crating/leashing animals, car seats for infants, etc)
  • Decide who will provide assistance

If needed, jot down notes on who will do what.  Keep the notes in your kitchen, so they’ll be easy to access if needed.


What items will you need that you can’t (Or don’t want to) pre-pack if you need to take shelter from a storm?

Think in terms of having to spend several hours in your designated safety area.

Here are some ideas of things to have at the ready.  Create a checklist and keep it in your kitchen to refer to if needed.  You can even assign each family member specific things to grab:

  • Purse or wallet
  • Cell phone
  • Important documents (Keep them in a folder or container in a fireproof safe)
  • Medications
  • Snacks and bottled water
  • Pet carriers
  • Pet food
  • Food and water bowls for pets
  • Personal care items (I take body wash, shampoo, conditioner, etc from hotels, and keep it in little baggies w/ antiperspirant, toothpaste, and a toothbrush for when I travel; this same little baggie will come along with me in the event my area is evacuated or my home uninhabitable)
  • Blankets/sleeping bags (Keep a blanket in your car trunk, too)

Depending on where you plan to seek shelter during severe weather, and how long it’s expected to last, you may not necessarily need (Or have room for) everything on the list above.

As a Midwesterner, the most prominent weather threat in my area is a tornado.  That means if severe weather hits, I’ll probably be stuck in my basement.

My basement is where I store my sleeping bags, extra beverages, and some other supplies.  So actually, my severe weather preparation is already about halfway done!

Before you fully assess what you’ll need to grab on your way to shelter, think about where you’ll be heading.


The location of your storm shelter depends on many factors:

  • Where you’re at when a weather emergency hits
  • The type of severe weather you’re facing
  • The shelter options available

A great resource I’ve found is Department of Homeland Security’s ready.gov website.  The severe weather section of ready.gov tells you exactly where to take shelter from every type of severe weather imaginable.  I recommend taking a look at the information on each type of severe weather that could impact you.

Finalize your plan

Once you’ve determined where you’ll take shelter, do a couple of things.

  • Let everyone in your household know exactly where to take shelter
  • Determine which supplies (If any) are already in your shelter area
  • Decide which supplies will need to be brought to your shelter during an emergency
  • Assign each person items to bring

Make sense?  Here’s an example.

Let’s say you don’t have a basement.  First of all, what on earth do you do for storage?!  Second, you’ll probably end up sheltering from, say, a severe thunderstorm, in an interior bathroom with no windows.

Your medications and toiletries are probably already in the bathroom.  You may just need to grab your purse and get your child into the bathroom.  Your spouse, on the other hand, may bring your dog and grab pillows and blankets.

I’m guessing you’re not going to be sitting around reciting your list of supplies to bring to the severe weather party (Me neither).

Instead, write down who is responsible for bringing what, and keep it in your kitchen.

This may seem silly, but believe me.  The less you have to think about in a tense situation, the better.

When an emergency hits, just take a quick look at your list.  Then grab what you need, and head to your shelter.


Okay, so we’ve talked about planning.  As I stated above, preparation is the second part of the equation.

Remember that preparation means gathering necessary supplies and information in advance of severe weather.

My favorite way to prepare is with a severe weather stash bag.

A severe weather stash bag assembled ahead of time.  Ideally, it’s left in your shelter area.  As a result, it’s there waiting for you when dangerous conditions strike.

The idea behind a stash bag is to pre-stock your shelter area with items you’ll need during a weather emergency, but that you won’t necessarily need access too in everyday life.

In other words, stuff that you won’t miss if it hangs out in a backpack in your basement or under your sink.

Think about things that:

  • Aren’t perishable
  • You can get more than one of (Or you have more than one of)
  • You’ll probably need while in your shelter
  • Can fit inside a backpack

A large, weather-proof backpack is best.  But, a regular old backpack works just fine, also.  As long as the bag can be zipped closed, you should be fine.

Things to keep in your severe weather stash:

  • Lighter
  • Extra phone chargers
  • Cash
  • Spare keys for your car and house
  • Multitool containing pliers, Phillips/flathead screwdrivers, and can opener
  • Contact info for financial institutions and insurance carriers, family and friends, and healthcare providers
  • A list of medications and conditions for each person and pet
  • Collapsible food and water bowls for pets
  • First-aid kit
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • Hand-crank weather radio (One with a USB port is amazing, you can charge your phone) – DOUBLE-CHECK THIS
  • Flashlights
  • Batteries
  • Wet wipes
  • Whistle

Dress the part

Though they probably won’t fit inside your stash backpack, clothing is another important thing to have on hand.

I can’t tell you how many times I have frantically searched for warm clothes and shoes, with tornado sirens blaring in the background, before heading down to my basement for shelter.

Not fun.

Simple solution:  Keep storm clothes for each person in your shelter location.  Long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and closed-toe shoes.

Keep storm clothes in your shelter location.  Include a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, and closed-toe shoes for each person.

Oh, and socks, if you’re like me and can’t do shoes without socks.  Seriously.  I just can’t.

Also, you don’t have to go out and buy this stuff.  At all.

You know that set of sweats you are planning to give to goodwill?  Those will work!

Those running shoes you just replaced?  Toss that old pair in your severe weather stash!

Do the same for each member of your household.  That way, when a storm hits, you won’t have to worry about finding safer clothing before taking shelter.  Your clothes will meet you there.

Wrap it up

We talked today about:

  • Providing for communication, safety, and comfort while sheltering from a storm
  • Planning how your household will react during a weather emergency
  • Preparing supplies in a stash bag for when severe weather strikes
  • Creating a list of who does what, and where to go for shelter, during a storm – keep the list in your kitchen to refer to when needed

Severe weather readiness is often overlooked, but it is critically important.  During an emergency, don’t always have time to think.  By planning and preparing in advance, you can skip the thinking and get right to the doing when a storm hits.  Those few seconds saved could make a lifetime’s worth of difference.

Want more information about severe weather readiness?  Visit ready.gov’s severe weather site for tons of helpful info on every type of severe weather.

Have you ever endured a weather emergency?  Were you prepared for it?  Let me know in the comments below!

ShowMe Suburban | Severe Weather Readiness: A Step-by-Step Guide


Do you want to prepare for severe weather, but don't know where to start? This step-by-step guide walks you through exactly what to do.  Learn what supplies to have on hand to be ready when severe weather strikes.  Plus helpful links for specific types of severe weather, including tornado, hurricaine, thunderstorm, and earthquake threats.

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