Our Little House in Tornado Alley

Last week, I posted that spring has finally sprung at our house.

This week, it is summer. We already have had to turn on the air conditioning.

The heat may bring more of a chance of severe weather. Last week was a particularly deadly week in the Ozarks. As we now know, on Sunday a rare, monster EF5 struck Joplin, Missouri. By Tuesday, 14 others had died in tornado outbreaks in Kansas, Oklahoma and in Arkansas to the southwest of us.

A few times, I saw people posting on Facebook, “I’ll take hurricanes over tornadoes any day, at least with hurricanes, we get notice.”

I was reminded of a conversation my mother always had with her cousins who lived in California. They would inevitably ask, “How can you stand living here with the threat of tornadoes?” and she would respond, “How can you stand living out there with all of those earthquakes?”

As a life-long resident of “Tornado Alley,” who spent my early years in a little bungalow that sported a tree in the front yard with an oddly twisted trunk, I guess it’s all a matter of perspective and a matter of how you prepare.

The twisted tree at the little bungalow was damaged when it wasn’t very old. Even after a twister disfigured the trunk, my mother didn’t want to get rid of the tree, as by that time, it was beginning to provide much needed shade to help cool the house. As the years passed, it also gave my mother plenty of opportunity to tell everyone about the night my dad continued to snooze in his favorite chair, even as the tornado mangled the tree, which was not more than 10 yards outside of the house.

My mother returned from taking cover with my three older siblings and Dad was still snoring. His also being a native of Tornado Alley could have worked tragically against him, as it does for many who don’t heed the warnings.

Running up to my Godparent’s house as the storm sirens blew was a common occurrence when I was a child. They had a full basement and we did not. Besides, it gave our mothers an excuse for an extra coffee klatch. If the storms were threatening us throughout the night, my mother and I would sometimes spend the night up there.

When Dale and I bought our first home in Kansas, a basement was a necessity. When we built Our Little House, I guess we weren’t thinking of it being a permanent residence, so it only has a crawl space.

However, when our mountain was hit with a small tornado that took out most of my aunt’s trees and some of ours, we realized we had violated the first rule of living in such an area. That point was further driven home that first winter here when a January tornado destroyed much of a town about 15 miles away.

That year, when we built The Belle Writer’s Studio, I insisted on putting in a reinforced storm shelter.

Last Sunday, as we watched on radar the deadly storm that produced the F5 in Joplin turn south, I put on my shoes, put the dog’s harnesses on them and made sure their leashes were within reach.

By the time it reached us, the storm had lost its punch, thank goodness, but we were prepared and we stayed prepared throughout the many severe weather alerts throughout most of last week.

Just as it is with living in a zone prone to earthquakes, hurricanes, nor’easters or even terrorism, the key is preparedness and heeding the warnings when we get them.

What is the biggest threat in your part of the country? What do you do to prepare?

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34 Responses

  1. Merr says:

    So Cal is known for earthquakes and wildfires, the season of which is approaching. All natural disasters are so intense, and you’re so right, that each part of the country withstands its own.

    • Kerri says:

      Wildfires can be scary as well, Merr. We have the threat of those as well as we’re surrounded by thousands of acres of forest.

  2. Hi Kerri, it’s been a while since I’ve visited your little house. I wound up here via another blog. Anyway, we don’t have much weather to speak of here in Arizona. When we get the monsoons, that can do damage sometimes, but I’ve not experienced much. I suspect it’s not much different than when you get a heavy rainstorm. If you’re on the road, you might want to pull over. You hope a tree doesn’t get knocked down on the house. But there’s not much we have to do to prepare for a monsoon. They come and go quickly. I’m certainly glad we don’t really have tornadoes and no hurricanes. We can get some side effects of California earthquakes but nothing sinister. It makes me glad to live here, that’s for sure.

    • Kerri says:

      Welcome back, Jackie! I wondered what had happened to you! Arizona might just be the one perfect place!? 🙂

  3. Jane Boursaw says:

    We generally don’t have to worry about tornadoes here in northern Michigan, but sure enough, one ripped through here a few days ago and snapped off a tree that narrowly missed our truck by about a foot. But mostly we just deal with snow, snow and more snow in the winter. I don’t mind it, though. Makes for good x-country skiing and cozy nights in our log cabin.

  4. Growing up I still remember taking my goldfish with me down to the basement so that they were safe. Where we live now tornadoes and blizzards. I have three 72-hour kits packed in camping backpacks ready to go for our family (of course, I made them years ago and haven’t updated them, none of my kids would need a diaper now). I know you can’t prevent disasters but being prepared sure helps me have at least a little peace of mind. Last week I was in the basement with my kids twice because of tornado watches in our area.

  5. Olivia says:

    Our biggest threats are nor’easters, blizzards and hurricanes. The nor’easters, in addition to the winds, often bring huge storm surges, especially during high tide – and, if there is a full moon or worse, an eclipse, as there was last winter, it’s particularly damaging. Our little island is slowly eroding into the ocean. Even lighthouses were washed away last winter. Blizzards often cause power failures – we always keep extra water on hand and I fill up the bathtub for flushing the toilet – plus candles, flashlights, batteries for the radio and, of course, the woodstove for heat. Hurricanes – well, we all know the damage they cause. There is no completely safe place on earth. If there were, there wouldn’t even be standing room!

    • Kerri says:

      LOL, Olivia, you’re right about the standing room! We do have ice storms here as well. Gives me shivers just thinking about it.

  6. Kerry says:

    hurricanes and floods have ben most of my weather experience, and on my travels, a few blizards as well. wondering — in your storm cellars, do you keep food and supllies? what do you atock up on, if so?

    • Kerri says:

      We should at least keep water and an emergency first aid kit, Kerry, but we haven’t put it together yet. This is definitely something we need to do. Tornado warnings are typically not an all day or all night event, but rather 1-2 hours at the most, so we wouldn’t need food, necessarily.

      • Kerry Dexter says:

        I’ve been in situations with both flood and hurricane where after one struck, we had either or all : no power, no water, no way to get around, no way to cook — and each of those for a week or more. so the storm itself was done, but the aftermath needed supplies…

        • Kerri says:

          We had a horrible ice storm here in the winter of 2009 and we bought generators then. That is a good point with the electricity going out.

  7. There was a tornado yesterday where my mom lives. Very unexpected.

    The best preparedness article I’ve read is from Frugal Kiwi:


    We haven’t made an emergency kit but this post, Kerry, is a good reminder that we need to!

  8. I think having a basement/safe place to go is crucial. We now live with the threat of hurricanes and I know our home isn’t hurricane safe. We’d need to head to the nearest shelter if it looked like the hurricane was going to actually make land.

    • Kerri says:

      Kris, This goes back to my argument that we need stricter building codes in all parts of the U.S., helping residents prepare for weather that is common in each area.

  9. I’ve lived most of my life in Tornado Alley. It kills me to think that, when I was a kid, our family religiously followed the then-wisdom of opening a window so your house wouldn’t explode with a huge pressure change. Now it’s all been debunked, of course.

    • Kerri says:

      Oh, yes, Ruth, you reminded me of that! Before running up the street to the safety of my Godparent’s basement, we had to open the windows a crack (was it on the south side?) so the house wouldn’t explode!

  10. sarah henry says:

    I get the earthquake thing a lot, since I’m in CA. But when I go back home to Sydney my kid inevitably gets bitten or stung by some critter there on his first couple of days (no one forgets their first blue bottle sting in the surf, that’s for sure.)

    Safety is an illusion, danger lurks everywhere, what can you do, other than take precautions, be prepared, and then live your life?

  11. I live in Buffalo where we always say I’ll take a blizzard over a tornado/hurricane/earthquake any day. I’m glad you have a safe place to go and that the recent flurry of storms hasn’t affected you.

  12. Sheryl says:

    I can’t remember a time when there was so much destruction and death from so many tornadoes in such a short period of time. It must be very scary living with that threat. Seeing the destruction on tv made me think of an earthquake. Thankfully tornadoes are rare here in Connecticut, although the ice damage people suffered this winter was no picnic!

  13. Our home is earth contact and also has a reinforced concrete tornado shelter, built in. Those were major selling points for us, when we made the decision to move here last fall, as we are located right smack in tornado country. So far this spring though,storms have blown all around us but not actually hit our neck of the woods. In fact last week,a tornado hit Sedalia Missouri, to the east of us, and another one touched down in Louisburg, Kansas to our west, while the sun shone down on us, birds chirped and a soft breeze barely ruffled tree leaves.

    However, I’ve lived in this part of the country long enough to know that there is always a next time with tornadoes, and you can never be sure when it might be your turn to get the big hit. My grandparents’ home in north Missouri was over a hundred years old and had weathered many storms, when a tornado blew through and demolished it, along with two barns built with my grandfather’s own hands and solid as rock.

    My grandparents were long gone by that time, but my spinster aunt had continued living there and maintaining the property. Thankfully, she was not there when the storm hit, but she was devastated by the loss of the family home.Everything she owned was destroyed or scattered across five hundred acres of farmland. She recovered only a few mementos from the many years her family lived in that house.

    We don’t have tornado sirens out here where we live, so have to rely on TV and radio for warnings and advice as to when to take cover. I take those warnings seriously, and though I hope we never have to learn first hand just how solid our storm shelter is, I’m sure glad it’s there if we need it!

    • Kerri says:

      I might also suggest that you purchase a weather alert radio that has a programmable alarm on it, Kathleen. You can program it to go off only when there is a warning in your county. Ours about drove us bonkers last week, as it was going off continuously, it seemed, but I’m very glad we have it. They’re about $30 at places like Radio Shack.

      • Yes, David bought one of those but I admit that I unplugged the darn thing because it was driving me crazy! It was going off constantly! I guess it kind of defeats the purpose if you don’t have it plugged in! However, we fortunately kept our power during the storms that blew through here, so were able to get weather info from TV. We also have a generator in case we do ever lose power, and small battery powered T.V. and radio that we can take into our tornado shelter with us, if things get really bad. I also always put the cats in a carrier when there are warnings or tornado watches, so I’m not trying to wrangle them at the last minute, when need to take cover arises.

        • Kerri says:

          Ours was driving us nuts too, Kathy, until we figured out how to program it only for our area. That calmed it down quite a bit. 🙂

  14. Alexandra says:

    Wow! I was right there with you, as a little girl, ready to take cover. Thanks for sharing. We have hurricanes on Cape Cod. We are due. This house has always withstood the winds, but who knows what might happen with global warming? When we built a studio, the building inspector made us put hurricane clips to hold down the roof.

    • kerri says:

      One thing I didn’t mention, Alexandra, is that there are no “codes” in Tornado Alley that makes people have to put in storm shelters or basements, not even for schools. That makes no sense to me. My sister in law, who is a Kindergarten teacher, has to have her children huddle under a long table, which is pushed up against an inside wall – in a room full of windows! They were in a warning just last week with a tornado less than 10 miles away! They have codes in earthquake prone areas and in hurricane prone areas. It seems to me they should have them here too.

  15. kerri says:

    There’s some maps that exclude Arkansas from that alley, Kim, but having seen the destruction one caused to our property in 2004 and what another tornado did to Gassville in early 2008, I think we’re just as prone as Missouri and Kansas. It is very surreal seeing that kind of destruction. I covered tornado damage in Kansas as a reporter and it is very sad. I was really glad I didn’t take a gig with The Disaster News Network this year. I know they would have had me covering Joplin and the images on television were enough to make me cry.

  16. Kim says:

    I never thought of the Ozarks as Tornado Alley. The plains of Missouri north of us, yes, and the I-40 alley leading from OK to Little Rock, definitely; but I’d never been much concerned about tornadoes here until we moved back from Florida and had children.

    When Quinton was three months old, he had surgery at Children’s in Little Rock to correct a kidney defect; that night, a huge tornado hit Clinton and carved a swath north out of the mountains from there all the way up to Mountain View. One of the longest-lasting tornadoes on record. We drove through the debris field in Clinton on the way home the next day. I’ll never forget watching people picking things out of their wrecked homes as we drove past.

    I pay a lot more attention to tornado activity now– and I’m very thankful to have a basement!