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Be prepared for tornadoes in rural areas

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• Red Cross offers tornado safety tips. • Watch for ominous signs. • Seek shelter as soon as possible.

A tornado just missed us last night. A small twister damaged several houses about two miles away from our Denton, Texas, home. We had plenty of wind, a little hail and heavy rain for an hour or so. The city’s alarm system blared out warnings for much of the evening.

Pat and I had both seen the heart-breaking images from Joplin, Missouri, and we both realized that nothing could prevent the same from happening to our community. We prepared the best we could. Pat put a few blankets and pillows in the downstairs bathroom, the one we share with the cats. She put her purse and my wallet in, as well, and a flashlight.

We stayed glued to the television and listened for any audible changes in the raging storm, realizing that a flimsy brick home would be no match for a storm of the magnitude that hit Joplin on Sunday or those that hammered the Southeast just a few weeks ago.

That’s the thing about tornadoes. You can’t escape them because you can’t be certain where they are going. And you don’t have time to get very far. With hurricanes or floods, folks typically have hours, if not several days, to pack up belongings and head inland or to higher ground. With tornadoes, you seek the most immediate shelter—the downstairs bathroom, in our case.

The frightful night also got me to wondering about my friends out in the country, the ones on remote farms and ranches across the Southwest. Rural areas seldom have the warning systems available to those of us who live in town. And, even if they do, farmers and ranchers are often caught out in the elements, away from anything but the most basic shelter.

And sometimes they get caught in the middle of a field on a tractor or out on rangeland, in pickups or sometimes on horseback—neither option a particularly good one with a tornado bearing down.

With that in mind, I checked the American Red Cross website this morning to see what the best options would be for someone caught outside with dangerous weather approaching. The first task is to be observant. Watch the sky and listen to the wind.

The Red Cross advises folks outside to watch for danger signs such as:

  • Dark, often greenish clouds—a phenomenon caused by hail
  • Wall cloud—an isolated lowering of the base of a thunderstorm
  • A cloud of debris
  • Large hail
  • The dreaded funnel cloud—a visible rotating extension of the cloud base
  • A roaring noise

 

When these signs show up, anyone outside, including farmers trying to get those last few acres planted, should seek shelter immediately. Trying to outrun a tornado, the Red Cross warns, is never a good idea. As stated above, you can’t predict where it’s going or how fast it will move.

If there is no time to get to a basement, shelter or a sturdy building, the Red Crosse advises:

Immediately get into a vehicle, buckle your seat belt and try to drive to the closest sturdy shelter. If flying debris occurs while you are driving, pull over and park. Now you have the following options as a last resort:  

  • Stay in the car with the seat belt on. Put your head down below the windows, covering with your hands and a blanket if possible.
  • If you can safely get noticeably lower than the level of the roadway, exit your car and lie in that area, covering your head with your hands. (A ditch or ravine might be the best bet in the field or rangeland.)

“Your choice should be driven by your specific circumstances,” says the Red Cross.

Now, these are my suggestions. Be aware of the potential for bad weather and stay prepared. Have a contingency plan in place for any field or pasture you might be working. Keep some blankets, a radio, a communication device and a flashlight in all your vehicles.

And, finally, don’t push to get a few more rows planted when the signs are ominous.

Tornado warnings are scary enough in a fairly stable home and with ample warnings from sirens, radio and television. I can’t imagine how much worse it would be to be caught out in the open with just minutes to make a life or death decision.

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