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Parents' Guide to Summer Storms: Be Ready for high winds, hail, tornadoes, and lightning

Late summer in the midwest can mean high temps and high humidity, and those are the perfect conditions for some intense storms! While we can't control nature, there are some things we can do to help keep our families safe in a storm. I got to chat a bit with Ashley Ware, an insurance expert with 17 years of experience, who is now the CFO of  $ Aware, a claims consulting business in the Kansas City metro area. She's also a proud mother of 3, and Ashley and her husband have spent many storms in the basement with their own kids. Based on her advice and some other tips from around the web, here's how parents can plan for those thunderstorms that tend to come with high winds, and sometimes hail and even tornadic activity:

Stay informed

Watch for storm predictions from local weather. While many storms fizzle out or aren't a big deal, keep an eye for the ones that look like they are likely to be big problems so you aren't caught by surprise. Some of the best resources for weather in the Siouxland area include:

Make a Plan

It can be really tough to think clearly when sirens are sounding and adrenaline is pumping! Take a few minutes on a calm day to plan out
The federal government has some helpful forms free on their website that can be a great place to start, and so do the Be Ready websites for each state in the list above.

Ashley also recommends taking photo or video of your property, especially any expensive or unique items or features, so that you have clear documentation of what has changed or been damaged in a storm or other disaster. 
And she recommends checking your policy to see what your deductible is for wind and hail damage, as it can vary--some policies have a $ deductible, while others charge a % of the amount your home is insured for. Some policies may also pay for a hotel room or alternate shelter if your home is rendered unusable by a storm or other disaster--look for it in your policy as "loss of use."

Prepare your property

Before a storm comes, try to keep trees trimmed away from your home and dead or dying limbs removed promptly to minimize risk when the storm hits.

When a big storm is forecast, get your home ready by parking cars and other vehicles in a garage or under a structure if possible, and bring in or secure as many outdoor toys as you can.

Prepare your shelter

The best place to shelter in a high wind storm is a basement, or a windowless room on the interior of a main floor if there is not a basement. 

If your basement is already finished, then you are in good shape already! Just make a space in the basement for your storm kit!

If your basement is unfinished, make sure there is a safe and clean place to sit with kids. We used to have a futon we kept in our unfinished basement in our previous home just for that purpose; a playpen, play tent, inflatable baby pool, a little rug or even carpet squares can be good solutions too, depending on your space and the ages of your kids.

If you are sheltering in an main floor room, clear it of hazards and have space in it for the storm kit at least during the time that it's actually happening! For example, if this is a bathroom, make sure any cleaning chemicals, shaving supplies, medications, etc. are up out of kids reach or in a box or bin that they can't open, and consider bringing in extra towels to make the tub a cozy play place.

And don't forget about pets! Make sure your planning involves making a safe space for them if possible!

Gather your gear

Experts recommend having the following on hand before a big storm. The list may not apply perfectly to your family, but is a good starting point to adjust from. And it can seem like a big list, but remember that you don't have to get it all at once. Add just one item to your cart each time you grocery shop and it will add up over time without being a huge financial burden:

  • 3 days of water in bottles or jugs for each household member and each pet
  • 3 days of shelf stable food like peanut butter crackers, canned fruit, graham crackers, summer sausage, etc. Make sure to include all supplies necessary for feeding babies & infants too, like formula, bottled water, etc. if your child uses them. If you have samples of bottles and formula from the mail that you didn't ask for and don't think you'll ever use, your emergency kit can be a good place for a small amount of that!
  • 3 day supply of medications for anyone in your household, somewhere easy to grab
  • Weather radio, TV, cell phone, and/or other means of receiving weather information and communicating with others. Charge up anything you can ahead of a storm!
  • A light source such as flashlights, lanterns, or candles (but be careful with actual fire of course!)
  • A first aid kit with basic supplies
  • Sturdy shoes--Ashley says this is one of the most forgotten items when the sirens go off, and they can be essential for safety if there is rubble to navigate after the storm.
  • Some cash, in case you need groceries, gas for cars etc if roads are clear and safe but powerlines and internet are down, making card purchases impossible.
  • Diapering supplies for any members of your household who need them (include hand sanitizer!)

Make it fun

This is obviously the least essential step, so skip it if there's not time, but can make a big difference with little kids. And to be honest, most of us in the Midwest have had a lot more days where we sat out a storm in our basement for a few hours than we have had days where we actually experienced extensive property damage. Plus, keeping kids calm and busy makes it easier for the adults to pay attention and then do necessary cleanup! So here are some things you can do to make it more fun:
  • Keep some new (or infrequently played with) toys in your storm shelter area that will have novelty factor to them! Keep them in a storage tub or bag and bring them out only in storms. Light up toys are especially fun for this!
  • Let it Glow! If your kids are old enough to safely wear glowsticks, those are another great item to have in your storm kit. They're fun, but also, can help increase each person's visibility if the worst were to happen and someone is doing a rescue of your family when you're not able to tell them how many kids you have and where they are.
  • If screentime is part of your parenting toolkit, charge devices beforehand and download some faves. If the power is out, but all the tablets are fully charged, kids can be kept busy and calm during the scary parts of a storm!
  • Have some favorite stuffed animals hang out in your shelter. They can even go down ahead of the rest of the family, and that can be a great time to talk about what the people in your family will do if/when the sirens go off later in the day!

Storms can be scary, especially for kids, but we hope these tips help your family prepare and feel as calm and confident as you can going into the next big Midwest summer storm!


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