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Severe Weather Safety for Kids

by Kathryn Walsh, studioD

Blizzards, thunderstorms, tornadoes -- no matter where you live, you'll live through severe weather events more often than you'd like. Children are vulnerable to injury and fear during these events and will look to you for information. Keeping them safe sometimes requires quick thinking, but knowing in advance how to handle any situation will help you stay calm and, in turn, keep your children calm too.

Emergency Preparedness

Long before any severe weather hits, your home and car should be stocked with emergency supplies. The Federal Emergency Management Agency recommends filling an emergency kit with the following items: one gallon of water per family member for three days, food for at least three days, a first aid kit, flashlight and batteries, a battery-operated or hand-crank radio and a whistle to call for help. FEMA also recommends adding items like moist towelettes and garbage bags for personal sanitation, dust masks for each family member and a wrench or pliers to turn off utilities. Include a three-day supply of diapers and wipes for any children still using these supplies, along with a stash of any medications required by family members and supplies to care for family pets. Your children will also benefit from having comfort items like blankets and stuffed animals in your emergency kits, and entertainment items like books and coloring supplies will keep them busy. When a major storm is predicted, add to your food, water, diaper and medication supply so you'll be set for at least one week.

Extreme Temperatures

Because their bodies are smaller and less tolerant of extreme temperatures, children are best kept indoors during severe cold or heat. Keeping a copy of the Child Care Wind Chill Chart produced by the Iowa Department of Health handy will help you determine whether conditions are safe enough for children to play outside and if so, for how long. The American Academy of Pediatrics' HealthyChildren.org recommends dressing a young child in one more layer of clothing than you'd need to feel comfortable. On steamy days, slather each child's exposed skin with water-resistant sunscreen for outdoor play, but aim to keep everyone indoors in a cool, dark room as much as possible. Remind children to drink often. If you don't have air conditioning at home and your children are sweating, put them in a cool bath or take them to an air conditioned library or mall until the temperature outside goes down.

Heavy Precipitation

Blizzards, intense thunderstorms and hurricanes dump snow or rain that may knock out your electricity. Unless local officials have recommended you evacuate, keep children inside and away from windows. Tune your radio to a local news station for information about local shelters in case your electricity gets knocked out. Stay off the roads during and after periods of heavy precipitation; if your car gets stuck, keeping children calm and warm will be difficult. During and after snow storms, shovel the areas around steps and other structures so children won't trip and fall over unseen stumbling blocks. If you spot lightning, instruct kids to avoid sinks and showers until the storm passes, per FEMA's advice. When a storm ends, inspect the exterior of your home carefully for fallen power lines before letting children outside. As long as your home isn't flooded or damaged and your heat is operating, the biggest challenge during these storms might be keeping antsy kids occupied.


More than 1,000 tornadoes are recorded in the United States each year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. If local authorities broadcast a tornado warning, you'll have time to grab your emergency kit and get your children and pets to safety; if a tornado strikes suddenly, ditch the emergency kit and hurry everyone to shelter. If you don't have a storm cellar, head to the basement or a first-floor, windowless interior room like a bathroom. Instruct kids to grab shoes on the way to shelter, since debris might make walking dangerous after the storm. Ask children to sit down and be still while you listen to the radio for updates. When the tornado passes and all is quiet, wait until you hear news reports that it's safe to come out of your shelter. Practicing tornado drills will help prepare your children for this situation; try telling them in advance that you'll be doing a drill, but don't tell them when to expect it. If you're in the car, drive to the nearest sturdy building and go inside. When there's no time to get inside a building, park your car out of traffic lanes. If there's a ditch or other dip in the ground nearby, head there and lie down flat, covering your heads with your arms. When there are no ditches nearby, tell children calmly to crouch down low inside the car so they're below the windows and to cover their heads with their arms until the storm passes.

About the Author

Cooking, travel and parenting are three of Kathryn Walsh's passions. She makes chicken nuggets during days nannying, whips up vegetarian feasts at night and road trips on weekends. Her work has appeared to The Syracuse Post-Standard and insider magazine. Walsh received a master's degree in journalism from Syracuse University.

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