12 Tips for Severe Weather Preparedness

Do you know how to prepare for a thunderstorm? If you can’t answer “yes” to that question, it’s time learn about severe weather preparedness.

Knowing how to prepare for a thunderstorm is especially important if you live on a farm or homestead. Storms and severe weather can strike with little or no warning, as it did on our own homestead recently. Getting ready and knowing what to do when extreme weather strikes could save lives, save your animals, and minimize damage to your homestead.

Severe Weather Preparedness on Our Homestead

On March 28, 2021, severe storms roared through Middle Tennessee, dropping anywhere from 5″ to 8.5″ or more of rain. High winds, frequent lightening, hail, and almost constant downpours lasted 24 hours. At the end of the onslaught, the storms caused 4 deaths and floods destroyed countless homes and businesses.

Here on our homestead, we got 7.75″ of rain in 24 hours. Tornadoes came within a mile of us. And our creek reached epic levels of flooding.

Thankfully, we take severe weather preparedness pretty seriously. We had the tools and supplies to withstand long periods without electricity, plenty of freeze dried meals for easy meal prep, and multiple ways to filter water if we lost fresh water (which we did). We secured our animals and prepared our yard for heavy rains and high winds.

Extreme weather events are becoming more common thanks, in large part, to climate change. Which means you should start taking steps to prepare your own farm or homestead for severe storms, no matter where you live. This is especially important in spring, when severe thunderstorms crop up around the country, and in summer, when hurricanes are an added threat to many.

Severe Weather Preparedness Tips: Start Early

Our creek flooding after severe storms.

Sometimes, severe weather can strike with very little warning. However, much of the time we have at least a 6 or 12 hour notice that severe weather is on its way. That’s enough time to take many of the steps below to prepare your farm or homestead for bad weather.

1. Know Where to Go

One of the most important aspects of severe weather preparedness is that you and your family should know where to go in your home when a tornado or hurricane is imminent.

If you’re lucky enough to have a storm shelter, gather your brood and get in there. If you don’t have a storm shelter, you and your family should gather in an interior room or windowless area on the lowest level of your home. Choose an interior room that puts as many walls between you and the outside of your home as possible. Use blankets or pillows to cover your head and protect yourself from flying debris.

2. Know How to Spot a Tornado

According to the Nashville Office of Emergency Management, it can help to know how to spot a tornado. Why? Because it’s not always obvious that a tornado is immenent. Sometimes, even the weather forecasters don’t know one is about to strike.

  • Watch the clouds. Look for strong, persistent rotation.
  • Look for whirling debris or dust under the cloud.
  • Watch for hail (a bad sign) or heavy rain followed by a dead calm or intense wind shift. Some tornadoes are impossible to see because they’re wrapped in heavy rain.
  • Listen for a loud roar or rumble that doesn’t fade like thunder does.
  • At night, watch for small, bright, white or blue flashes of light at ground level near thunderstorms. These could be electrical poles snapping from a tornado.
  • At night, watch through lightening flashes to see if the cloud base is persistently lowering.
  • Tornadoes are most likely to occur from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m., but they can happen anytime.
  • The average tornado moves southwest to northeast, but they have been known to move in any direction.

3. Trim Branches Away From Buildings

One of the best ways to protect your home, barn, and other outbuildings from severe weather is to trim overhanging tree limbs long before a storm strikes. During high winds, these limbs can break and tear into your home’s siding or even break a window.

Trimming branches is a good severe weather preparedness chore to do in early spring, before storms become a threat.

4. Secure Fences for Severe Weather Preparedness

When you know a severe storm is on its way, lock and secure all your fence gates. High winds can sometimes blow gates open, especially those that are secured loosely with just a chain and nail.

It’s also a good idea to walk your fence line in early spring to make sure every foot of fencing is strong. If your fence runs through trees, look for any dead or dying branches or trees that could fall on your fence during high winds and bring it down. Trim these branches and trees before they cause trouble in a storm.

5. Secure Livestock

Make sure your animals are safe in a shelter before a storm hits, or they have the ability to take shelter in their current pasture. While this might not be possible with a large herd of cattle, smaller animals like rabbits, goats, and pigs can still go into a barn or makeshift pen that will keep them safe from flying debris. If you let your chickens free range, they’ll likely find a decent shelter somewhere in the yard if they don’t head back into the coop when the storm starts.

Check your animals’ pens, including the chicken coop, for any loose items that high winds could turn into a missile. Remove these items or tie them down securely.

However, be careful in areas prone to flooding. Animals locked in a pen or inside a barn can drown if a nearby creek or river floods. If there is a risk of flooding in your area, it might be better to move livestock to a pasture with a hill and a stand of trees they can use as shelter from the wind. Make sure all livestock is marked or tagged so neighbors can identify and return them if they get lost.

6. Stock Up On Extra Feed

Imagine that severe storms have swept through your area. Many of the roads are impassible due to floodwaters, and you only have enough feed to get your livestock through the next couple of days. Even if you could make it to your local co-op or feed store, there’s a good chance the feed has been cleared out already by other farmers. And because of the flooded roads, it could be a week or two before the damage is cleaned up enough for a supply truck to deliver more feed.

No farmer or homesteader wants to find themselves in this situation. Part of severe weather preparedness means always having at least a week’s worth of feed (and ideally two weeks or more) on-hand. You should also have a way for your animals to get clean water if you don’t have a natural water source on your property and your water is shut off. This could mean investing in several water storage tanks, like these 550 gallon tanks from Tractor Supply.

If you store feed or hay your homestead, make sure that it’s high enough to stay dry and protected from rising floodwaters.

7. Secure Outdoor Objects

When a storm is on its way, get your entire family involved in securing objects in your yard. These objects can easily break a window or injure an animal in high winds. When preparing for a thunderstorm, make sure you pick up the following items:

  • Outdoor tables and chairs
  • Toys
  • Boots at the back door
  • Garden tools
  • Potted plants, hanging plants, and container gardens
  • Garbage cans
  • Gas cans
  • Lawn ornaments
  • Bird feeders

When possible, tie down large items like grills, benches, and troughs with chains or sturdy rope to prevent them from becoming dangerous projectiles. If you store pesticides or other chemicals on your farm, make sure these containers are tied down and stored away from rising floodwaters.

Move large equipment like trailers to higher ground and as far from your home or barn as possible. This will help protect your family and livestock if winds are high enough to pick it up.

8. Check Generators

If you have a generator to power your home, your barn, or your livestock’s water pump, make sure you check it well before the storm hits to ensure it’s in good working order. Stock up on extra gas so you have enough to keep the generator running for several days.

9. Make Ice

If you don’t have a generator to power your home’s refrigerator, make extra ice while the power is still on (or go buy a bag). Put this ice extra ice in open bowls to keep your refrigerator cool if the power goes out. You can also fill clean, empty milk jugs with water and freeze it to help keep things cool. Just make sure you leave room in the container for the water to expand as it freezes.

Next, dial up the cold setting on the refrigetor before severe weather sets in. This will lower the refrigetor’s temperature so that it stays cold longer if you lose power.

10. Stock Up on Food for Severe Weather Preparedness

If your family was unable to get to the store, how long could you get by with the food you have stored at home?

We all experienced the scary reality of empty grocery store shelves when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. And thanks to that, many people now keep a well-stocked food pantry. However, is yours enough to get your family through a long-term weather emergency?

FEMA recommends that you have at least a two week supply of food and water for each person in your household. And if you have a farm or homestead, chances are you have that already. However, it’s still a good idea to go through your pantry each season and take inventory. This can help you see what foods you have, what needs to be eaten before it expires, and what you need to stock up on.

Best Shelf-Stable Foods

Some shelf-stable foods you should always keep on hand are:

  • Peanut butter
  • Jelly and jam
  • Ready to eat cereal and oatmeal
  • Granola bars
  • Canned beans
  • Canned vegetables, especially canned tomatoes and tomatoe paste
  • Pickled vegetables
  • Canned and dried fruit
  • Instant rice
  • Instant potatoes
  • Dried pasta
  • Beef, chicken, and vegetable boullion
  • Dried beans, lentils, and legumes
  • Rice
  • Canned meat like tuna, salmon, and chicken
  • Dried grains like barley and quinoa
  • Instant coffee
  • Ramen or other instant noodles (we love Sapporo Ichiban)
  • Beef and turkey jerkey
  • Sweeteners like honey, maple syrup, molasses, and agave syrup
  • Cooking oils like olive oil, coconut oil, and vegetable oil
  • Hot drinks and mixes like tea and hot cocoa
  • Powdered milk (we love Augusan Farms powdered milk)
  • Popcorn
  • Chocolate and candy
  • Powdered pudding and Jello

The Importance of Food Variety

I keep a well-stocked food pantry on our homestead. I also have a supply of Auguson Farms dehydrated foods, several bins of vacuum sealed buckets of staples like beans, rice, and cornmeal, as well as several bins of Mountain House freeze dried ready to eat meals.

No, I’m not a hardcore prepper, and yes, I know we have a lot of emergency food. For many, keeping plenty of food on-hand is an important part of our severe weather preparedness. But there is a good reason why we have so much variety.

Here’s why. Some of these foods work better at the start of an emergency, when you’re panicked and don’t know what to do or what the heck is going on. Other foods are better suited for later in an emergency when you’re starting to figure out how to navigate life without electricity.

For example, the Mountain House meals or ramen noodles only need boiling water, so they are useful to eat at the beginning of an emergency when you’re scared or exhausted from the event itself. The Augusan Farms foods are ingredients you use in cooking a meal, and they work great in soups, casseroles, or as vegetable sides. They re-hydrate and cook fairly quickly, so it’s easy to use them to with a can of beans to throw a quick meal together. Dried beans and rice require longer cooking times, and are better used once you’ve gotten back up on your feet and have a reliable non-electric cooking source (like an outdoor fire, a wood stove, a propane stove, or a solar oven).

11. Stock Up on Emergency Supplies for Severe Weather Preparedness

In our home, I keep our emergency supplies on a closet shelf within easy reach. I have a NOAA handcrank radio, flashlights, extra batteries, a comprehensive first aid kit, as well as several solar lanterns. All these items are in one spot, which means I don’t have to search the house for them when severe storms roll through.

Make sure that you have a basic emergency supply kit in your home, and that it’s all in one bag or bin in case you need to grab it and get out. According to Ready.gov, you should have the following items in an emergency kit at all times:

  • Water, at least one gallon per person per day
  • Non-perishable food, at least a three-day supply per person
  • Battery-powered or handcrank radio with NOAA weather radio
  • Flashlight
  • First aid kit
  • Infant items, including extra diapers, infant formula, diaper rash cream, and wet wipes
  • Extra batteries
  • Whistle
  • Dust masks and KN95 masks (to limit the spread of COVID-19 in the event you have to take shelter with others)
  • Plastic sheeting and duct tape
  • Items for sanitation, including moist towelettes and garbage bags
  • Pliers or a wrench to turn off utilities
  • Manual can opener
  • Local maps
  • Cell phone with battery or solar backup charger
  • A solar oven (a valuable way to cook a hot meal and also helps you save electricity on your homestead)

Invest In Helmets for Severe Weather Preparedness

It’s also a good idea to keep helmets for each person in your family in or near your emergency kit. If a tornado hits your home, a helmet could save their lives. Bike helmets, hockey helmets, or football helmets all work fine. Make sure each helmet has a working strap so high winds can’t pull it off.

I found some great helmets for our boys at our local Goodwill for $3. To save money, check your own local thrift stores, used sports supply stores, or scour Craigslist or eBay for deals on used helmets.

12. Secure Young Livestock

Many severe storms roar through in spring and early summer, during birthing season.

If animals on your homestead are close to giving birth, keep a close eye on them. The stress from severe weather can cause some animals to go into labor, so you’ll want to be ready to assist if need be, and move young animals to a secure location out of heavy wind and rain. Make sure you have a safe area in mind before the weather moves in.

Last Word

Spending time on severe weather preparedness is the best way to minimize damage to your homestead or livestock. Keeping your farm weather-ready takes time, but it could save you a significant amount of money and heartache if a storm strikes with little or no warning.

If you’re homesteading with kids, get them involved in storm preparation. Older kids can help move or secure livestock and check fencing and gates, while younger kids could be sent to collect eggs or pick up toys in the yard.

Right now in Tennessee, we’re only just starting the spring severe weather season. And if that recent storm is a teaser of what’s to come, we’ll need to stay on top of our severe weather preparedness this year!

Although I’m hoping for the best, I’m still going to prepare for the worst and assume that there will be more severe storms, tornadoes, and possibly hurricanes later in the year. We’ll keep the yard picked up, the gates secured, and our emergency kit ready to go in case we need it.

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