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It was a little past five in on a Tuesday afternoon. My boys were downstairs trading stats about a video game, and my daughter was using my shower. I was sitting on the bed, keeping her company and trying to get a few pages of reading done. That was the calm before the storm. A minute later, we were rushing to take shelter in the basement.

I had just turned the page in my book, the sounds of my daughter’s delicate singing mixing with the boys’ excited debate about how to get a certain creature to morph from cute and cuddly into one with phenomenal power. My cell phone, face down in its hard pink case lay on the plush cover on the bed, tossed aside when the cat refused to cooperate with me to take a selfie. Suddenly, a loud beeping siren blared, and I picked up the phone. A message accompanied the wailing noise: “Tornado Warning Act Now! Tornado spotted overhead. Expected 5:43 pm.”

Besides the warning, my phone showed the time to be exactly 5:41. We had two minutes to get as tornado proof as we could.

When the siren went off, I told everyone to grab their shoes and get down to the basement. It took me less than 30 seconds to collect a few things and follow them: the phone, the laptop, chargers and the handful of clean clothes my towel-wrapped daughter didn’t have time to don. I knew that plenty of bottled water, our grab-and-go bags, two crank radios, a whistle, coats, entertainment and extra blankets were already waiting for us in the secured walk-out basement, which would provide shelter and at least three separate ways to escape.

So we listened to our radio, waited it out and got lucky. We checked in with friends and family as we could. Afterward, we heard so many stories: the families that were panicked and didn’t know what to do, who huddled in the second floor bathtub, had the neighbor’s trampoline embedded into their lawn, or watched out their front window as a tree cleaved to an absent neighbor’s home.

Since you are reading this, and I wrote it, you know that everything turned out well. We survived. Our house survived. Our friends and neighbors survived. The tornado didn’t touch down on our front lawn. There was some regional property damage, road closures, power outages and the usual you might expect from a major storm. The first few days after the event were tough. We couldn’t get out of the neighborhood, and eventually when we did days later, we found that the gas station was closed, grocery store perishables had, well, perished, and with no traffic lights, highway intersections had become playgrounds for repeating games of “chicken.”

In my neck of the woods, semi-rural Pennsylvania, we are used to some power outages and road closures due to fallen trees during storms. We are, however, not used to tornado warnings. Far from the risk area, we just don’t get them. According to The Tornado Project and Federal Information Processing Data, there had been exactly five tornados spotted in Pennsylvania since 1973. Well, now seven. We just had those additional two in the last two weeks.

You just never know what is coming your way. Be as prepared as you can.

Image source: Morguefile

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