Spring storm season in Oklahoma is a time that evokes a sense of wonder and fascination for many of us, but a time fraught with anxiety and stress for others. How can we help our children navigate this time with confidence, prepared to face whatever challenges Mother Nature might throw our way?
Know the lingo
Rick Smith with the National Weather Service in Norman suggests responding to storm anxiety by embracing the idea that “knowledge is power.” For many kids, learning about storms can make them seem less frightening and help remove some of their stigma. Having more information increases confidence and provides a little more control.
“There are a lot of adults who have some form of storm anxiety,” said Smith. “Many of them have had a bad experience with a tornado or other severe weather in the past, and their fear increases whenever severe weather is in the forecast. It’s interesting that a lot of meteorologists who study storms today say that their interest in severe weather began when they were afraid of storms as kids.”
As the warning coordination meteorologist, Smith has spent several years focusing on storm anxiety and supporting both his staff and community members through major severe weather events.
Explaining the lingo used by experts during storm season can provide kids a better grasp on thunderstorms. For example, the National Weather Service defines a severe thunderstorm as one that produces hail at least 1 inch in diameter (about the size of a quarter — examine one together to imagine hail that size!), wind gusts of 58 mph or more and/or a tornado.
When a storm threatens, watches and warnings are issued to help us prepare. A watch means severe weather is possible during a certain time frame. A warning means the threat is imminent and safety preparations should be underway.
Outline severe weather plans
If a tornado warning is issued, do you know where to go?
“Preparedness is key,” said Brandi Farris, emergency manager for Oklahoma City Public Schools. “If kids know the adults around them have a plan and they are involved they will feel more secure.”
If your home doesn’t have a storm shelter, locate the most interior room in your house with no windows. Have helmets and other safety gear at the ready and utilize a mattress or cushions to cover yourself if you can. If you do have a shelter, be sure to have it fully stocked with necessities. This includes water and food (for yourself and your pets), flashlights, batteries and a NOAA Weather Radio, at minimum.
Dr. Erica Faulconer, pediatrician at Northwest Pediatrics in Oklahoma City, recommends empowering kids with a task both in planning for and during severe weather.
“Giving kids a job — being in charge of the emergency radio or packing a bag of snacks — takes their mind off the danger,” said Faulconer. “Practice your severe weather plan ahead of time to reduce anxiety. Kids know the potential is there but they also know what they’re going to do if severe weather happens.”
Keep cell phones fully charged during high-risk days and stay in contact with friends and family. Register your storm shelter with your local jurisdiction so emergency personnel will be able to locate you if necessary. If you live in Oklahoma County, visit oklahomacounty.org/sheriff/
Ensure the whole family is wearing sturdy shoes, and while Faulconer says helmets aren’t typically necessary, she’s realized wearing them helps her children feel safer. She calls establishing that security 90 percent of her job as a mom during severe weather.
For little ones, it can be helpful to read a book to calm weather anxieties. Storms frequently occur in the afternoon or evening, coinciding with bedtime. Reading may help soothe worries and keep routines consistent.
Thunder Cake by Patricia Polacco tells the story of a young girl terrified by thunderstorms who overcomes her fears while gathering ingredients to bake a cake with her grandmother. After reading this one, try your hand at making a “thunder cake” of your own! Other titles to consider include Franklin and the Thunderstorm by Paulette Bourgeois and The Buffalo Storm by Katherine Applegate.
Anxiety over severe weather and thunderstorms is very common for children. Try to be a role model for your kids in your response to severe weather, letting them know you understand their feelings and sharing with them your childhood worries about storms, if you had them.
The better prepared we are, the more control we have over our worries. We hope some of these tips help you and your children feel a little less anxious the next time severe weather threatens. We can all use a little comfort as we head into another busy Oklahoma storm season!
If you have a child who wants to learn more (future meteorologist, perhaps?), check out the National Weather Service office in Norman. This local NWS office is responsible for issuing severe thunderstorm warnings for central Oklahoma. Scheduled weekly tours are open to the public but must be reserved in advance, and school and large group tours are available by appointment as well. Find more information about requesting a tour at www.ou.edu/nwc/visit/tours.