My sons weren’t born in Texas, but we got them here as fast as we could. It was during a tornado that I realized they have adapted very well.
Pete was 6 years old, Alex was 5 and Joe was 18 months old when we moved to Arlington in 1997. We didn’t have to wait long for our first tornado. In March 2000, I was unloading boys and groceries from our minivan when I heard a wailing siren. We had been under tornado watches and warnings, but I had never heard the siren before. I turned on the TV to hear weather forecasters telling everyone to take cover.
I grabbed a bag of cookies and headed to our master bathroom, where I tucked the kids into a corner. I kept feeding them cookies, while keeping an ear on the TV in the bedroom. The tornado didn’t hit us, but it ripped through Fort Worth, Arlington and Grand Prairie, killing five people and doing millions of dollars of destruction.
Growing up in Arkansas, we only had one tornado ever touch down in my hometown. My mom was at work and I had no idea what to do. My boys do.
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After moving to Mansfield, we designated the bathroom under the stairs as our safe room and had to head there several times. One afternoon, I was coming home from work and the weather started to look a little ominous. I called home to make sure the boys were OK. The oldest two were watching the storm on TV, but told me the baby, Joe, wasn’t home yet. That’s when I remembered he had chess club after school.
By the time I got to J.L. Boren Elementary, the storms had unleashed a downpour and the wind was whipping the trees. When I raced into the hall, I saw a bunch of scared fourth-graders lined up in the hall, all of them watching the door and hoping that it was their mom or dad coming to pick them up. Joe came running into my arms. When we turned around, the glass doors were glowing with a freaky white light. Joe looked at me and we ran for the car.
By the time we got home, less than a mile away, the storm was over. When we walked in, Pete and Alex were set up in the bathroom with the dogs, pillows, radio and, of course, a bag of cookies.
With all of the thunderstorms, flooding and nearby tornadoes recently (and pretty much every spring in Texas), Lt. Greg Cutler, the city’s emergency management coordinator with the Mansfield Fire Department, gave me some pointers.
First, sign up for CodeRED, the city’s emergency notification system, at www.mansfield-tx.gov. Go to Residents, then look under Public Safety. Mansfield doesn’t have storm sirens, like Arlington does. Mansfield will call or text residents with information about what the problem is, whether it’s flooding, high winds, tornadoes, hazardous waste, etc., and what to do.
“Sirens are not as useful as people think,” Cutler said. “You have to step outside to hear them. They’re very expensive to maintain, most are very old. There are a number of reasons they activate sirens, and there’s no way for sirens to indicate what is going on.
“We’ve chosen to use CodeRED so we can tell (residents) what the condition is and what to do,” he said.
Second, have a plan on where to go and what to do if a tornado is threatening. Designate an interior room or closet in the center of the house away from windows and store supplies there -- snacks, card games, water, battery- or kinetic-powered radio and shoes. If your house is damaged, you are going to need shoes to walk out of your safe room, Cutler pointed out.
People who live in mobile homes need to keep an even closer eye on the weather, he said.
“Mobile homes are not designed for high winds,” Cutler said. “Monitor the weather through a phone app or CodeRED. They need a plan on leaving the mobile home. Plan some place to go that is open 24 hours a day, Walmart or anywhere more secure than their mobile home. If you don’t have time, go outside and get in a low area. That is a last resort.”
The city does not have storm shelters, Cutler said.
“How big are you going to make it?” he asked. “It won’t hold everybody. If they get there and it’s already full, they might not have time to go anywhere else.”
Another thing we have learned about living in Texas, no one talks about the dozens of times the storms roll by, leaving little or no damage while you sit in your safe room chowing down on cookies. They only share the tales of destruction and mayhem. (Hey, it’s Texas.)
But we have also noticed that Texans pay attention to the weather, because they know it can change with the drop of a 10-gallon hat.
Amanda Rogers, 817-473-4451