Everyone has those moments you remember where you were when certain events occurred. For me, one of those events was the Greensburg Tornado. It was the one situation that stays with me each year I prepare our family tornado emergency kit. I was in the newsroom of the Fort Hays State University television station. 

My father had just called me to check on the weather. He had just finished coaching a softball game in Pratt, Kansas and was eating dinner with the team when he looked back west to and saw some weather on the horizon. In an era before smartphones, he needed someone to look at the radar to see how bad it was. 

Greensburg Tornado Radar Image 10 minutes before striking the town.

When you grow up in the midwest you get to be pretty good at interpreting a radar to know just how bad it can be. I saw the hook, the supercell thunderstorm had not spawned a Tornado Warning yet but I knew that it was going to happen. 

When you grow up in the midwest you get to be pretty good at interpreting a radar to know just how bad it can be. I saw the hook, the supercell thunderstorm had not spawned a Tornado Warning yet but I knew that it was going to happen. 

“Stay there, I wouldn’t try and drive west if you can. If you do, you will be going right into the storm and this doesn’t look good.” I told him. 

Soon after the phone call, a Tornado Emergency was alerted for the town of Greensburg, Kansas. Just at the time my dad and the high school softball team would have been driving through the town. 

The reports that followed, were of utter devastation to this small western Kansas town. I sat there in the Fort Hays State University news station in shock. Growing up in western Kansas, tornadoes were almost commonplace. Our small 3 bedroom home didn’t have a basement but our neighbors did and it seemed like the entire block would show up when the weather took a turn for the worst. 

We also knew our plan should we be unable to make it across our yard to the safety of our neighbor’s basement. 

The sturdiest part of our small home was the very small hallway in the middle of the house that led to our bathroom. 

Is my family tornado emergency kit ready? 

This storm though, to this day still sends a shiver down my spine each spring. The Greensburg Tornado is one of the many reasons that I look to find the best shelter when spring hits. It is also the reason that I look to make sure that our family tornado emergency kit is ready and charged, in the chance that a tornado rips through our town. 

Family Tornado Emergency Kit

One can by a weather emergency kit on Amazon, but many of them do not include everything you need to be able to survive a few days during a weather emergency.

There are several items that have become mainstays in our family tornado emergency kit. Some of them might seem ridiculous in today’s age and then there are others that are sometimes overlooked. 

Battery Pack

This has been a recent addition to our family tornado emergency kit. One or two of these packs will ensure that if the electricity we’re to go out, you can keep your cell phones and tablets (keeping the kids entertained) charged while you wait for the electricity to come back on or worse call for help. 

It is also a good idea to keep 4-6 extra AAA, AA, and D (or the size battery your flashlight takes) in a plastic bag in your kit. 

Lantern/Flashlight

Anything with a light source is going to help in your family tornado emergency kit. Most tornados happen in the evening or overnight. Whether you are climbing out of the rubble of what was once your home, or if the electricity has gone out and you need to look through the insides of your family tornado emergency kit a lantern or flashlight is necessary. Your phones have flashlights but they are a battery drain on our phone, and if you haven’t packed away a battery pack you are going to need to save as much power on your phone as possible.

They even make a flashlight that converts from a flashlight to a lantern. Throw a couple in your family tornado emergency kit to feel secure. 

Weather Radio

The weather radio we have in our family tornado emergency kit is from Eton. It has a hand crank on it in the off chance that the batteries have gone bad and we are able to tune into local radio if we need to. The radio also acts as a backup flashlight if your flashlight batteries have gone bad. 

It is also a good idea to refresh yourself on how to operate the weather radio before severe weather season starts. Make sure that the weather radio is tuned to the right station, the batteries are good, and you know how to turn it on and crank it when the time comes. We had two weather radios in our kit and I found out that one of mine no longer works. 

Water

Ready.gov recommends that you have 1 gallon of water per person per day to last at least 3 days for drinking and sanitation. For our family of four, that means we have 12 gallons of water in the form of bottled water and in gallon jugs. We sit it down in our tornado shelter next to our family tornado emergency kit. 

Food

The recommendation is that you have a 3-day supply of non-perishable food. Our family goes through a yearly check and resupply of our family tornado emergency kit. We are able to keep the food somewhat fresh by doing so. For our family, this comes in the form of canned food, tuna packets, granola bars, fruit packs, and a jar of peanut butter.

If you are a family with infants, it is also a good idea to pack some formula in the kit as well. 

First Aid Kit

There is a likely hood that during a storm as things are being thrown around, someone will be scrapped or hurt. This will allow you to take care of minor scrapes and cuts. 

Once again you will want to make sure that your first aid kit is up-to-date as some contain over the counter pain medication which could come in handy in the event of an emergency.

Change of Clothes

For each member of our family, we keep one change pair of clothes to change into after the storm has passed. More then likely, after the storm passes, your clothes will be either be wet or dirty and your moral will be shot. Being able to change clothes will provide a sense of hope. 

This includes the following:

  • Shirt
  • Pants/Shorts
  • Socks
  • Underwear
  • Extra pair of sturdy shoes

Baby Essentials – Diapers/Wipes/Bottles/Diaper Rash Cream

Consider 3 days worth of diapers and wipes if you have an infant. If you happen to be stuck the last thing you want is a hungry baby so the bottle will be a lifesaver (remember to pack formula as well). Consider packing a sippy cup if you have a toddler.

Adults and kids can handle a lot of adversity when it comes to a weather emergency but infants will have a harder time adjusting.

Disinfectant Wipes

If you happen to be digging your way through the rubble after a tornado, you will want to make sure that your hands are clean when it comes to taking care of your baby or feeding yourself. Having a tube of disinfectant wipes in your family tornado emergency kit will make sure you ward off and infections and diseases until you can get to running water.

It is a good idea to make sure that your tube hasn’t dried out before each severe weather season. 

To recap here are the essentials that your family needs to put in your family tornado emergency kit:

  • Battery Pack
  • Lantern/Flashlight
  • Extra Batteries
  • Weather Radio
  • Water (3-day supply which equals to 1 gallon of water per person per day.)
  • Food (3-day Supply)
  • First Aid Kit 
  • Change of Clothes
  • Baby Essentials – Diapers/Wipes/Bottles/Diaper Rash Cream
  • Disinfectant Wipes

Additional Items to consider:

  • Dog Food if you have a family pet
    • Consider extra water as well
  • Contact case and solution
    • An extra pair of up-to-date contacts might be helpful

It is also recommended that when you are assembling your kit you consider the following:

  • Keep in a dry cool place
  • Replace expired items
  • Re-think your family needs every year and update accordingly
  • Store in a closed plastic or metal container

The hope is that you never need to use your family tornado emergency kit. But when it comes to mother nature it is always better to be prepared than not during tornado season. 

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