Oliver: Now's a good time to get ready for tornado season

The nightmare is almost always the same. I am standing at the front door of my childhood home along Draper Road outside McHenry.

Across the open fields (now covered with subdivisions), I see a massive tornado bearing down on us. No doubt years of watching video of the big ones in Oklahoma’s Tornado Alley has fueled this terrifying visual.

My breathing quickens and my anxiety spikes as I hear the tornado’s tell-tale sound of a locomotive and see the swirling winds. In this nightmare, I am paralyzed by my fear, which is probably why I wake up every time before it hits.

In real life, I’d be running for the basement. Actually, I’d be in the basement long before I’d be able to see anything coming my way.

The nightmare no doubt stems from the powerlessness I feel when confronted by circumstances beyond my control. After all, I have no way of preventing a tornado.

I’ve also seen what tornadoes can do. The recent tornadoes that struck Ottawa and Naplate in LaSalle County, leaving a path of destruction in their wake, are painful reminders of those beyond-our-control forces.

However, there are a few things that we can do to increase our chances of survival. Now is the time to put those plans into place. March, after all, is Severe Weather Preparedness Month.

A lot of information about getting prepared is available on the McHenry County Emergency Management’s website at There you’ll find information how to get text alerts, how to use the county’s 211 system and help for putting together an emergency kit. 

The National Weather Service also offers these helpful tips:

• At home, practice a family tornado drill at least once a year.

• Store protective coverings (mattress, sleeping bags, thick blankets, etc.) in or next to your shelter space.

• Avoid windows.

• Get in the basement or under some kind of sturdy protection (heavy table or work bench), or cover yourself with a mattress or sleeping bag.

• Know where very heavy objects (pianos, refrigerators, water beds, etc.) rest on the floor above and do not go under them.

• If you do not have a basement, go to the lowest floor and into an interior room. A closet or a bathroom is recommended.

• If you’re in a vehicle, remember that they are easily tossed and destroyed by tornadoes.

• Take shelter in a sturdy building. If that’s not possible, lie flat in a low spot or ditch as far from the road as possible to avoid flying vehicles. Do not park under a bridge or underpass.

• The Federal Emergency Management Agency suggests that families have enough food, water and supplies on hand to go for at least 72 hours.

A number of websites provide useful information about how to build a “go kit”:


• American Red Cross:

• Gear Up Get Ready:

• National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:

With the extreme weather swings we’ve been having recently, it might be a good idea to get prepared sooner rather than later. Historically, most of the tornadoes in Illinois occur from March to June. However, we all know they can happen at any time.

So it’s always better to be ready … just in case.

• Joan Oliver is the former Northwest Herald assistant news editor. She has been associated with the Northwest Herald since 1990. She can be reached at

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