Image Credit: NSSL
A radar image of a bow echo associated with a severe straight-line wind storm over central Iowa in July 2011. The strongest winds were located near the tip of the bow, located near Garwin and Toledo at the time of this image.
Heavily damaged grain elevators after a straight-line wind storm.

Back to Selection Page

Severe Weather: Planning Ahead

Before it Strikes . . .  
Planning Ahead
Understanding the Forecast
Receiving the Warning

Staying Safe . . .  
Hail and Straight Line Winds


Disasters of all kinds disrupt hundreds of thousands of lives every year. Each disaster has lasting effects, both to people and property. If a disaster occurs in your community, local government and disaster-relief organizations will try to help you. But you need to be ready as well. Local responders may not be able to reach you immediately, or they may need to focus their efforts elsewhere. Being prepared for a disaster can reduce the fear, anxiety, and losses that accompany them.

"People Don't Plan to Fail - They Fail to Plan"

Disaster Plans
Disaster Kits
Family Evacuation Plans
Preparing Your Home

Key Elements of a Disaster Plan

There are five key elements of a disaster plan:

  1. Learn about possible dangers in your area and become familiar with your community's disaster response plan.
  2. Talk to your family about what to do in the event of an emergency. Pick two locations where you will meet: one close to your home and another removed from your neighborhood to be used if you are unable to return to your residence.
  3. Develop a communications plan to insure that your family will be able to stay in contact if separated during a disaster.
  4. Create disaster kits for your home, office, and car.
  5. Practice your plan!

Assembling a Disaster Kit

A disaster kit is a collection of basic items that members of a household may need in the event of a disaster. An effective disaster kit contains enough food, water and other supplies for each person to last at least three days. You may want to consider having supplies for sheltering for up to two weeks, especially if you live in remote areas. Here is a basic list of items to include in a kit:

Image Courtesy of FEMA    

  • Bottled water and non-perishable food
  • Battery or hand crank radio
  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • First Aid supplies
  • Clothing, shoes and blankets
  • Whistle
  • Cash and coins
  • Photocopies of important family documents such as ID's and credit cards
  • Baby needs
  • Sanitation items such as hand sanitizer and toilet paper
  • Specialty items such as prescription medication and eyeglasses
  • Local Maps
  • Cell phone with chargers, inverter or solar charger
  • Games to pass time

Keep this kit in a designated place and have it ready in case you have to leave your home quickly. Make sure all family members know where the kit is kept.


Water is essential to survival and a necessary item in any disaster kit. Following a disaster, clean drinking water may not be available. Your regular water source could be cut-off or compromised through contamination. Prepare yourself by building a supply of water that will meet your family's needs during an emergency.

Image Courtesy of FEMA
Store at least one gallon of water per person per day. A normally active person needs at least one gallon of water daily just for drinking. Water will also be used for sanitation. It is recommended that you purchase commercially bottled water beforehand to use as your emergency source of water. Be sure to keep water in its original container and do not open it until you use it. Always observe the expiration or "use by" date on bottled water. Use and replace the water before this date.

Remember: Do not drink carbonated beverages instead of drinking water.


Select foods that require no refrigeration, preparation, or cooking. Be sure to include a manual can opener in your disaster kit. Store at least a three day supply of food for each person in your family. Choose foods that your family will eat and remember any special dietary needs. Pick canned foods with a high liquid content and avoid foods that will make you thirsty. Here are some ideas for foods to include:

Image Courtesy of FEMA

  • Ready-to-eat canned meats, fruits, and vegetables
  • Canned juices, milk, or soup
  • High energy foods: peanut butter, jelly, salt-free crackers, granola bars, trail mix
  • Cookies, hard candy, instant coffee, tea bags
  • Vitamins
  • Foods for infants, elderly, or other persons with special dietary needs

Floods, fire, natural disasters, or loss of power could jeopardize the safety of your food. Here are some "Dos" and "Don'ts" to help reduce your risk of illness and minimize the amount of food lost due to spoilage.

  • Keep food in covered containers.
  • Keep cooking and eating utensils clean.
  • Keep garbage in closed containers and dispose outside--burying garbage if necessary.
  • Keep your hands clean.
  • Discard any food that has come into contact with contaminated floodwater.
  • Discard any perishable food that has been at room temperature for two hours of more.
  • Discard any food that has an unusual odor, color, or texture.
  • Eat foods from cans that are swollen, dented or corroded, even though the product may look safe to eat.
  • Eat any food that looks or smells abnormal, even if the can looks normal.
  • Let garbage accumulate inside, both for fire and sanitation reasons.

First Aid

A good first aid kit is essential to any home and is imperative in a disaster supply kit. In an emergency, you or a family member may suffer an injury. If you have these basic first aid supplies, you are better prepared to help your loved ones when they are hurt. Here are some items which should be included in any first aid kit. This is not an exhaustive list.

  • Prescription medication that you take every day (be sure to periodically rotate medicines to account for expiration dates)
  • Sterile adhesive bandages in assorted sizes
    Image Courtesy of the State of New York
  • Two inch and 40 inch sterile gauze pads
  • Hypoallergenic adhesive tape
  • Scissors and tweezers
  • Antiseptic and anti-bacterial ointment
  • Burn ointment
  • Thermometer
  • Cleansing agent/soap
  • Latex gloves
  • Sunscreen
  • Aspirin or non-aspirin pain reliever
  • Anti-diarrhea medication, antacid, and laxative

In Your Vehicle

In case you are stranded, keep a kit of emergency supplies in your car. This kit should include:

  • Jumper cables
  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • First aid kit and necessary medication in case you are away from home for a prolonged time
  • Food items containing protein such as nuts and energy bars, canned fruit, and a portable can opener
  • Water for each person and pet in your car
  • Plastic bags for sanitation
  • AM/FM radio to listen to traffic reports and emergency messages
  • Cat litter or sand for better tire traction
  • Shovel
  • Ice scraper
  • Warm clothes and an extra change of clothes
  • Blankets or sleeping bags
  • Flares or reflective triangle
  • Brightly colored cloth (ideally red) to tie to the antenna or hang out a window

Be prepared for an emergency by keeping your gas tank full and carry a cell phone when driving. If you find yourself stranded, be safe and stay in your car, turn on your flashers, call for help, and wait until it arrives.

Develop a Family Evacuation Plan

Evacuations are more common than people realize. Hundreds of times each year, transportation and industrial accidents release harmful substances, forcing thousands of people to leave their homes. Fires and floods cause evacuations even more frequently.

Tips for a good evacuation plan:

  • Plan routes from your residence to a safe location.
  • Plan for what you would need to take with you should you need to leave your home for an unknown period of time.
  • Ensure all family members know where to go should you become separated.
  • Radio messages will inform you of specific routes and shelter areas should a major incident occur.

If you should be evacuated, it is important to follow recommended evacuation routes. Do not take shortcuts as they may be blocked. Be alert for washed-out roads, bridges and downed power lines. If you have time, be sure to secure your home before leaving and let others know where you are going.

Don't Forget Pets

If you are like millions of animal owners nationwide, your pet is an important member of your family, so make plans for your pets too! For public health reasons, most shelters do not accept pets. Prepare a list of kennels, friends, and family members who may be able to care for your pet in an emergency. Pack an emergency kit for your pets as well. This kit should include a supply of pet food, water, medications, veterinary records, and items like cat litter. Make sure identification tags are up to date and securely fastened to your pet's collar. It is also a good idea to have a photograph of you and your pet as this can establish ownership if your pet is lost.

Prepare Your Home

There are numerous steps you can take in and around your home to help limit the damage done by severe weather. Consider taking the following actions before severe weather blows through town.

      Thunderstorms and Strong Winds:

  • Remove dead or rotting tree branches that could fall and cause injury or damage.
  • Secure outdoor objects that could blow away or cause damage.
  • Shutter windows and secure outside doors.


  • Elevate the furnace, water heater, and electric panel in your home if you live in an area that has a high flood risk.
  • Consider installing sewer back-flow valves.
  • Add waterproof veneer to exterior walls.

Additional Links and Info:

Family Preparedness (pdf)
Be Ready Iowa
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - Health and Safety Concerns for All Disasters
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - Hygiene During & After a Disaster/Emergency
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - Protect Your Pets in an Emergency
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - Coping With a Disaster

Much of the information on this page was provided by FEMA is the U.S. government's official web portal to all federal, state and local government web resources and services.