The Tornado Phone Tree


If you don’t live anywhere that experiences serious and massive tornadoes, it’s hard to understand what happens when those sirens go off. Missouri is considered an Eastern Plains state. This means we get tornadoes like Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas, not like the East Coast of the US or the UK where the strongest tornado on record is an EF3 (I believe). Missouri doesn’t have as many EF4s and 5s as the other three states listed, but we get more than enough for me. When the tornado siren goes off, you immediately turn on the news. And then the phone starts to ring and you realize the Tornado Phone Tree has been activated….

Our house is a split level. Three sides of the first floor are completely buried, the fourth side holds the garage doors and front door, about a quarter of it is buried. Our living room is in the basement. Despite not living in city limits we live in a subdivision and there is a tornado siren in it. However, it was our phones that gave the first alert to the tornado on Wednesday night. The Weather Channel sent out an alert, the Boone County Office of Emergency Management sent out a text alert, and the local news app on my phone sent an alert.

Two adults were upstairs with the dogs and one was already in the basement when the alert went out. As we got the dogs downstairs, the siren in the neighborhood went off. It works well. Within seconds of the siren going off, the first phone call came in, to make sure we knew there was a tornado warning. I pulled up the local news channel on my laptop. Because a lot of times these are doppler indicated tornadoes that don’t form funnel clouds that come to the ground.

Maybe five minutes elapsed between the sirens going off and confirmation that there was a tornado on the ground moving at 45 miles an hour to the Northeast… Headed directly for us. Cue drugging the dogs, which I had grabbed from upstairs before coming down. Kelly is terrified of wind, I can’t imagine what she will be like in the event of a tornado coming close to us. And Lola, like a lot of dogs hates thunder. To settle their nerves and ours, we gave each of them a pill before the confirmed tornado got close to us.

By then, we’d gotten 10 phone calls from people checking on us. I’m not complaining, it just made me think about the fact that there is indeed an unwritten rule about tornado phone trees. You don’t have to plan them, they just spontaneously happen when tornadoes happen. As it was, the tornado went 6 miles north of us. We got some wind and a some heavy rain, but nothing more. And once we’d been given the all clear, the phone calls asking if we were okay began.

Oddly, my father lives about 30 miles due east of us. He called to make sure we were okay at which point I asked if they were prepared because it was headed their way. And 40 minutes after his call to me, I called him. The news reported some wind damage where he lived, but the tornado which had stayed on the ground had missed his town going slightly north. But I had to call and check on him all the same. He told me him and his pooch Bella were going to spend the night in the basement, which probably isn’t a terrible idea. Tomorrow, the news will have video and photos of storm damage. But for tonight, the phone tree has gone silent, maybe… They just issued a tornado warning for a southern county where we have friends, so it may have to activate again.

One thought on “The Tornado Phone Tree

  1. I’m from Seattle, I spent two gosh-awful years in Iowa; I had my share of touch-downs. Worse was a touch-down across the airport from me, with the air-field, an oat-field, between me and that damn thing. Cleaned a lot of dirt out of my house, but we were OK. Yes, I know the ‘Oh Snap’ moment that happen when the sirens go off.

    Liked by 1 person

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