Tornado Season Tips: Have A Plan For “Toto” When Storms Bring High Winds

Photos curtesy the Humane Society.

by Don Corrigan

Aunt Em and Uncle Henry could have done a much better job protecting Dorothy and her little dog, Toto, when that terrible Kansas tornado hit in 1939. The infamous storm launched the beloved twosome to the Land of Oz.

Your little Toto could fare much better in 2023. That’s because today’s weather experts excel at predicting and tracking tornadic storms. Also, animal care experts now offer plenty of tips for protecting pets when storms hit.

A severe storm in April dropped several tornados in the St. Louis area, including one in Fenton that was briefly headed toward Kirkwood. The recent outbreak prompted the Humane Society of Missouri to issue a tip sheet on storms and pets.

“With the recent tornado warnings across the state, the Humane Society decided to take time to remind pet owners of several essential tips to ensure the safety of their furry friends, and all their pets, said veterinarian Nicole Fulcher, director of the Animal Medical Center of the Missouri Humane Society.

“Weather in Missouri can be frightening, but by taking steps for proper preparation, we can ensure our pets remain protected during tornadoes and extreme weather events,” said Fulcher.

Fulcher said a good first step would be to make sure your pet is microchipped and a visit to to schedule an appointment can help get that accomplished.

“One thing we learned from the 2011 tornado in Joplin is that many, many pets will run away and be lost for days and even weeks after such a horrific event,” said veterinarian Jennifer Pearl of the Humane Society’s Animal Medical Center.

In the Joplin EF-5 tornado, more than 4,000 homes were destroyed and many more were severely damaged. The death toll for residents exceeded 160 and countless pets became fatalities in the historic storm.

According to the ASPCA, more than 900 pets were lost in the immediate aftermath of the tornado. About 500 families were eventually reunited with their pets, but in one instance it took more than a year for a pet to be claimed after the disaster.

“It’s vital for a pet to be ID’d, microchipped and the information fully registered,” said Pearl. “In the age of social media, you also are wise to have a lot of photos of your pet posted which can be very useful for finding that pet after a storm disaster.”

Make a “Toto Plan”

The first step in preparing for a tornado is to create an emergency plan that includes your pets. If you live in an area prone to tornadoes, consider installing a storm shelter or having a designated safe room in your home.

“Suburbs like Webster Groves and Kirkwood are known for their big, lovely trees, but those trees do come down and crash onto homes during storms,” said Pearl. “Make sure the safe room you set up is not located near large trees outside.

“It’s better to have plans to find safety in a basement, if available,” added Pearl. “Stay away from any basement windows. Find a place in the basement where there are not a lot of items on shelves that could be blown around.”

If you must evacuate, take your pets with you and make sure they are secured in a carrier or on a leash. And, of course, do not wait until the last minute before a storm to evacuate.

After a tornado has passed, inspect your property for any hazards that may harm your pets, such as downed power lines, broken glass, or sharp debris. Pets should have access to clean water and food, and veterinary care if they show signs of distress.

“Pets are not going to behave the way you want them to in a severe storm situation,” said Pearl. “Consider putting them in a carrier if they are small, or on a leash if they are large. You need to hold the leash. Do no attach it to anything.”

”If you know a severe storm front is coming in the next day, it’s not bad idea to get some anti-anxiety medicine from the vet before it hits,” said Pearl. “Medicine should be administered before the high winds, hail and lightning and thunder arrive.”

Pearl said veterinarians will not look at you weird if you ask for anti-anxiety medicine in preparation for a storm system that may come through.

“This is St. Louis where we have some pretty noisy July 4th activities,” said Pearl. “Pet owners do buy anti-anxiety medicine, especially for high-strung pets, before the fireworks start. And storms have their own fireworks.”

For more information on storms and pets call the Animal Medical Center, which  has veterinarians who can answer questions about your pet’s health. Call 314-951-1534 or visit to request an appointment online.


Toto Beware: Tornado Season Is Longer And Moving Eastward

Toto and Dorothy lived in Tornado Alley, which used to run from north Texas, through Oklahoma and Kansas, onward to the Dakotas. Now, because of climate change, scientists say Tornado Alley is moving eastward.

A new study by the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society finds that there are more tornadic storms today and they’re moving east. The study found increasing tornado risks in the Southeast, with decreasing chances in states such as Kansas, the beloved home of Dorothy and Toto.

The research suggests that as average temperatures rise, the sorts of intense storms that spawn tornadoes are becoming more common outside parts of Tornado Alley. A warming climate means more instability, because warmer air is closer to the ground, and sharp temperature differences are causing violent atmospheric air clashes.

Tornadoes happen at all times of the year in many parts of America. But the traditional tornado season occurs from March through May. Increasingly mild U.S. winters mean the atmospheric instability necessary for tornadic storms is present in more places and more often than just early spring.

The climate change wizard is making America less safe from tornadic storms than during the era of Dorothy and Toto. And intense winds that make houses “twitch” are not just in Kansas anymore.

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