In Chicago we are nearing the end of a summer season of the most violent and unpredictable weather that I have seen in almost 48 years. Half a dozen times in two months we’ve gone from some rather benign gray clouds to tornado-force winds and torrential rain within a matter of minutes. The summer sound of cicadas screeching has been drowned out by the buzz of chain saws as they dismember and cart away the enormous trees and branches that have been felled by the winds and the lightning.
All water is not equal.
Storms pose a different challenge to keeping your kids safe. A gentle rain that soaks into the ground provides a few puddles ideal for an afternoon of puddle-stomping. A fast downpour that fills drainage ditches, retention ponds, pools at the storm drains and floods streets is another story altogether.
When storms hit we all know what to do - no golfing in the rain, no swimming during a lightning storm, head to the basement when the sirens blare. We’ve been trained since childhood how to be safe during a storm, but we forget to teach our children how to be safe after a storm.
Here are some rules to help you teach your child to look at familiar places in a new way:
Retention ponds - In my neighborhood we have several large retention ponds that can fill quickly and empty slowly. They look calm and non-threatening, but only because we can’t see the storm drains at the bottom sucking the water out an enormous rate. Even if the drain covers are firmly in place the suction can easily hold a child, a pet, or an adult under the water until they drown or are badly injured. Best rule: Stay away. Period.
Drainage ditches - Many communities have open pipes by the side of the road to funnel the water off the roads and into the sewer system. A magnet for a child to race leaf boats but far too easy for a small child to be pulled into the pipe. Best rule: Stay away. Period. You don’t want your kids so close to the road anyways.
Large puddles - Easy for cars to lose control on slippery pavement and veer into a playing child, or for a child to lose control on their bike and wipe-out. Best rule: Ask an adult first. As a devoted puddle-stomper I know puddles can be fun, provided they aren’t in the road or other dangers.
Standing water anywhere after a violent storm - Check for downed utility wires. If in doubt, call you local utility company. Best rule: Ask an adult where you can safely go.
Small streams - That lovely burbling brook running past your back yard? It can be come a raging torrent that takes days to calm down again. Best rule: Never go near the stream without an adult - no matter what the weather.
But let’s not forget the fun. If you are inside during a violent thunderstorm and your kids are freaking out, every time the thunder booms, have everyone in the family yell ‘BOOM!!’ back. The louder the thunder, the louder everyone has to yell. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!