Take Personal Responsibility to Be Prepared for Dangerous Storms
The National Weather Service’s (NWS) primary mission is to save lives and protect property through forecasts, watches, and warnings. Warnings of impending tornadoes, severe thunderstorms, and flash floods are disseminated quickly through a number of sources. It is everyone’s personal responsibility to stay informed.
The best method for receiving severe weather information immediately, and direct from your local NWS office is NOAA Weather Radio - All Hazards. These radios can be purchased at electronics stores, department and discount stores, through outdoor/recreation catalogs, and online for about $30 to $80. A NOAA Weather Radio, even when turned off, in stand-by mode, will automatically activate and set off a loud alarm when a watch or warning is issued for your location. They can even wake you up if a storm hits in the middle of the night. Small portable models can be taken camping, boating, the kid’s soccer game, and to other recreational activities. Many radios can be programmed to only go off for a specific county. Many also have battery back up in case power goes out during the storm. Look for a radio with the Public Alert icon, which means it has both programmable Specific Area Message Encoder technology (SAME) and battery back up.
Other good ways of keeping informed about severe weather are monitoring local TV or radio, and the internet. If you monitor the NWS web site, http://weather.gov/chicago, you can see radar images with a graphical plot of warning areas to determine if you are in the path of the storm. When monitoring the NWS Local Radar Imagery page or Watches/Warnings page set your web browser to auto-refresh to get continuous updates. The actual text of severe weather warnings will spell out which portion of a county is being warned and it will give a pathcast, which lists specific communities in the path. Please be aware that the pathcast list is not all inclusive. In highly populated parts of the Chicago metro area the list of communities would be too long. So only a few major communities in the path are highlighted to give people a general idea of the path of the storm. It’s a mobile world today and there are vendors that provide services that can alert you to warnings on your pager, cell phone, or computer.
Sirens are another method of receiving warnings of dangerous storms, but they should not be the primary method. First, sirens are designated as outdoor warning systems. If you are working in the yard, walking downtown, or playing in the park, a siren might be your first clue to get indoors. But what if you are indoors with the windows closed, or in a location where noise prevents you from hearing a siren? Then you must monitor TV, radio, NOAA Weather Radio or the internet. Second, sirens do not tell you what the threat is, where it is, or when it’s going to hit. When you hear the siren you must go indoors and you must look for more information from TV, radio, NOAA Weather Radio or the internet.
Next, people need to understand the information in the warning. Many people react much more strongly to a tornado warning than a severe thunderstorm warning. Please be aware that severe thunderstorms are storms that are capable of producing large destructive hail or damaging straight-line winds. In last Thursday’s storms in the Chicago area, and the storms that struck northwest Indiana the week before, there was widespread tree, and power line damage from severe thunderstorm winds in excess of 60 mph. In some spots winds were estimated to be 80 to 100 mph or more - similar in strength to an EF0 or EF1 tornado. Take severe thunderstorm warnings seriously. In the end it really doesn’t matter if the wind is blowing 100 mph in the circulation of a tornado or 100 mph in the straight-line blast from a severe thunderstorm. Either storm is capable of snapping or uprooting large trees, peeling roofs off buildings, and even destroying weaker structures. And as bad as last week’s storms were, a strong tornado in the city or the suburbs could be much more devastating. The Chicago area has a long history of rare but violent tornadoes. Strong tornadoes will strike again.
Finally, when you receive warning of an approaching dangerous storm, have a plan of action to get yourself and your family to safety. Every business and school should also have a NOAA Weather Radio and a severe weather disaster plan. Go inside a sturdy building. Go to a basement or the lowest floor of the building. Go to small interior spaces. Stay away from windows. Avoid large open areas such as gymnasiums, warehouses, big box stores. In steel and concrete high rise buildings it is not necessary to go to the lowest floor, but go to the interior and stay away from windows. Practice your severe weather plan by conducting drills.
The prime thunderstorm season will be winding down soon, but destructive storms and even tornadoes have struck this area as late as October and November. Tornadoes, and thunderstorms with tornado-force winds, have struck the city of Chicago, despite the tall buildings and cool water of Lake Michigan. They will strike again. Be aware. Be prepared. Be safe.
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