As the weather begins to warm up, people think of swimming and picnics, but forget to connect warmer weather to severe storm preparation.
With recent storm disasters, having a family preparedness plan could help out in an emergency situation.
“This is a good time of year for tornado preparedness,” said Sarah Stasik, executive director of the Illinois Valley Chapter of the American Red Cross. “Our area knows the importance of that.”
Stasik said she recalled people saying a tornado would never happen in the Illinois Valley before one struck Utica in April of 2004.
“In northern Illinois, there will be one day in a year where a tornado is within 25 miles of your location,” said Eric Lenning, meteorologist for the National Weather Service.
Lenning said this statistic comes from historical data collected over the past 20 to 30 years.
Stasik said people should develop a plan for severe weather and think about people and things at risk during a disaster, including pets, children and the elderly. She said residents also should prepare a disaster supply kit. These kits are basic items collected and used in the event of an emergency. The Red Cross and Center for Disease Control have information on their websites about preparing for an emergency and offer suggestions for a kit to keep at home, the office, at school or in a vehicle. (See sidebar for a sample list of emergency supply items.)
“Severe weather can be life threatening,” said Connie Brooks, emergency management director of the La Salle County Emergency Management Agency (EMA).
Brooks also suggested purchasing a weather alert radio which warns of approaching severe weather because many disasters can strike at night when people are sleeping and not aware.
Stasik said to pay attention to local media and know the alert and warning systems in the area. She also said the Red Cross has a free phone application that gives weather alerts and information on being prepared for tornados.
Lenning said tornados usually will occur in late spring to early summer and again in the fall, but they also could happen at any time of the year, even winter.
“Part of being prepared is being aware of what is going on in the day,” said Richard Castro, meteorologist for the NWS.
Castro said people can watch for warning signs. If it is a warm, humid day with puffy clouds that grow dark and vertical, tornados could happen. Castro said even with these signs a tornado is not certain.
However, Stasik said people should not ignore tornado warnings, even if they have gotten several with no tornado.
“The seventh warning is just as important as the first,” said Stasik.
Stasik said if a warning happens people should seek shelter immediately by going into their safe room. A safe room should be in a central area on the lowest level of the building with no windows. Castro also suggested using a blanket or mattress for extra safety.
Stasik said people not at home should seek shelter in the closest safe building. She also said drivers not near a building should pull over, buckle up, get lower than the windows and cover their head. Stasik said leaving the vehicle should be a last resort.
More information can be found at www.lasallecounty.org/ema and www.redcross.org/prepare/disaster/tornado. The La Salle County EMA also will host training for severe weather spotters at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 19 at Illinois Valley Community College in room D225. The event is free and open to the public. Registration is not required.
Alicia LeGrand can be reached at (815) 220-6931 or firstname.lastname@example.org