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Tips to prepare for and remain safe when storms might arrive
MANHATTAN, Kan. – You might not be able to tell exactly when a severe weather event will hit, but following weather updates, including watches and warnings, and being prepared for a weather disaster, could help keep you and your family safe.
Chad Omitt, warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service Office in Topeka, said educating people on how to develop a plan has helped save more lives in recent years.
“We just need to plan and be as prepared as we can,” Omitt said. “I think the easiest hazard to think about when we talk about having a plan is tornadoes. Ask yourself, ‘What would I do if a tornado warning was issued right now, wherever I’m at, at home, school or work? What is the plan to shelter from that tornado?’”
Getting as low as possible and either getting under something sturdy or covering up with something heavy are important, Omitt said. People should have a plan in place on where to go if a tornado arrives no matter where they are. They should also discuss the plan with family members.
One of the major things learned from the 2011 tornadoes that struck Joplin, Mo., Alabama and Mississippi, was that a high percentage of the people who were injured sustained head injuries, he said. Having bicycle helmets in the lowest level of the house or in an emergency disaster kit is a good idea.
“Because of the people who suffered from blunt force trauma to the head, a lot of doctors asked, ‘Are you emphasizing head protection, specifically helmets?’” Omitt said. “Before that, we hadn’t specifically emphasized how important that could be. Now, when we go out and do our safety training, we talk about a bike helmet as a part of your disaster kit or your plan.”
Emergency disaster kits
Laurie Harrison, emergency management coordinator for Riley County in Manhattan, said there are other important items to consider for an emergency disaster kit. She recommends putting the kit inside a cooler or another container on wheels so it is easy to move.
Pack a gallon of water per person per day and non-perishable foods, Harrison said, and plan on enough water and food for three days. Other items to consider are: trash bags, toilet paper, first-aid kit, flashlight, battery-powered radio, batteries of the correct sizes, wind-up radio, weather radio, whistle, paper and pen with important addresses and phone numbers listed, toothbrush, cash, good shoes, and copies of important documents such as a driver’s license and insurance information.
Matches and candles are not recommended in the emergency disaster kit if the home is heated by propane, because of potential gas leaks following a disaster, she said. During severe weather season, it might be a good idea to keep a bag of necessary medication set aside to also grab on the way to shelter.
For those who have pets or children, extra items will be needed. Consider including books, cards or entertainment items for children in the emergency disaster kit to help keep them calm and occupied, Harrison said. People should keep copies of pet shot records, food, toys and a picture of them with their pet in the emergency disaster kit as well, which might be helpful in claiming the pet at a shelter following the disaster.
A map of Kansas is also a good idea to include in the emergency disaster kit, she said, as watches and warnings are issued by county. The emergency disaster kit should be revisited every six months to trade out food items and ensure everything is working properly.
A myth many people believe is that the house will explode if they don’t open the windows during a tornado warning, Omitt said. Although people think they are doing this to equalize the pressure, in reality opening windows is actually one of the worst things they could do.
“When the wind gets in, it’s going to find a way out, and usually that’s by lifting the roof off or blowing out the walls,” Omitt said.“By opening your windows, you’re allowing the wind to come in wherever it wants. It also takes extra time and makes your home more vulnerable to wind damage.”
Caught outside during a tornado warning? Omitt said take every precaution beforehand to avoid being in that situation. This means paying attention to severe weather outlooks, typically released two to four days before the anticipated arrival of a storm system. Awareness during potentially severe weather events, particularly those high-risk days mentioned in the outlook, could help people so they are not caught outside or in a car, the worst places to be during a tornado.
Try to get into ditch or culvert as an absolute last resort, Omitt said, or if in a car drive out of the way of the tornado’s path and try to find shelter. Be aware that many ditches could be filled with water, which poses the threat of drowning.
When inside during a tornado warning, go to the lowest level and get under something sturdy, Omitt said, and remember that being underground is the best option.
“No specific part of the basement is better,” he said. “When I was growing up, people said you should be in the southwest or northeast side of the basement. There is no research that suggests that one is better than the other. What is important is to get as low as you can, and get under something sturdy to protect yourself from blowing or falling debris.”
More information can be found at the K-State Research and Extension Weather Data Library (https://www.ksre.ksu.edu/wdl/). Other resources include the National Weather Service offices in Dodge City, Goodland, Kansas City, Topeka, or Wichita, or your county emergency management website. The Extension Disaster Education Network also has helpful resources.
This story is part 2 of a two-part series on severe weather. For more information about understanding how storms develop, see Severe Weather Season Part 1: Understanding the Storms.