Reminders for safety in storms

Monday, May 24, 2004

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family of the woman killed in the Hallam tornado, as well as to the thousands affected by the loss of their homes, farmsteads, property or public buildings on which they depend.

Saturday afternoon's tornado warnings in McCook were a good reminder that weather is one of those things over which we have no control -- as if the ongoing drought weren't reminder enough.

As of this morning, the toll stood at one death, 38 minor injuries, more than 120 homes and farmsteads destroyed, more than 30 homes with major damage, five public buildings damaged and eight businesses damaged or destroyed.

But when the sirens went off, too many of us went outside to look at the weather, rather than heading for shelter like we should have.

It's natural to want to see for ourselves, but that curiosity might just be the difference between life and death if a tornado is nearby.

Much better to tune in to the local radio station or turn on the NOAA weather radio to get the best available information directly from the experts.

Now is a good time for a few simple reminders, before the next storm arrives:

* A tornado "watch" means a tornado is "possible."

* A tornado "warning" means that a tornado has actually been spotted, or is strongly indicated on radar, and it is time to go to a safe shelter immediately.

If you are outdoors, here are some things to look for:

* A sickly greenish or greenish-black color in the sky.

* If a watch or warning is posted, the fall of hail could be a real danger sign. Hail, however, doesn't necessarily mean that a tornado is nearby.

* A strange quiet that occurs within or shortly after a thunderstorm.

* Fast-moving clouds, especially in a rotating pattern or converging toward one area of the sky.

* A sound like a waterfall or rushing air, turning into a roar like a freight train or jet aircraft as it comes closer.

* Debris dropping from the sky.

* An obvious funnel-shaped cloud that is rotating, or debris such as branches or leaves being pulled upwards, even if no funnel cloud is visible.

If the sirens go off, or if you think a tornado is approaching, seek shelter:

* In a basement, away from the west and south walls.

* If a basement is unavailable, head for a small, windowless, first floor interior room like a closet or bathroom.

Before storm season, assemble a "disaster supplies kit" with things like a first aid kit, a battery powered radio, flashlight and extra batteries, canned and other non-perishable food and a hand-operated can opener, bottled water, sturdy shoes and work gloves. And, make sure everyone in the family knows where your emergency shelter is.

We never know where the next storm might strike.

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