Keep your eyes on the sky for safety

Friday, June 10, 2005

Has Mother Nature got your attention yet? Southwest Nebraskans found themselves looking for cover Thursday afternoon with hail and reports of funnel clouds and tornadoes, and it's a good thing we did.

But how many of us headed to the windows or outdoors to look at the sky when we heard the civil defense sirens wailing? And, how many of us know what the real risks are from severe weather?

Not many, according to a survey by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

According to a survey conducted last fall of 1,807 residents, while 80 percent of Nebraskans feel it is "very important" to stay informed of the threat from tornadoes, some 60 percent do not feel it is "very important" to stay informed of the threat from flash flooding.

In fact, we should be more worried about flooding -- which should be obvious for anyone living along the Republican River, scene of the infamous 1935 catastrophe.

"From 1988-2003, more people died from floods than from tornadoes, hurricanes or lightning strikes," said Matthew Parker, assistant professor of geosciences at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. "And, most of Nebraska's thunderstorms, and many flash floods, occur at night when citizens are sleeping, with their television off." Parker, sponsor of a student-led UNL project to increase hazardous weather awareness, noted that 79 percent of Nebraskans do not receive severe weather information via weather radio.

And that's a shame, because weather radio, from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, sounds an alarm as soon as any kind of warning is issued for a specific area, including Southwest Nebraska.

But the UNL study may be a little misleading. Yes, a lot of us don't bother with a weather radio, because local commercial radio stations do a great job of keeping an eye on the sky for us.

Plus, there's television and the Internet. If you are online, the Gazette's Web site, http://mccookgazette.com, has a link, in the upper left, to the local NOAA page, where you'll find all the weather information you could ever need, including digital movies of color weather radar showing the movement of storms.

But that just means there's no excuse for being unaware of an approaching storm. Make sure you keep your ears and eyes open for the information you need to keep yourself and your loved ones safe.

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