Somber reminder of power of nature's fury

Monday, March 14, 2011

The mounting death toll in Japan is a somber reminder of the power of nature's fury. Yes, the most long-term danger, that from damaged nuclear power plants, can be accredited to man, but the earthquake and resulting tsunami is the underlying cause.

The news should bring this week, March 14-18 Severe Weather Awareness Week in Nebraska, into sharper focus.

Earthquakes are not unknown in our area, but the most extreme danger to which we're likely to be exposed is a tornado.

Tornadoes can occur any month of the year, but in Nebraska, are most common in April, May and June.

Many of the survivors of the Japanese tsunami owe their lives to early warning, and the same can be true for a Nebraska tornado.

Toward that end, a statewide tornado drill will be conducted Wednesday.

A morning drill will begin between 10 and 11 a.m. CDT with the issuance of a mock tornado warning and activation of outdoor warning devices (sirens) about 10 to 15 minutes later.

Another mock tornado warning may be issued sometime around 7 p.m. the same night and some communities may also choose to activate their warning sirens.

If severe weather is possible next Wednesday, the drill may be postponed or canceled.

Residents have a new safety tool in the form of cellular phones, which may help provide more advance warning.

U.S. Cellular offers the following tips to take advantage of your mobile phone:

* Charge it up daily, or recharge with a car charging while driving.

* Keep important numbers stored in you phone for easy access in an emergency.

* Store "ICE" -- In Case of Emergency -- contacts in your phone. The company suggests ICE in front of a person's name or title, such as "ICE Mom" or "ICE Dave" to help first responders quickly contact important people. Make sure the ICE contact knows about any medical conditions that could affect emergency treatment for an individual, such as allergies or current medication.

* Break through with texting. Sometimes when voice service is disrupted because of a high volume of calls during a storm, a text message will make it through. Texts take up less bandwidth than calls.

* Rely on your phone to access websites and applications. Internet applications on even basic phones can help provide the latest forecast.

Beyond that, have a plan in place for what to do when severe weather strikes. When a tornado is reported in the area, seek shelter in a basement. If none is available, seek shelter in the center of the building, such as an interior closet or hallway away from windows and doors. If you live in a mobile home, abandon it immediately and seek shelter in a more secure building.

If you are caught outside away from a basement, lie flat in a ravine or ditch as close to the ground as possible. Be aware of possible flash flooding, though, and stay in those places for only as long as there is immediate danger. Tornadic storms often have severe lightning, so stay away from tall objects such as trees, power poles and towers.

More information is available at http://www.crh.noaa.gov/gid/?n=severeawareness

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