Severe Weather Week links winter, springtime storms

Friday, March 22, 2013

Children, teachers and farmers enjoyed relatively mild weather on their way to school Jan. 11, 1888, but by the end of the day, thousands of children and teachers were stranded, and of those caught outside, 235 died in what came to be known the School Children's Blizzard.

We'd understand the storm today -- an immense Arctic cold front collided with warm, moisture air from the Gulf of Mexico, causing the temperature to drop from a few degrees above freezing to 20 or 40 degrees below zero in some places, spreading from Montana in the early hours to Lincoln, Nebraska, by 3 p.m.

Today, we'd start hearing about the storm days before, checking out radar and satellite images over breakfast and receiving updates via text, voice calls and smartphone apps. As a result, not many people are killed or stranded by severe weather, but that doesn't mean we can let our guard down.

Severe Seather Awareness Week next week, March 25-29 in Nebraska, is traditionally a time to prepare for the spring storm season and its accompanying tornadoes, lightning, hail, flooding and high winds.

Checking today's forecast, however, makes it more appropriate to prepare for winter's last gasp. We're in a winter storm warning until 7 a.m. Sunday, with as much as 14 inches of snow possible north of Interstate 70, coupled with gusts to 35 mph or higher making huge drifts possible.

Cell phones are as much an irritant to teachers and parents as they are indispensible to teenagers, but they can be a lifesaver when it comes to keeping people safe during severe weather.

U.S. Cellular and other wireless providers note that free severe weather text alerts and other resources make cellular telephone communication indispensible in times of emergency.

But like any emergency tool, a phone is only as as useful as the preparation that has gone into making it useful when crisis arises.

Some useful tips:

* Have important numbers handy and back them up, using an online system if available.

* Break through with texting. When a high volume of calls overloads systems during a storm, a text message may be able to get through. Text messages take up less bandwidth on the network than calls, and may work when phone service is intermittent.

* Stay up to date with breaking news. There are many free weather apps available to fill that need.

* Store "ICE" -- In Case of Emergency -- contacts in your phone. Simply program "ICE" in front of a person's name or title, such as "ICE Mom" or "ICE Dave" to help first responders quickly contact these important people. Make sure those contacts know about medical conditions that could affect emergency treatment, such as allergies or current medication.

* Stay charged up: Keep your phone charged up, and turn off unneeded apps to conserve battery life, and keep a charger in your car to recharge on the go.

Of course, no single technology can replace common sense when it comes to preparing for severe weather. Check out the weather forecast and be prepared to change your plans when winter, or summer storms threaten

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