Stormy weekend is wakeup call for Midwesterners

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

It's Severe Weather Awareness Week in Kansas this week, and Nebraska's observance isn't until the last week of the month.

But we bet it won't be hard for officials to get people's attention when it comes to giving storm survival tips.

A record number of tornadoes, perhaps as many as 113, were spawned by a powerful low-pressure system that stretched from Oklahoma to Illinois. They killed 10 people, including nine in Missouri.

"To have a storm that actually stays together from all the way west of Kansas City to just south of Chicago is highly unusual," said Ed Shimon, a National Weather Service meteorologist.

Two of the fatalities were a couple who left their mobile home in fear, only to be killed when the tornado threw their pickup truck into a propane tank. Ironically, their home survived the storm.

With the tornado season getting an early start, it's a good idea to get an early start in being prepared. When the sirens sound, it's too late to think ahead.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency -- all kidding aside -- urges families to conduct tornado drills each tornado season. They should designate an area in the home as a shelter and practice having everyone in the family go there in response to a tornado threat.

Other tips:

* Remember the difference between a tornado "watch," which means twisters are possible, and a tornado "warning," which means one has been sighted or indicated by weather radar.

* Have disaster supplies on hand, including a flashlight and extra batteries, a battery-operated radio and extra batteries, first aid kit, emergency food and water, manual can opener, essential medicines, cash and credit cards and sturdy shoes.

* Develop an emergency communications plan for getting back together when the storm is over, and ask an out-of-state friend or relative to serve as a "family contact."

* Leave mobile homes and take shelter in a building with a strong foundation.

* Learn to read the tornado danger signs. An approaching cloud of debris can mark a twister's location, even if a funnel is not visible. Before it hits, the wind may die down and the air may become very still. Tornadoes generally occur near the trailing edge of a thunderstorm. It is not uncommon to see clear, sunlit skies behind a tornado.

* If a tornado approaches, go to a windowless, interior room, storm cellar, basement or lowest level of the building. Avoid wide-span roofs such as auditoriums, cafeterias or large stores.

* Never try to out-drive a tornado in a car or truck. Tornadoes can change direction quickly and lift a car or truck and toss it in the air. Get out of the car immediately and take shelter in a nearby building or lie in a ditch or low-lying area away from the vehicle, but be aware of potential flooding.

But as one business woman who lost thousands of dollars of trucks said, tornadoes are just one of the costs of living in the Midwest. "This is life," she said. "Deal with it."

By taking a few precautions, however, we will be better prepared to do so.

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