How to Prepare for Severe Weather in St. Cloud
Even though we have had several rounds of severe weather this spring, believe it or not, we are just now about to enter the peak of our summer severe weather season here in central Minnesota. Here are a few ways to keep you and your family safe in a severe weather situation.
True or false? A watch and a warning are the same thing.
False. A watch and a warning are two separate products. The National Weather Service has computer models and maps and scientific data that predict when and where the chances of severe weather will happen. When the models, maps and data all show that conditions are right that severe weather could strike a certain area, they issue a watch. A watch means that you need to do just that. Watch the sky and keep tuned to the radio or the television and be aware of changing weather conditions. It’s also suggested to have a plan just in case severe weather moves into your location.
When severe weather is happening or is imminent, the National Weather Service will issue a warning for a certain area. Hennepin County Emergency Management Director Eric Waage says that it takes between two and nine warnings before people take the warning seriously and seek shelter. When a warning is issued, whether it’s for a severe thunderstorm, a tornado, or a flood, it means you need to immediately take shelter or seek higher ground.
True or false? Tornadoes can’t form near lakes, rivers or big cities.
False. If conditions are right, tornadoes can form anywhere. There are several misconceptions about where tornadoes can and cannot form. It is widely believed that larger cities, lakes and rivers will keep tornadoes away. This is absolutely not true. The City of Minneapolis itself has a population of over 300 thousand and there have been two tornadoes there in the last three years; including one that obliterated a neighborhood in May 2011.
True or false? Severe weather, especially tornadoes can’t form at night.
False. Not only can tornadoes form anywhere; they can form at any time. While most severe weather strikes between 4 and 9pm, severe weather including tornadoes can form any time of day.
True or false? The tornado sirens will keep blowing until the warning expires.
False. Many believe that the civil defense sirens will blow until conditions are clear, so when the sirens have stopped blowing, it’s safe to come out. It is very rare that the sirens will blow more than once, but some counties and cities will blow them every few minutes during a warning, however, they will not sound an all clear. Sirens are meant to alert you to the warning, but you are urged to seek shelter and tune to NOAA Weather Radio, local radio or TV for the latest information. Though tornado sirens can still save lives, sometimes, storms can strike suddenly or in rare cases, knock out the power that runs the sirens, so it's best to be aware of the weather in advance and keep up to date on changing conditions if a severe weather watch is issued.
True or false? You can outrun a tornado.
False. You should never, ever try and outrun a tornado. If you are in your vehicle and you hear that there is a tornado warning for your area, you should look for a safe location like a sturdy building at a rest stop or a gas station, remain there and keep tuned to local radio or television until given the official all clear. Listen for them to say that the warning has been cancelled or allowed to expire before getting back into your car and continuing to your destination. The sirens will not blow to let you know that it’s safe. Once you do get back in your vehicle, be aware that you may encounter damage, debris on the road, high water or downed power lines. If that is the case, turn around and find another way.
Also, if you’re traveling and hear that a tornado warning is issued, you must never, ever park under a freeway overpass. Just because they did it on TV doesn’t mean that it’s safe. If you are nowhere near a sturdy building, don’t keep driving. Your vehicle is the worst place to be in a tornado. Get out of your car and get into a low lying ditch or culvert and cover your head.
So, knowing that we are just entering into the peak of the severe weather season, what should you have stashed away just in case?
First and foremost, have a plan. If you and the kids are playing a board game in the kitchen and Dad is outside mowing the lawn and a tornado warning is issued, where do you go? Everyone should know to go to the most interior room or hallway on the lowest level of your home and stay away from windows. A closet under the stairs or a bathroom with no windows are both perfect places. Also have a blanket or some way to cover your body. Tornadoes can have enough power to pick up semi trucks and send them spinning through the air, so anything and everything can be a projectile. Flying glass can do a lot of damage, so make sure your face and body are covered up. If you live in a mobile home, abandon it immediately and head for the designated shelter. If you are away from home for some reason, say shopping at the mall, visiting a loved one at the hospital, on vacation at a hotel or camping, know where the designated shelter area is. Mall security, hospital staff and hotel workers should be able to direct you, and your instructions at the camp ground should include a storm shelter or evacuation plan. The St. Cloud Hospital, the River's Edge Convention Center and other large facilities recently underwent training for emergencies such as a tornado warning and the people of central Minnesota are in very good hands.
Secondly, invest in a programmable NOAA Weather Radio. In fact, it’s a good idea to invest in one that's portable so you can take it with you in your storm shelter, or invest in two so you can keep them in different rooms or have one outside. You can also download the NOAA Weather Radio App. It's $4.99 and available through the iTunes app store. You can program the radio for your area, so if severe weather strikes in the middle of the night, the radio will wake you up and alert you to the situation. Also have fresh batteries on hand in case you lose power, so you are still able to stay informed.
Finally, have a storm shelter survival kit tucked away that’s easily accessible just in case. And some of these items you may not have thought of off the top of your head. Besides an extra NOAA Weather Radio and fresh batteries, you should keep a battery operated cell phone charger, first aid kit and medications on hand.
If you have a disease like asthma or diabetes that require daily treatment, make sure you have a few doses readily available.
It’s also a good idea to have some food to eat in case you’re stuck for a while. Nothing fancy and nothing that requires refrigeration. Protein bars, crackers, and candy are in my stash. So is bottled water. If you have an infant, don’t forget the baby formula.
Keep a change of protective clothing including long pants, a long sleeved shirt, socks, tennis shoes (or work boots) and gloves because after a tornado, there will likely be glass and debris all over. If you have to dig your way out, your body, hands and feet will be protected.
Keep a copy of insurance papers, phone numbers, credit cards and personal identification cards for each member of your family. That way you can call your insurance agent and let them know what's going on. You can also call and cancel cards in case they get blown away.
It’s also good to have one emergency contact like a relative or trusted family friend who doesn’t live in your area that you can contact following the storm. That way you can call and let that person know you’re alright. Also let everyone else know who that designated person is in case not all family members are home when a storm rolls through and you need to let others know you're alright.
Be informed, be prepared, have a plan and we'll all get through this severe weather season together.