Are you severe weather ready?
While it may feel like it’s far-fetched to be talking about severe thunderstorms and tornadoes with the cycle of winter storms that have been blanketing us for the last two months, March 3-9 is Severe Weather Awareness Week in Illinois.
Severe thunderstorms and tornadoes can occur in any month. The National Weather Service (NWS) Weather Ready Nation program has several steps you should take to make sure you are ready when severe weather occurs.
n First, be weather ready.
Check your local forecast either through news media, a weather app service or directly through the NWS (our local forecast office is the Quad Cities, their website is www.weather.gov/dvn).
The NWS website will include the daily Hazardous Weather Outlook, which is published every morning around 5 and then refreshed as needed throughout the day. It is a quick, regional rundown of the expected weather for the day.
n Second, sign up for notifications.
Some weather apps will send out information on watches and warnings in your area. Several mobile phone companies have Severe Weather Alerts as well. But the most reliable source is NOAA Weather Radio.
NOAA Weather Radio broadcasts directly from the NWS offices, and will be the fastest source for watch and warning information. Here in Galva, we also have an Outdoor Warning System (OWS), or more commonly referred to as the tornado siren.
There are six OWS sirens located throughout Galva —one at the high school weight room, the elementary school, the Galva Emergency Services Building (police department and fire station), Prairie Ridge subdivision, the Galva Park District, and at the Public Works yard near the east water tower.
These sirens are activated locally by the Emergency Services and Disaster Agency (ESDA) director, or another appointed person. The OWS in Galva will be activated for an imminent threat from a tornado OR a severe thunderstorm.
A severe thunderstorm will have winds of 58 miles per hour or hail of one inch in diameter or larger. Tornadoes are violently rotating columns of air in contact with the ground and the cloud base. Not all tornadoes are visible.
As spotters, we are trained to not only look at the clouds for a funnel shape, but also, the ground for debris or flashes as power lines are damaged. A funnel could is not the same thing as a tornado. A funnel cloud is a violently rotating column of air in contact with the clouds, but not the ground. The funnel cloud would become a tornado if it reaches the ground.
When the OWS is activated, it will sound for three minutes as a continuous blast. The siren at the Park District may sound like it has a bit of a wave as that particular model rotates 360 degrees. They may be reactivated for additional cycles, at the discretion of the ESDA director, but may not always. Just because the OWS quits, does not mean the threat is over. There is no “all clear” that will be sounded.
n Third, create a family communication plan.
Your plan should include an emergency meeting place, and pick an emergency shelter location at your home. Your emergency shelter location should be on the lowest floor of your house, preferably a basement. If you have a walk-out basement, stay away from the wall that is exposed for the walk-out.
If you do not have a basement or a storm cellar, go to an interior room on the lowest level. An interior room should have no wall that is on the exterior of your house.
You can get more ideas on how to create your own emergency plan at www.ready.gov/make-a-plan. You should also create an emergency communication plan for your business, or if you are an employee, ask your supervisor about how to handle severe weather.
In 2004, an F4 tornado (winds 240 miles per hour) leveled the Parsons Manufacturing building just outside Roanoke. Because they had a plan in place and put it into action, with the 150 employees in the building at the time, there were ZEROinjuries.
n Fourth, practice your plan.
Once your plan is in place, run tornado drills at home (or your business). Make sure everyone knows where to go, how to get there, and an alternate route. Don’t forget to include your pets.
n Fifth, prepare your home.
Keeping trees trimmed near your home can help prevent damage should limbs fall in high winds. If there is time, secure loose items around your home (like patio furniture). Close your windows and doors.
Old “wisdom” said open a window to help equalize the pressure. Never fear, if Mother Nature wants a window open to equalize pressure, it will be opened. Also, secure valuables as feasible, either in your safe shelter or under sturdy objects.
n Finally, help your neighbors.
Encourage them to be part of the Weather Ready Nation. Share the resources you found with them, to help them prepare.
While we can’t stop severe weather from coming, if we follow these steps and prepare ourselves, our families, our homes and our community, we can reduce the impact of severe weather.
n Also, as we are coming into Severe Weather Awareness Week, we would like to answer a few common questions.
1. What is the difference between a Watch and Warning?
Simply put, a Watch means probability and a Warning means occurring now.
When a Severe Thunderstorm Watch or Tornado Watch are issued, it means conditions are favorable over the next several hours (usually the length of time in the Watch) for severe weather.
A Severe Thunderstorm Warning or Tornado Warning means they are occurring right now or are imminent.
When a Warning is issued for the area you are in, you should take cover immediately. Do not wait. Even if the OWS does not activate, you should still put your emergency plan into action.
2. Why is the OWS active on the first Tuesday?
This is our state-required monthly OWS test — just like you’ll hear tests of the Emergency Broadcast System on television and radio.
The City of Galva ESDA is required to test our OWS monthly. Our regular test is the first Tuesday of each month at 10 a.m. When the OWS is activated, the ESDA director, and or other ESDA members are observing the sirens to ensure all six activate and shut down properly.
The only exception to testing the OWS on the first Tuesday at 10 would be if there is severe weather in the area. In which case, the test would be postponed one week.
3. The OWS didn’t activate, but we are under a Warning. Why?
The decision to activate the OWS in the City of Galva lies in the hands of the ESDA director and assistant directors.
Their decision is based on radar, communication with the NWS and other emergency managers in the region, and reports from spotters. If a spotter reports a severe condition, the OWS will always be activated. And when a Warning is issued by the NWS, we take it very seriously, but do sometimes wait for confirmation of the severe condition on the ground.
However, we are human, and so are the meteorologists at the NWS. It is possible to miss something. That is why we always say to heed a Warning from the NWS. And it is possible we will see severe weather here that the NWS will miss. In 2017, one of our spotters, who also has a degree in meteorology, spotted a tornado signature in a velocity scan on radar.
Based on that information, plus reports from spotters, the OWS in Galva was activated. A tornado did occur just west of Galva, and quite a bit of damage was done. The NWS did not issue a Warning until after ESDA notified them we had activated our sirens.
If you are interested in becoming a volunteer spotter with the City of Galva ESDA, contact City Hall — 932-2555.