For Release March 12, 2002

Time to Become Aware of Severe Weather

by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent

Growing up in "tornado alley" I learned to associate spring time with the chance of thunderstorms, and all that associated damage that may come with those thunderstorms. You learned to watch the weather and how to associate those warm muggy days with the risk of severe thunderstorms. I learned at a very young age what the phrase, tornado weather, meant.

Now that I live in a community where we have so many residents who did not grow up in tornado alley, Iíve had to develop a new appreciation for their concern and even occasional panic when the watches and warnings start coming out over the airwaves. This is severe weather awareness week. This serves as a good opportunity for long time residents to review severe weather safety and for newer residents to learn some of the important safety awareness rules.

Thunderstorms are a regular occurrence in the Great Plains. Many thunderstorms are not severe, but some can be. The number one threat from thunderstorms is not tornadoes, but lightning. Very few thunderstorms contain tornadoes. Every thunderstorm contains lightning. Lightning is nothing to be taken lightly. A bolt of lightning can produce temperatures hotter than the surface of the sun, it can blow the bark off of trees, and needless to say, even an indirect hit can leave you affected for life. If you can hear the thunder, you need to be taking cover until the storm moves out of the area.

The number two threat from thunderstorms is not tornadoes, it is flooding. Flash flooding and especially the increasing problem of urban flooding kills more and more people every year. Crossing moving water in a vehicle is a very unwise thing to go. One foot of water can move most small cars, and two feet of moving water will move most vehicles on the road today. Donít risk it! Stay out of flood waters. Find another route or wait until the water recedes.

While hail, straight line winds and tornadoes can all cause fatalities, they are more likely to cause property damage. All these different facets of storms need to be respected, not feared but respected. Fear leads to panic and poor decision making. Respect leads to understanding and wise decision making.

Here are a few steps to help you, and your peace of mind, as we move into the severe weather season. Listen to a local radio station for your weather, or better yet, buy a weather radio so you can obtain 24/7 forecasts and immediate notification of severe weather. Watching a television station thatís in a town 60 miles away, or further, may not give you adequate warning of impending severe weather.

Learn to associate certain types of weather with storms. Gusty south winds, high temperatures and high humidity are classic ingredients of the thunderstorm recipe. Listen for severe weather alerts. Watches, either thunderstorm or tornado, will be issued for very large areas and indicate that severe weather COULD develop. Warnings are county specific, sometimes even just a portion of a county, and mean that severe weather IS occurring, prepare to take necessary precautions or shelter.

Take time at home and at your place of work, to learn a severe storm response plan. Where is the safest location in the building and when should you go there. Remember, personal safety for you and your family are of the highest importance. Property can be replaced, lives canít. Donít panic, but respect the severe weather potential here in Tornado Alley!


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