For Release March 9, 1999

Be Aware of Severe Storm Potential

by Chuck Otte, County Extension Agent

This is severe storm awareness week. It’s only appropriate that it started with a thunder snowstorm on Monday! It’s that sort of truly bizarre weather conditions that make the central plains such an exciting, and variable weather area. But the purpose of severe storm awareness week is to make everyone more aware of potential risks and how to plan and prepare for those risks. Improvisation is fine for comedy, but not for emergencies and natural disasters. When the tornado warning siren is sounding is not the time to think about what you’re going to do, it’s time to react.

Severe thunderstorms can happen almost any month of the year. With severe thunderstorms come several possible risks. We always think of tornadoes, but those are the least likely to happen but often the most feared. You are at far greater risk of things like lightning, hail, high winds not associated with a tornado and flash floods. Every thunderstorm has lightning and lightning kills and injures more people than tornadoes every year. Every severe thunderstorm is going to have hail and/or winds over 58 mph.

A little common sense will go a long way in protecting you and your family from these common seasonal threats. The first step towards common sense is simple awareness. At least once a day listen to a local weather forecast. For our area that means a Junction City or Manhattan forecast. Not a Topeka, Wichita, Kansas City or even Salina forecast but one targeting Geary County. A difference of just a few miles can make a big difference in weather. If there is talk of severe storm potential then keep tuned in to a local station for regular updates.

If a storm watch is issued that should set you to a slightly hire state of awareness. A watch simply means that conditions are favorable in a large area (often a rectangle 60 by 100 miles or so) for severe storms to develop. Sometimes they will, sometimes they won’t, all the ingredients are present, the question is WILL they. If a warning is issued, either tornado or thunderstorm, then it means that those events are happening or are about to happen. A warning is issued for the immediate area ahead of a storm. A warning is usually issued for a county, or part of a county at a time. If a warning is issued for your area take the necessary precautions.

The necessary precautions are what you should be working on this week. For tornadoes and high winds you need to protect yourself from flying debris. If you live in a mobile home go to a safe place in a sturdy, nearby building. Go to the basement of your house, if you have one, or to an interior room or closet. Avoid windows and put as much structure between you and the outdoors as possible. Cover your head with blankets, pillows or whatever you can to protect yourself from flying debris. Have a battery powered radio tuned to a local station, have a flashlight and if possible be fully dressed with sturdy shoes on your feet. You don’t want to be wandering around barefooted following a tornado!

Severe storms happen in Kansas on a regular basis. There’s no need to fear them, but please have some healthy respect for them. There is a lot of information available from our office, from the county emergency preparedness office and from the local Red Cross. Plan now and be prepared. Learn to observe the daily changes in the weather so that you can give yourself as much advance warning as possible. Your odds of being in a tornado are pretty slim, but it’s pretty likely that you’ll go through a severe thunderstorm. Plan ahead and be prepared because, you are in Kansas, Toto!


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