Severe Weather Awareness Week

It's that time of the year again.  Severe Weather Awareness Week in Wisconsin will take place April 19th-23rd.  As is the case every year, we take some time out in the Weather Lab to go over some precautions and tips you should take to heart before the threat for damaging thunderstorms or tornadoes happens.

Before I get too far, let me fill you in on how last year fared locally and across the Badger State when it came to stormy spring/summer weather.  In general, it was the quietest severe weather season in some time, with no tornadoes in North Central Wisconsin (only the 2nd time that has happened) and only 11 severe weather reports (the lowest ever) which includes large hail, wind damage or flash flooding in the counties along the Highway 51/I-39 corridor,down to Wood County and Portage County and on to the east.  More so there was a stretch of no severe weather at all from April 25th until August 2nd.  For the whole season in the state of Wisconsin there were 16 tornadoes, all of which were EF0 or EF1, which is the on the lower end of the Enhanced Fujita Scale for winds.  The average number of twisters in the Badger State in a given year is 21.  Nevertheless, there were instances of flooding rain near the start of Summer in June across parts of Taylor and Marathon Counties, then again on August 14th in Marathon County with bands of heavy rain that rolled through.  More so, there was some damage from a microburst of winds on the southeast side of Wausau during the summer that downed trees and caused localized damage.

Needless to say, the spring and summer ahead are likely to be more active than 2009.  However only time and the weather conditions will tell how active the season ends up being.  With that in mind here are a few FAQs on tornadoes that we get along with what you should do.

Q: If I am at home or work, where should I go if a tornado warning is issued for my area?

A: Let's start with being at home. First and foremost, you want to be inside, way from any windows in an interior room on the lowest level of your home. So if you've got a basement, head there and be sure to find a secure place, preferably in the middle of the basement that you can protect yourself. Getting under a secure piece of furniture and covering your head are the best options, or perhaps getting under the staircase that heads down into the basement if that's an option. If you don't have a basement, then head into an interior bathroom or closet. The key here is to have as many walls between you and the outside of your home in the instance the roof gets ripped off, if debris flies through the walls or windows, so that you will have the most protection. Some folks have an action plan that includes putting on a helmet or if in the bathroom, getting into the tub and pulling a mattress over their heads. If you live in an apartment and are on a second or third floor, get to the lowest floor and huddle in an interior space on that lowest level in the hallway or perhaps laundry room.

If you're at work, you should have a plan of action of where to go. Many factories and plants have people who monitor the weather on threatening days, and also coordinate drills to guide folks to certain safe spots. If you work in a smaller setting, the best place to be is on the lowest floor in an interior area, like a restroom, small office, or break room, if not the basement.

Q: What are some things I SHOULD NOT do if a tornado is heading my way?

A: There are many myths floating around out there of what to do that aren't necessary and in the end could cost you precious time or even you life. So let's set the record straight.

DO NOT run around your house opening windows to "equalize the air pressure". There is absolutely no reason to do this, especially because if a tornado hits, winds are going to knock out your windows and the air pressure is going to rapidly fall regardless as the twister approaches.

DO NOT take shelter in a large room like an auditorium, movie theater, lobby with lots of windows, or a mobile home. Instead head to an interior place or in the case of a mobile home, get out and head for a sturdier structure.

DO NOT attempt to outrun a tornado by car if one is approaching, or stay in your car as a means of shelter. Instead if you are on the road, abandon your car and get into a ditch or sheltered spot close to the ground. You want to avoid getting hit by any flying objects and once again cover your head. If there is a building like a hospital or other well constructed structure close by, head inside.

DO NOT take shelter under an overpass. This is not a safe place to be as strong winds can create a wind tunnel effect and literally sweep you out from under the overpass. More so, if a tornado hits that type of structure, there will be a lot of metal, roadway materials and possibly cars flying around that could hit you.

Q: How do I know if a tornado warning is issued and how much time will I have before it hits?

A: Probably the most obvious aspect that a tornado may be approaching is the sky turning very dark during the daylight hours, perhaps to an odd shade of black or green, along with copious lightning or a rapidly increasing winds. Needless to say if you experience this, troublesome weather is approaching. As for knowing when a warning is in effect for your area, there are many ways to know. First off, some towns in North Central Wisconsin do have tornado sirens that are sounded when a tornado warning is issued, others do not. The best way to find out is to call your local municipality. Another way is to have a NOAA weather radio set up to alert you if a warning has been issued. This is especially important at night when you may be asleep and this will act as an alarm to threatening conditions. You can also set up your cell phone to receive a text message or call in the event of severe weather warnings being issued for your location. Of course the best way to know a warning is issued is to have your tv tuned to our 24/7 Weather Channel, Newschannel 7 or radio turned to our radio partner at 550 AM WSAU. Not only will you be informed of the warning, but we'll be here to give you live, up to the second information on the location of the storm and how soon it may be approaching where you live.

In general, from the time a warning is issued to when a twister could hit can range from just a couple of minutes to as much as 15 minutes. The bottomline is to have a plan of action ready to execute in the event a warning issued, day or night.

I'll pass along a few more tips in the next blog and be sure to tune in to our newscasts on Newschannel 7 as well as our 24/7 Weather channel for additional insights on preparing for the threat of severe weather.

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