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Taking seriously the threat of severe weather

PRINCETON — Having a NOAA weather radio could mean the difference between life and death, according to Kris Donarski, director of the Bureau County Emergency Services Disaster Agency.

On Monday, Donarski said using a NOAA weather radio is the No. 1 thing people can do to protect themselves from a severe weather outbreak. The radios are relatively inexpensive and are available at area retail stores. People should make sure the radio is equipped with an alarm which will go off when severe weather is approaching their county, she said.

Since many storms happen at night when people are sleeping, they may not hear any warning sirens which could be issued by a town, Donarski said. The NOAA radio alarm is definitely loud and will wake people up so they can listen to the weather news, learn what kind of storm is approaching and take the necessary steps to get to safety, she said.

Especially taking into consideration last week’s tornadoes that killed 39 people in five Midwestern states, hopefully all Bureau County residents will take the threat of severe weather very seriously, Donarski said.

In addition to getting a NOAA weather radio, the second most important step which people can take to help ensure their safety is to have a plan in place before severe weather hits, Donarski said. That plan should include, in part, knowing where they need to go to seek shelter and having emergency supplies on hand, she said.

The Illinois Emergency Management Agency has declared this week, March 5-10, as Emergency Preparedness Week, which is the perfect time for people to refresh their memory and review their emergency plans and supply kits, Donarski said.

On Monday, WQAD meteorologist Anthony Peoples said this could be a rougher spring and summer for severe weather.

“More than likely we’ll see more severe weather this spring and summer following this mild and less snow winter we’ve had, because of La Nina,” Peoples said.

AccuWeather, a weather forecasting firm, also predicts above-normal tornado numbers in 2012 due to the warmer-than-normal water in the Gulf of Mexico which will provide the moist, unstable air to energize thunderstorm development and help spin-up tornadoes. However, AccuWeather notes La Nina is forecast to weaken.

In addition to the threat of tornadoes, there are other types of severe weather situations which can occur, such as severe thunderstorms, flooding and straight line winds, Donarski said. Bureau County residents need to familiarize themselves with different weather terms, like the difference between a warning and a watch, and to make sure they have fresh supplies on hand for any kind of emergency situation. Now is the time to get prepared, well before severe weather strikes, she said.

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Fast facts

• Illinois ranks fifth in the United States for the most tornadoes per 10,000 square miles.

• The majority of Illinois tornadoes have occurred between April 1 and June 30 and between the hours of 3 and 10 p.m. However, tornadoes have occurred every month of the year and at all hours of the day.

• Nearly 30 percent of all tornadoes in Illinois occur after dark.

• There is an average of 46 tornadoes each year in Illinois.

• There were 73 tornadoes reported in Illinois during 2011, which resulted in eight injuries and more than $20 million in damages.

• Since 1950 in Illinois, 74 percent of tornadoes have been weak with winds less than 110 miles per hour; 24 percent have been strong with winds between 110-167 miles per hour; 2 percent have been violent with winder greater than 167 miles per hour.

(Information from Illinois Emergency Management Agency)

Tornado preparedness tips

• A tornado watch means tornadoes are possible near your area. A tornado warning means a tornado has been sighted by someone or indicated by weather radar.

• Monitor any watches and warnings in your area using a weather alert radio, local media and the Internet. Do not rely solely on outdoor warning sirens.

• Purchase a weather alert radio with a battery backup, a tone-alert feature and Specific Area Message Encoding (SAME) technology that automatically alerts you when a watch or warning is issued for your county.

• If you live in a mobile home, identify a safe shelter outside of your mobile home, such as a community storm shelter, a neighbor or friend’s house, or nearby public building.

• Determine the best location in your home and workplace to seek shelter when threatened by a tornado. A basement or cellar will usually afford the best protection.

• If outdoors, go inside a substantial building if possible, on the lowest floor, away from windows and doors. If an indoor shelter is not available or there is not time to get indoors, then as a last resort lie in a ditch or culvert, using your arms to protect your head and neck.

• Maintain an emergency supply kit.

• Conduct periodic tornado safety drills at home, school and work.

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