Planning ahead for severe weather can help keep families safe

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MANHATTAN, Kan. -- Severe weather season is upon us and Kansans have compelling reasons to be prepared, according to Mary Knapp, who serves as the state’s climatologist.

More than 90 tornadoes were reported Saturday into Sunday, April 14-15 in Kansas alone, said Knapp, who is the director of the Kansas Weather Data Library based at Kansas State University.

She noted that a number of people heeded warnings and took cover, particularly at a mobile home community in Wichita.

“That definitely saved lives,” said Knapp, who added that the tornadoes resulted in extensive damage to homes in the neighborhood and some injuries, but no fatalities were reported.

“Based on the Storm Prediction Center data from 1980-2009, Kansas ranks first in the number of severe tornadoes (EF4 & EF5),” said Knapp, who is director of the Kansas Weather Data Library based at Kansas State University. “Tornadoes are most common in the early afternoon to late evening, and during the spring from March to June. However, they can occur at any time.”

She recommends that families and businesses, alike, take steps to be as prepared as possible.

* Review your severe weather safety plans. Consider how you will monitor changing weather conditions. It is a good idea to have more than one method to receive the warning. That way if one system isn’t operational, you have another available.

* Buy a weather radio. Using a NOAA ( National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Weather Radio brings a nationwide network of radio stations broadcasting continuous weather information directly into your home or business. These radios now feature special area messaging called "SAME", which allows you to select the area of interest when receiving warnings and alerts. Some versions have additional features such as strobe lights and bed shakers that can serve special needs.

* Sign up to receive text messages and other alerts over the phone. Local radio and television stations also are good way of getting up-to-date information. R emember tornado sirens are designed to alert people to danger in an outdoor setting. They are not designed to be heard inside of buildings.

* Determine where you will seek shelter. If there is a designated storm shelter near where you live or work, that would be the first choice. If one is not available, seek shelter at the lowest level, placing as many walls between you and the outside as possible. Interior rooms, such as closets and bathrooms, are good choices. Planning this location in advance and talking to family members and/or work colleagues allows you to respond quickly when needed.

* Store emergency supplies in the area in which you will seek shelter. Those supplies should include a flashlight, portable radio and batteries, water and other essentials. A detailed list can be found at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) website at http://www.ready.gov/

* When traveling, be alert to conditions that may develop along your route. In many cases, it is safer to stop and allow the storm to pass rather than try to drive through it. Remember that a highway overpass is not a safe shelter in the event of a storm. In addition to the danger from the storm, you are at risk from other vehicles.

“Remember that not all tornadoes have the clear, visible funnel,” Knapp said. “Tornadoes can be completely wrapped in rain, making them difficult to detect with the naked eye.”

A final caution is that severe storms, whether or not they include a tornado, are also a source of lightning, high winds, hail and flash floods. Any of these hazards can be just as deadly as a tornado, she added.


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