Saturday, March 03, 2012
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Preparedness critical as severe weather season is upon us

Tornado warning system test at 10 a.m. Tuesday

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[March 03, 2012]  Severe storms, flooding and tornadoes wreaked havoc across much of our nation, including the state of Illinois, in 2011. Nearly 1,700 tornadoes affected our country last year, with a heavy toll on life and property. Tornadoes killed 550 people in the U.S. during 2011 -- the most since 1925 -- and more than 5,400 were injured. Property and crop losses due to tornadoes and severe thunderstorm winds exceeded $10 billion nationwide, the most on record.

HardwareEven though it is only early March, it already looks like 2012 is taking over where 2011 left off. Deadly tornadoes ripped through southern Illinois during the early morning Wednesday, illustrating that these storms can hit any time of the day or year.

To help the citizens of Illinois be more aware of the dangers of severe storms, the National Weather Service, has declared the week of March 4-10 to be Severe Weather Preparedness Week in the state of Illinois.

In addition, the annual statewide "tornado drill" is scheduled for Tuesday at 10 a.m. Illinois NWS offices will send a "test" tornado warning at that time to local media outlets through the Emergency Alert System, and to those with weather alert radios. People are encouraged to use this time to practice their tornado safety plans at home, schools, businesses and anywhere groups gather. Many local communities will also test their outdoor warning sirens during this tornado drill.

The Illinois Emergency Management Agency is also taking part in preparedness efforts by offering safety tips on the state's preparedness website,, during the entire month of March.

People across the state can also enter a contest on the Ready Illinois website to win one of more than 100 weather alert radios. The radios were purchased and donated by the Illinois Emergency Services Management Association, a nonprofit organization of statewide emergency managers.

"Outdoor warning sirens are a small part of the warning process during threatening weather, not the only part," said Chris Miller, warning coordination meteorologist with the NWS in Lincoln. "Around 30 percent of all tornadoes occur at night, when it is difficult to hear the outdoor sirens in your home -- especially while asleep. Weather alert radios will wake you up and give you potentially life-saving warnings. They are like having your own personal storm siren," Miller said.

Illinois averages 46 tornadoes and hundreds of reports of large hail and wind damage each year. We cannot stop severe storms from occurring, but there is something that everyone can do to prepare for these inevitable forces of nature:

  • Know the terms related to tornadoes and severe storms.

    • A TORNADO is a violently rotating column of air that extends from the base of the thunderstorm cloud to the ground.

    • A SEVERE THUNDERSTORM can produce hail 1 inch in diameter or larger, as well as wind gusts around 60 mph or higher that can result in damage to trees, structures or power lines. Severe thunderstorm winds can be stronger, and produce more damage, than 70 percent of the tornadoes that affect Illinois.

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    • A WATCH means that tornadoes or severe thunderstorms are possible, and you need to watch the weather closely.

    • A WARNING means that a tornado or severe thunderstorm has been detected by radar or has been reported by a trained storm spotter. Seek safe shelter immediately if your location is in the path of the storm.

  • Use several sources to receive warning information -- don't just rely on sirens. Weather alert radios, local broadcasters, weather-related Web pages, social media, and computer and phone apps are a few suggestions.

  • Stay alert for the latest hazardous weather information, especially at night or if traveling.

  • Identify safe indoor shelters. A basement is best. If you don't have a basement, go to the lowest possible floor in a closet or hallway, away from windows and exterior doors. If traveling, get to a nearby building quickly. If none is available, as a last resort, lie flat in a ditch and protect your head.

  • Storm warnings are issued for portions of counties. Know the name of the county you live in and the counties you travel through.

  • If it is safe to do so, contact family members and friends when you become aware of a severe thunderstorm or tornado that may threaten them.

For more information about being adequately prepared for severe weather, visit the NWS Lincoln "Severe Weather Preparedness" Web page at

Click here for "Severe Weather Fact Sheet."

[Text from National Weather Service, Lincoln office]

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