LOOKING TO THE SKY: Dickinson County to observe Severe Weather Awareness Week

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Weather can be unpredictable as spring approaches. The change season means the a higher risk of tornadoes, severe thunderstorms, and other inclement forecasts.

Dickinson County Emergency Management and the National Weather Service plan to help get the public ready for these storms with Iowa's Severe Weather Awareness Week, which takes place from March 21-25.

"This is a way to help remind citizens that we are transitioning out of winter to spring, along with that comes the severe weather season," Dickinson County Emergency Management Coordinator Mike Ehret said. "The biggest thing is to get people in the mood of thinking about the severe weather season and preparations in place for the season."

Each day of the week will focus on a different weather topic. Monday is severe thunderstorms, Tuesday is receiving warning information, Wednesday is tornadoes, Thursday is family preparedness, and Friday is flooding.

Iowa's hard-to-predict weather is causing one change: A statewide tornado drill planned for Wednesday has been changed to Thursday, due to severe weather in parts of Iowa. Dickinson County's tornado drill siren is now scheduled for 10:10 a.m. on Thursday.

Ehret encourages families to have an emergency plan in place. He said the first step of this plan should be designating a safe spot in the home.

"Everyone needs a spot in the home where they need to go if there is a tornado," Ehret said. "You need to make sure you are under something sturdy. If you don't have a basement, then find centrally located room on your lowest floor. You want to put as many walls as possible between you and the outside."

Ehret said once you have located a spot, you need to assemble an emergency kit. He recommended to supply the kit with 72 hours worth of food and water, as well as flashlights, blankets, radio and other essentials.

Staying informed is also key. Dickinson County Emergency Management offers a alert system that delivers severe weather information through email and text message. In extreme cases, an actual phone call will be sent. To sign up for the new alert system, go to dcem.us.

"The thing about the text message system and the sirens is it tells you that something is happening but doesn't give a lot of detail," Ehret said. "You need to get inside when you get the message or hear the sirens to gather as much information as you can. You need to stay as informed as possible."

Ehret said people need to have multiple ways to get these details. In addition to television and the Internet, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric weather radio is another valuable tool to stay updated on a forecast.

"I always recommend a weather radio at home," Ehret said. "They sit quietly until a warning is issued by the weather service. It will especially help during the middle of the night. It will tell you what is exactly going on."

People may also check Dickinson County Emergency Management's Twitter and Facebook accounts for information on upcoming severe weather.

Ehret said people should check the weather at the start of the day, especially if they are going to be outside or on a lake for extended periods of time.

"You need to look at the forecast every day to see if there are any thunderstorms in the forecast," Ehret said. "If there is: Are they just general thunderstorms or could they include tornados? You may need to alternate plans for that day depending on what the forecast says."

When severe weather hits, don't linger outside. Any extra time spent outside during a storm can be life-threatening.

"You should seek shelter as fast as you can," Ehret said. "You don't want to get stuck outside when a tornado forms. We try to tell people to get inside and find out why the sirens are going off."

Ehret encourages business, schools, and individuals to participate in the statewide tornado drill at 10 a.m. on Wednesday. He said the drill is a good time to practice existing tornado emergency plans.

"The National Weather Service issues a mock tornado watch for the whole state of Iowa," Ehret said. "Throughout the following half hour, the different weather offices that cover the state issue mock tornado warnings."

Ehret hopes that people form habits during Iowa's Severe Weather Week that they use throughout the rest of the year.

"We need people to keep in mind that these are things that can happen," Ehret said. "These are devastating events. We want everybody to be prepared and ready for whenever severe weather might happen."

For more information on how to protect yourself from severe weather, go to noaa.gov or dcem.us.

Being Prepared, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration tips

1. Know your risk: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recommends checking weather.gov every morning to ensure that you're ready for the day's forecast.

2. Take Action: You should assemble an emergency supplies kit with 72 hours worth of food and water. Make sure that that you have an emergency communication plan. This plan lists meeting places and alternate ways of communication in case of emergency.

3. Be A Force of Nature: Help inspire others by sharing your weather-ready story on social media. It can be a simple as posting a photo of your emergency supplies kit or letting your friends know how to reach you during an emergency.

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