Prepare for mother nature's worst, Iowa

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Officials hope Iowans will once again take the time to prepare for their home state's fickle and sometimes dangerous weather this week. March 25-29 have been designated Severe Weather Awareness Week in the Hawkeye State. Though Iowa isn't prone to some hazards like hurricanes, the National Weather Service is encouraging residents as well as visitors to take steps now before a sudden emergency.

Officials with the National Weather Service in Sioux Falls said families and individuals should be sure to have a preparedness plan, a weather radio, batteries to power the radio and a designated shelter space in their home or business. Planning ahead is particularly key in the summer months, as officials say weather events during those months often require a more rapid response. Dickinson County Emergency Management Coordinator Mike Ehret said tornado warnings seem to always get the public's attention, but he noted thunderstorm warnings should be taken just as seriously.

"Last year, we had the tornado that went through Superior," Ehret said as an example. "Given that it was such a small tornado, it couldn't be seen on the radar, and it was within the rain that was falling. There were spotters in the area and they couldn't see it."

The tornado damaged offices at the Green Plains ethanol plant before destroying a garage in the city itself back in September.

The National Weather Service considers a thunderstorm to be severe when it is capable of producing hail of at least an inch in diameter or wind gusts of 58 mph or more. Particularly severe storms can produce hail larger than softballs, according to the weather services's information, as well as lightning, flash flooding and tornadoes.

If a severe thunderstorm watch is issued, officials recommend the public stay informed of the current weather via radio or other means and be ready to act if the watch is upgraded to a warning. A watch indicates a severe thunderstorm is possible in a large area, while a warning means severe weather has been reported by storm spotters or observed on radar typically in a much more targeted area. The weather service says the public should take shelter in a substantial building and keep away from windows in the event of a severe thunderstorm warning. Motorists should drive to the closest secure shelter as time allows.

Prior to severe weather, the public is encouraged to make a communication plan to contact loved ones in the event of an emergency, keep trees near a house trimmed and run practice drills as a household prior to extreme conditions.

Officials statewide will be participating in a tornado drill Wednesday morning. Those who have signed up for the local Dickinson Alert will see a digital notification of the mock scenario. Ehret said this week is a perfect time for anyone who has not signed up for the mobile alerts to do so. The public can sign up for the alerts online at Sirens for Wednesday's drill will sound locally around 10:10 a.m., Ehret said.

"Hopefully, they've already got a plan in place for what they'r going to do if they're at home, work or where ever they plan to be that morning, and that's just the perfect time to test that plan," he said. "If you find things in your plan that don't quite work out, this is a good time to make changes."


A tornado is a violently rotating column of air, capable of completely destroying well-made structures, uprooting trees and hurling objects through the air like deadly missiles. Tornadoes can occur at any time of day or night and at any time of the year. Although tornadoes are most common in the Central Plains and the southeastern United States, they have been reported in all 50 states.


Severe thunderstorms are officially defined as storms that are capable of producing hail that is an inch or larger or wind gusts over 58 mph. Hail this size can damage property such as plants, roofs and vehicles. Wind this strong is able to break large branches, knock over trees or cause structural damage to trees. Some severe thunderstorms can produce hail larger than softballs or winds over 100 mph, They can also produce tornadoes and dangerous lightning as well as cause flash flooding.


Lightning strikes the United States about 25 million times a year. Lightning strikes can reach temperatures of 50,000 degrees hotter than the surface of the sun. Although most lightning occurs in the summer, people can be struck at any time of year. Lightning kills an average of 47 people in the United States each year and hundreds more are severely injured.


Flooding is a coast-to-coast threat to the United States and its territories nearly every day of the year. During a flood, water levels and the rate the water is flowing can quickly change. Remain aware and monitor local radio and television outlets. Avoid flood waters at all costs and evacuate immediately when water starts to rise. Some dangers persist after the flooding has stopped. Floodwaters often become contaminated with sewage or chemicals. Gas leaks and live power lines can be deadly, but are not obvious at first glance. It is never safe to drive or walk into flood waters. People underestimate the force and power of water. A mere 6 inches of fast-moving flood water can knock over an adult. It takes just 12 inches of rushing water to carry away a small car, while 2 feet of rushing water can carry away most vehicles.


High winds can occur during a severe thunderstorm, with a strong weather system, or can flow down a mountain. When winds are sustained at 40-50 mph, isolated wind damage is possible. Widespread significant wind damage can occur with higher wind speeds. During strong thunderstorms, straight line wind speeds can exceed 100 mph. High winds can blow objects around and pose a significant threat to safety.


Heat is one of the leading weather-related killers in the United States, resulting in hundreds of fatalities each year and even more heat-related illnesses. Cars can heat up quickly when left in the sun. It is never safe to leave a toddler, disabled person or pet locked in a car, even in the winter. Children locked in cars have died in December and in 70 degree weather, even with a window left open a little.

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