It's Severe Weather Awareness Week, and the St. Thomas Public Safety Department reminds the St. Thomas community that the annual statewide tornado drill is planned for Thursday, April 14. The drill is an opportunity to review and test spring and summer severe-weather safety procedures.
Here's what happens
The National Weather Service will simulate two tornado warnings on April 14. The first will take place at 1:45 p.m. when all jurisdictions will activate their warning systems. This means the outdoor notification sirens will go off at a time other than the first Wednesday of the month. It allows schools, businesses and hospitals to practice their refuge plans.
At 6:55 p.m., a second simulated warning in all metro-area counties and many others throughout the state will give families and second-shift workers a similar opportunity.
Please review this information about tornado watches and warnings:
The National Weather Service issues a tornado watch when weather conditions are favorable for the development of tornadoes. Continue with your normal activities, but pay special attention to the latest weather conditions, monitor radio and television weather reports and be prepared to move to a shelter if a tornado occurs.
The National Weather Service issues a tornado warning when a tornado is reported or is imminent. Seek shelter immediately if you are in or near the path of the storm. Warnings are issued via radio and television by county and city names. Make sure you know the name of the county where you are and the cities that surround you.
Thunderstorms can produce straight-line winds that exceed 100 miles per hour. For this reason you should treat severe thunderstorm just as you would tornadoes. Move to an appropriate shelter if you are in the path of the storm. The National Weather Service also will issue a watch or a warning for these weather events.
The strong rush of wind from a thunderstorm is called a downburst. One of the primary causes is rain-cooled air that accelerates downward, producing potentially damaging gusts of wind.
Strong downbursts can be mistaken for tornadoes. They are often accompanied by a roaring sound similar to that of a tornado. Downbursts can easily overturn mobile homes, tear roofs off houses and topple trees. People caught outdoors are especially vulnerable because trees can fall into areas where people may be.
How to receive severe weather warnings
Severe Thunderstorm and tornado warnings are disseminated swiftly using hotlines and many other means of communication, including radio, television and the Internet. The development of technology has allowed people to receive warnings via cell phone, pagers and other methods. Spotters provide important storm reports, and emergency officials carry out the plans that emergency managers have developed. Updates are issued frequently until immediate danger has passed.
Outdoor sirens are used by many cities and counties to alert citizens to severe weather, and the National Weather Service also alerts media outlets to severe weather information so that it can be passed along.
The tone-alert feature of NOAA Weather Radio also activates specially designed radios to sound an alarm that alerts you to dangerous weather. These radios can be purchased at most stores that sell electronic equipment. If you purchase one, make sure it has a battery backup and a NWR SANE receiver. This allows the users to program and received weather notices for a specific geographic area; additionally, these radios will notify users of other types of emergencies such as amber alerts and hazardous spills. Check out https://www.weather.gov/nwr for more information.
The Public Safety Department encourages offices to coordinate monitoring of weather warnings through one of these NOAA Weather Radios and weather Internet sites.
Depending on the situation, Public Safety may supply notification through the UST Emergency Notification System; also, Public Safety officers may supplement notices with bullhorn announcements in buildings or personal visits to different offices or areas of campus. (Note: St. Thomas does not have a central public address notification system.)
People have asked about the best refuge area in the Anderson Athletic and Recreation Center Complex. With all of the glass in the building, community members who are in the building during a severe thunderstorm or tornado warning are encouraged to go the first floor locker room space in the northeast corner of the building. For refuge in an apartment, residence hall or office building, community members should move to the innermost room on the lowest level. In most cases these will be the basements or tunnels of the buildings. In a hallway, crouch down and protect your head from flying debris. Avoid areas with windows, glass and large roof expansions.
At home, go to the basement, if possible. Get under a table, work bench or some other sturdy furniture to avoid falling debris. A stairwell also is a good place to seek shelter during a tornado. If you cannot get to a basement, go to a small, interior room on the lowest floor. Closets, bathrooms and interior walls afford the best protection in most cases. Or, try to hide under a bed. Get under something sturdy or cover yourself with blankets. Stay away from windows.
In a mobile home, car, truck or other vehicle, abandon these as quickly as possible. Seek a sturdy shelter or permanent structure. Remember that many deaths occur when people try to drive away in a vehicle but get caught in deadly winds. Avoid bridges since they act like wind tunnels.
Outside, lie flat in a nearby ditch or depression and cover your head with your hands. Be aware of the potential for flooding. Do not get under an overpass or bridge. You are safer in a low, flat location. Never try to outrun a tornado in urban or congested areas in a car or truck; instead, leave the vehicle immediately for safe shelter. Protect yourself from flying debris. Flying debris from tornadoes causes most fatalities and injuries. For more information, maps and other safety tips on severe weather and tornadoes check out the Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s Homeland Security website.
For more information about St. Thomas' severe weather procedures, call Public Safety, (651) 962-5100.