Now is the Time to be Ready for Severe Weather

Weather Service testing Tornado Warning system Tuesday March 5th at 10:00 am

Despite drought and record heat in Illinois during 2012, severe thunderstorms and tornadoes still took their toll on the state. Tragically, eight people were killed and 108 injured when an early morning twister devastated the towns of Harrisburg and Ridgway, Illinois with 180 mph winds on February 29th. During the spring and summer of 2012, dozens of other tornadoes and damaging straight-line winds injured 17 people and killed one person.

To help the citizens of Illinois be more aware of the dangers of severe storms, the National Weather Service (NWS), has declared the week of March 3 – 9, 2013 Severe Weather Preparedness Week. In addition, the annual statewide “Tornado Drill” will be held Tuesday, March 5th at 10:00 am CST. At that time, Illinois NWS offices will send an actual Tornado Warning as a test to local media outlets through the Emergency Alert System (EAS), as well as 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 at 10:00 am Tuesday during this “Tornado Drill”.

The Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) is also taking part in preparedness efforts by offering safety tips on the state’s preparedness web page, during the entire month of March. People across the state can enter a contest on the “Ready Illinois” web page to win one of more than 100 weather alert radios. The radios were purchased and donated by the Illinois Emergency Services Management Association (IESMA), a non-profit 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% 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.” said Miller.

The state of 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. Some tornadoes cause minor damage to buildings and trees, while others can result in complete destruction of everything in their path.

– A SEVERE THUNDERSTORM can produce hail one inch in diameter or larger, and/or 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 nearly 70% of the tornadoes that affect Illinois.

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

– 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. Warnings typically last for 30 to 60 minutes.

  • Use several sources to receive warning information, don’t just rely on sirens. Weather alert radios, local broadcasters, weather related web pages, social media sites, 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 Safety” web page at: