Tornado, severe weather awareness

This week, April 15-20, is Tornado and Severe Weather Awareness Week in Wisconsin.

As part of the week’s activities, the National Weather Service is conducting a statewide tornado drill on Thursday, April 18.

A mock tornado watch will be issued at 1 p.m. and a mock tornado warning at 1:45 p.m. The drill will end at 2 p.m.

Wisconsin broadcast radio, TV and cable channels will also participate.

This drill will also test emergency weather radio (also known as a NOAA all-hazards radio).

The tornado drill will take place even if there is inclement weather; however, if actual severe storms are expected in the state on Thursday, the drill will be postponed until Friday with the same times.

Kathy Frank, Marinette County Emergency Management Program Assistant/County Public Information Officer, said if severe storms are also possible Friday, the drill will be canceled.

“This is a great time to make sure your family is ready for tornado season. Remember, a “watch” means severe weather is possible; you should listen to local radio, television or weather radio and be prepared to move to safety,” Frank said. “A “warning” means severe weather (tornado, damaging hail or winds) have been reported or indicated on radar; move to a place of safety now.

Frank added this is also a great time to remember the important lessons learned from tornado outbreaks across the country.

On May 22, 2011, a massive EF-5 tornado with winds over 200 mph hit Joplin, Mo., directly killing 159 and injuring more than 1,000 people.

Despite the tornado warnings why were there so many deaths?

A National Weather Service study on the Joplin tornado reveals that a majority of residents did not immediately seek shelter when tornado warnings were issued.

Instead they sought verification from other sources (TV, radio, phoned somebody else or went outside to look) before taking shelter.

The time it took between those warnings and seeking shelter cost lives.

Plan in advance and practice your plan, ensuring that all family members understand where to go for shelter.

Get inside and get low. In a basement, get under a sturdy table or stairs.

If a basement is not available go to a small interior room on the lowest floor, putting as many walls as possible between you and the storm.

Get under a table or cover yourself with whatever is at hand.

Do not stay inside a mobile home.

Seek shelter in a nearby sturdy building.

Residents should plan in advance where to go and how to get there.

If you are caught outside with no shelter nearby, either stay in your vehicle with the seatbelt on or leave the vehicle and get lower than the roadway, covering your head with your hands.

What if family members are separated when a storm hits and unable to return home?

Pre-determine a meeting place and identify an out of town emergency contact to help communicate among family members. If voice service is unavailable, try text messaging from a cell phone.

Additionally, the American Red Cross is urging residents in northeast Wisconsin to make sure households, schools and business are prepared for possible severe weather including rain, strong winds and possible tornados.

“Listen to weather alerts and designate a safe space where people can gather for the duration of the storm,” said Judy Gregory, Regional Manager, Disaster Services. “The area should be a basement, storm cellar or an interior room on the lowest floor away from windows.”

The American Red Cross now has a Tornado App available and gives iPhone, iPad and Android smart phone and tablet users instant access to local and real-time information, so they know what to do before, during and after a tornado.

The free app includes a high-pitched siren and “tornado warning!” alert that signals when a NOAA tornado warning has been issued. This feature allows users to make critical decisions and to take actions to help keep themselves and their loved ones safe even in the middle of the night.

An “all clear!” alert lets users know when a tornado warning has expired or has been canceled.

Other features of the app include:

– Location-based NOAA tornado, severe thunderstorm and flood watch and warning alerts.

– One touch “I’m safe” messaging that allows users to broadcast reassurance to family and friends via social media outlets that they are out of harm’s way.

– Preloaded content that gives users instant access to critical action steps, even without mobile connectivity.

– Toolkit with flashlight, strobe light and audible alarm.

– Locations of open Red Cross shelters.

“If a tornado is threatening your area, listen for alerts and warnings, grab your emergency preparedness kit and head to your designated safe area,” Gregory added. “Be prepared to evacuate if necessary.”

The Tornado App can be found at