Prepare your family for severe weather
TOPEKA – While the threat of severe weather in Kansas is year-round, March 5-9 is Severe Weather Awareness Week in Kansas, and a good opportunity to discuss the importance of emergency preparedness with your family. In 2017, the National Weather Service reported about 60 tornadoes statewide. Kansas also experiences numerous other high impact weather events, including blizzards, severe thunderstorms, and floods. “When severe weather strikes you often have only a few minutes to respond and seek shelter. It is essential for you and your family to be prepared in an emergency,” said Cherie Sage, Safe Kids Kansas. Safe Kids Kansas recommends becoming familiar with the type of weather you may encounter, prepare an emergency disaster kit, and practice your emergency plan frequently with your entire family.
Many people do not understand the difference between a watch and a warning. When conditions are favorable for severe weather to develop, a severe thunderstorm or tornado WATCH is issued. Information from weather radar, spotters, and other sources is used to issue severe thunderstorm and tornado WARNINGS for areas where severe weather is imminent. Severe weather warnings are passed to local radio and television stations, and broadcast over weather alert radios. These warnings are also relayed to local emergency management and public safety officials who then activate the local warning systems to alert communities. Remember, thunderstorms are very dangerous and can become tornadic quickly, so shelter is advised for those warnings as well. Getting to a safe shelter in advance of a storm is especially important for families with children or individuals with a disability.
Safe Kids Kansas recommends assembling an emergency disaster kit in advance. If you determine you need to take shelter, be sure every family member puts on hard-soled footwear and take your emergency disaster kit with you. An emergency disaster kit should contain:
• Non-perishable food items and water;
• A manual can opener if your kit contains canned food;
• blankets or sleeping bags;
• A change of clothing for each family member;
• A first-aid kit;
• prescription medications;
• sun block;
• A flashlight and batteries;
• A NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) weather radio;
• A set of car and house keys;
• A whistle to signal for help;
• A highway map that marks the counties to follow the storm;
• Identification and a credit card or cash;
• Any specific items you may need for children such as diapers or formula.
Additional supplies and equipment may be necessary for family members with disabilities or medical conditions.
Don’t forget your pets will also need supplies, including food, water, collars and leashes. For smaller animals you may want to have a crate or a cage to help keep them safe and close.
Another good preparation tool is to designate an out-of-state friend or family member as your family contact in case weather strikes while your family members are apart. “Each family member should know the phone number of the emergency contact person and call to alert them they are safe and where they are going to be,” said Sage.
Safe Kids Kansas reminds parents to develop an emergency plan for severe weather in advance, and practice the plan often with your children, just as you do for other emergencies, such as a house fire. Be sure to include scenarios when you are at home, work, school or outdoors.
If a tornado warning is issued, your family should immediately go to your designated tornado shelter which may be a storm shelter or a basement. If you are not able to get underground, then move to an interior room, hallway, bathroom, or closet on the lowest level. If possible, get under a sturdy piece of furniture to protect you from debris, and stay away from windows.
If you are in a vehicle or mobile home, get out immediately and head to the nearest shelter. Do not try and outrun a tornado in your vehicle. If you are outside, lie flat in a low location, and cover your head with your hands. Do not take shelter under an overpass or bridge. Flash flooding causes more weather-related deaths annually, so be aware of your surroundings if you seek shelter in a ditch or ravine.
After a severe storm has passed, be careful to watch for fallen power lines and structures that may be weakened from storm damage. Use a flashlight to inspect your home. Do not use candles, matches or lighters, as there may be leaking natural gas pipes or fuel tanks nearby.
Safe Kids Kansas also recommends that your family learn basic CPR first aid and teach young children how to call 9-1-1. Severe weather can strike at any time with little or no notice. The best way to protect yourself and your family members is by being prepared in advance.
Wind-tunnel gusts whipping the region are ushering in the season of severe weather threats to the Great Plains. With emergency officials urging area residents to be ready, and the Barton County Commission Monday morning approved a proclamation denoting this as Severe Weather Awareness Week in Barton County.
Severe Weather Awareness Week, March 5-9 is a cooperative effort of the National Weather Services and the Kansas Emergency Management Association, said Barton County Emergency Manager Amy Miller. “Barton County Emergency Management would like to remind everyone to be prepared for the spring severe weather season.”
The proclamation encourages individuals, businesses and communities to plan and prepare for an emergency.
But, “today, we are actually under an extreme grassland fire warning today and tomorrow,” Miller said. “So, thinking about wildfires is another part of emergency preparedness.”
One of the biggest things people can do is just stay abreast of the current weather conditions. They can follow forecasts and stay in tuned to warnings and watches and “make themselves aware of what is happening.”
This is easy with broadcasts websites and smartphone alerts.
“Also, be prepared,” she said. She urged people to pack a “go bag” containing emergency items, a change of clothes, medications and other things needed should one have to leave in a hurry.
Other tips included having shelter and communications plans in place, remembering pets, and learning basic first aid and CPR. Also, “be ready to act.”
Trimming trees and knowing how to shut off the gas, electricity and water to a home can also be important, she said.
Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer signed a similar proclamation last Thursday marking this week as Severe Weather Awareness Week in Kansas.
Although there were 60 documented tornadoes in the state last year, no deaths were attributed to those events and credits early warning, spotter and preparedness systems helping to contribute to fewer lives lost and fewer injuries.
Of those 60 twisters, Barton County had the most of any county with five, according to information from the National Weather Service. Also, the May 16 tornado was the strongest recorded in Kansas at EF 3 and had the longest track at over 26 miles.
This storm also caused the only two tornado-related injuries in the state. It was also the most costly with damage estimated at $658,000.
The reason for the observance
“It doesn’t take a lot of time or a lot of money to ensure you and your family are prepared,” said Angee Morgan, Kansas Division of Emergency Management deputy director. “If you don’t already have an emergency kit, start now by buying a few extra batteries and high-energy snacks during your weekly shopping. Throw a change of clothes, an old pair of glasses and a pair of shoes in your kit.
“Check your first aid kit and make sure it’s complete and up-to-date,” said Morgan. “Doing a little bit each week makes it easier to prepare for unexpected events, particularly when you get the entire family involved in gathering the supplies and making an emergency plan.
“If you don’t have a specially-constructed storm shelter or a basement, do you know where the safest place in your home is? Do you know how to safely shut off the gas or electricity? If you become separated, do you have a meeting area? How will you communicate with family members who may not be at home when a disaster hits or your loved ones who will be wondering about your safety? These are the things you will need to think about when making your plan.”
Morgan said more information on emergency preparedness and building an emergency kit can be found online at www.ksready.gov.
The Kansas Division of Emergency Management will be posting preparedness information and hosting challenges on its Facebook page throughout the week. KDEM also has an online “Kansas Preparedness Challenge.”
Completing each monthly challenge makes participants eligible for a prize drawing. Go to www.ksready.gov and click on the “Kansas Preparedness Challenge” link to get started.
For more information on emergency preparedness, go to www.ksready.gov, www.redcross.org, or www.fema.gov.