Severe Weather Awareness Week to prepare citizens for major disasters
According to the National Weather Service, Missouri experienced 83 tornadoes – with one death and 32 injuries – in 2017.
In an effort to help citizens prepare for the upcoming storm season, the Marshall Fire Department will be observing Severe Weather Awareness week from Sunday, March 4, through Saturday, March 10.
Saline County Emergency Management Director and MFD Fire Chief Tony Day said Saline County could have its first round of severe weather any day now.
“Spring is coming,” he said. “And with spring and the weather changes, severe weather comes.”
Storm siren tests in Marshall will start next week, Wednesday, March 7 – weather permitting – at 1:30 p.m.
“The storm warnings are outdoor warning sirens,” Day explained. “They’re not to be heard inside. If they are, it’s a bonus.”
Day said the best thing to do if you are inside during severe weather is to listen to the radio or monitor the weather on TV or the Internet.
“The citizens of Marshall and Saline County have to understand that they have to take responsibility for themselves,” he said. “I can set warnings off all day long, but if they are not prepared – and do not take shelter – the only thing i can do is pick up the pieces after the storm.”
It is important to have a shelter in mind ahead of time, as well as supplies, such as water, food and a cellphone. If a major disaster happens, there are fewer than 100 responders in Saline County – including firefighters, police officers, ambulance personnel, county deputies and state troopers.
“You may be three days before you can get help,” Day explained. “You may not be able to get an ambulance for three days if we get a major disaster. You have to be prepared.”
He explained that if there is a tornado warning – if one of their first responders see it – or if there is a radar indicated storm – whether anyone sees it or not – he sets the sirens off.
“Most of these things happen just after dark,” he said. “You cannot see those things, unless you are lucky enough to see it hit a power line. A lot of it relies on radar. I will set it off even if no one has seen it.”
According to Day, the MFD will not use an “all clear” siren.
“I get some people that don’t understand why,” he explained. “What has happened in the past … is the storm sirens are set off, and then that storm passes, but another one is coming right behind it … and we set them off again. People think that’s the all clear. People go outside, people get hurt.”
In today’s age, people can listen to the radio or monitor the storms on TV or the Internet, to find out if the storm has passed, and if it is clear to move from shelter.
Day said after a storm has passed, it’s important to stay in your shelter for at least an additional 30 minutes.
“There’s a lot of hazards out there,” he said. “Power lines are down, you could have damaged vehicles leaking fuel, broken glass, trees down. People have a tendency to want to go out and see the damage, but actually most of the injuries from a major storm happen afterward.”
During severe weather, tornadoes are not the only thing known to wreak havoc. High winds, lightning and flash floods can cause problems of their own.
“High winds – 70 mph winds – will set the sirens off,” Day noted. “That is hurricane force winds. Those can cause a lot of damage … because you can have a swath of wind 40 miles wide, that’s going 70 mph. Tornadoes are generally football fields … wide, and cause a lot of damage intense. But if you have a 40 mile wide area of 70 mph winds, it can devastate a whole town.”
Day said lightning causes more injuries than tornadoes and car wrecks, and is very dangerous.
“It’s a present danger,” he said. “People don’t really understand how far away you can be from a storm. You can be five miles away and still get struck by lightning. If you can see it, you can get struck by it.”
Flash floods are a common problem during storm season, and Day said it’s important to use caution when driving.
“Most people understand where they live at, where the roads get flooded, but they tend to drive through it anyway, because they are used to it. But, flash floods are really dangerous, especially in the low water crossings,” he said. “Even in Marshall there are four or five places, if we get four inches of rain in a half an hour, it will flood.”
Day said because it’s getting closer to spring, severe weather is expected to hit anytime.
“I just want the citizens of Saline County and Marshall to be prepared and ready for this,” he explained. “It shouldn’t be a surprise – we all live in Missouri – we’ve been here for a while, we understand it, but we become complacent.”