Importance of staying informed and prepared during severe weather highlighted during Severe Weather Awareness Week in Minnesota and Wisconsin

Last week was Severe Weather Awareness Week in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Stevens County Emergency Management provided information on different topics relating to severe weather awareness for each day. The information in this article was provided by Stevens County Emergency Management Director Dona Greiner. 

Day one: Different Types of Warnings

Day one focused on different types of warnings. The National Weather Service (NWS) uses the words advisory, watch and warning to alert the public to potentially dangerous weather. Many people don’t know the difference between each alert, but they are important to understand.

An advisory is issued when a hazardous weather or hydrologic event is occurring, imminent or likely. They are for less serious conditions than warnings, but cause significant inconvenience, and can also lead to property damage or life-threatening situations if caution is not taken.

A watch means weather conditions are favorable for dangerous weather to occur. If a watch is issued, it means to watch out for what the weather could do and be ready to act accordingly. It’s important to remember that some weather events can come and go quickly, and a warning might not be issued in time, so make sure to have access to the latest information and be aware of the weather happening around you.

A warning means the weather event is imminent or occurring somewhere in the defined warning area and that people need to take shelter as soon as possible. Outdoor tornado warnings are normally given by sirens, and people indoors should listen to radios, TV or the internet for the latest information. Depending on local policy, other types of weather warnings may also be broadcast via sirens. A winter storm warning means it’s not safe to travel or venture outside. If traveling, head for the nearest shelter.

Day two: Storms, hail and lightning

Thunderstorms affect fairly small areas and are typically about 15 miles in diameter, and last for 30 minutes, but even if they’re small, they are still be dangerous and cause damage.

Thunderstorms can produce straight-line winds that exceed 100 miles per hour, and for that reason, should be treated like tornadoes and move to an appropriate shelter if you are in the path of the storm. 

Rain-cooled air that accelerates downward is the main cause of a strong rush of wind called a downburst. Downbursts can be mistaken for tornadoes, and can even sound like them at times. More importantly, they can cause damage similar to a tornado, as well, and can easily overturn mobile homes, tear roofs off of houses and topple trees. Campers are especially vulnerable because trees can fall into campsites and onto tents. 

Damage from severe wind accounts for half of all weather damage reports in the lower 48 state, and is more common than damage from tornadoes.

Hail is a common product of thunderstorms, and causes nearly $1 billion in damage each year. Usually about the size of a pea, hail can commonly reach the size of baseballs, and even grapefruit size. The larger hail stones can fall faster than 100 mph, and can be fatal if it strikes a person.

Every thunderstorm produces lightning. An average of 43 americans per year are killed by lightning, and hundreds more are severely injured.

  • There is no outdoor space that is safe from lightning when a thunderstorm is in the area.
  • If you hear thunder, lightning is close enough to strike you, and when you hear it, immediately move to a safe shelter, and stay there for at least 30 minutes after you hear the last sound of thunder.
  • If indoors, stay off corded phones, computers and other electrical equipment that put you in direct contact with electricity. Avoid plumbing including sinks, baths and faucets. Stay away from windows and off of porches. Do not lie on concrete floors or lean against concrete walls.
  • If you are outside and it’s a last resort, immediately move away from elevated areas such as hills, mountain ridges or peaks. Nover lie flat on the ground. Do not shelter under an isolated tree, or use a cliff or rocky overhang for shelter. Move away from ponds, lakes and other bodies of water, and stay away from objects that conduct electricity. 

We all know that “When thunder roars, go indoors.” But what if you can’t hear the thunder? That’s why meteorologists created a new slogan that would be more inclusive of the deaf and hard of hearing community. As a result, “See a flash, dash inside” is now used in conjunction with the original slogan above.

Day three: Flooding

Floods kill 200 each year in the United States, and displace 300,000 people from their homes. They cause over $2 billion in property damage yearly, as well. In 2019, six of the nine state and federally-declared disasters in Minnesota involved some sort of flooding. About 75 percent of flash-flood deaths occur at night. Half of the victims die in automobiles or other vehicles. Many deaths occur when people drive around road barricades that clearly indicate that the road is washed out ahead.

Floods can happen quickly, and without much warning, so having a general plan of preparedness can make all the difference. 

  • Assemble an emergency supply kit that includes enough provisions for you and your family to live on for a minimum of three days.
  • Make an emergency plan for you and your family and share it with them.
  • Learn about the emergency plans that have been established in your area by your state and local government.
  • Get a NOAA Weather Radio. Listen for information and warnings.
  • Elevate appliances such as the furnace, water heater and electric panel in your home if you live in an area that has a high flood risk. 
  • Consider installing “check valves” to prevent flood water from backing up into the drains of your home. As a last resort, use large corks or stoppers to plug showers, tubs, or basins. 
  • If feasible, construct barriers to stop floodwater from entering the building and seal walls in basements with waterproofing compounds. 
  • Get Flood Insurance. Property insurance does not typically cover flood damage. Talk to your insurance provider about your policy and consider if you need additional coverage. You may also want to learn about the National Flood Insurance Program at www.FloodSmart.gov. Review this Flood Safety Checklist for more ways to prepare and protect your home

The Minnesota Dept. of Natural Resources also offers extensive information about flood plain management, flood safety and preparedness, mitigation and the National Flood Insurance Program.

 Turn Around Don’t Drown 

Driving Safety

  • Six inches of water will reach the bottom of most passenger cars causing loss of control and possible stalling.
  • A foot of water will float many vehicles.
  • Two feet of rushing water can carry away most vehicles including sport utility vehicles (SUV’s) and pick-ups.

What to do in a Flash Flood

  • Flash floods occur within six hours of the beginning of heavy rainfall. Below are some guidelines for keeping safe during a flash flood:
  • Be prepared to evacuate and go to high ground immediately.
  • Get out of areas subject to flooding, such as low spots, canyons, washes, etc.
  • Do not attempt to cross a flowing stream on fo​ot. Even water only six inches deep, when moving at a high rate of speed, can knock you off your feet.
  • Never drive through flooded areas or standing water. Shallow, swiftly flowing water can wash a car from a roadway. Also, the roadbed may not be intact under the water.
  • If the vehicle stalls, abandon it immediately and seek higher ground. Rapidly rising water may engulf the vehicle and its occupants.
  • Be especially cautious at night when it’s harder to recognize flood dangers.
  • Do not camp or park your vehicle along streams and washes, particularly during threatening conditions.
  • Understand the difference between a Flash Flood Watch and a Flash Flood Warning

Know the Terms

Flash Flood Watch 

When Flooding is possible. Tune in to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio, or television for information​.

Flash Flood Warning  

When Flooding is occurring or will occur soon; if advised to evacuate, do so immediately.

Day four: Tornado drill day

On Thursday, tornado drills were held to test out warning systems and give an opportunity to practice in the event of an emergency. The NWS sent out reminders of the drill early in the day. In the early afternoon, and once again in the evening, the NWS activated NOAA Weather Radio with a tone alert in Minnesota, and shortly before that, sent information on social media and issued a public information statement. Many people also received calls and text messages as a test of the alert warning system. 

Day five: extreme heat

Since 1990, Minnesota’s third deadliest weather factor has been due to excessive heat, trailing only tornadoes and flooding. 

Safety tips…
The National Weather Service will issue advisories or warnings when the heat index is expected to have a significant impact on public safety. The common guidelines for the issuance of excessive heat warnings is when the maximum daytime index is expected to reach 105, and the nighttime low temperature does not fall below 75 or 80 degrees.

Here are some tips to follow to ensure that heat-related problems do not impact you…

  • Slow down. Strenuous activities should be reduced, eliminated or rescheduled to the coolest time of the day. Individuals at risk should stay in the coolest available place, not necessarily indoors. Dress for summer. Lightweight, light-colored clothing reflects heat and sunlight and helps your body maintain normal temperatures.
  • Put less fuel on your inner fires. Foods such as proteins that increase metabolic heat production also increase water loss.
  • Drink plenty of water or other non-alcoholic fluids. Your body needs water to keep cool. Drink plenty of fluids, even if you don’t feel thirsty. However, those who suffer from epilepsy, heart, kidney or liver disease, are on fluid restrictive diets, or have a problem with fluid retention should consult a physician before increasing their consumption of fluids.
  • Do not drink alcoholic beverages.
  • Spend more time in air-conditioned places. Air conditioning in homes and other buildings markedly reduces danger from the heat. If you cannot afford an air conditioner, spending time each day in an air-conditioned environment during hot weather affords some protection.
  • Be careful not to get too much sun. Sunburn makes the job of heat dissipation that much more difficult.

For any severe weather, it’s important to stay in the know. Residents of Stevens County can sign up to receive alert messages when dangerous weather occurs. Visit co.stevens.mn.us and click on “alert sign up” to receive emergency notifications.