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Severe Weather Safety

Each person has a role to play in preparedness. Here are several ways to prepare yourself and your family for severe weather season.

We encourage everyone to create a personal severe weather plan before severe weather strikes, so you are alerted and know what to do. The COVID-19 pandemic has raised questions about how to react to severe weather. While we understand the importance of social distancing, the National Weather Service and Emergency Management agree that during a Tornado Warning, the first priority should be protection from a potential tornado even if this means temporarily breaking social distancing.

Here are the key parts of your severe weather plan:

  • Identify how to receive alerts. Yes, more than 1 way should be used.
  • Identify where you will take cover.
    • If do you not have good shelter and move to another location, plan ahead. Make sure your location will be open (most public facilities, including LMH Health, are closed or not admitting persons) and how long it takes you to get there.
  • Build a basic emergency kit with items you'll need if you stay in your shelter for a while or need to leave your home.

Know the Terminology: Watches vs. Warnings

One of the first steps to preparedness is knowing the difference between watches and warnings. This will help you determine which actions to take for your safety.

WATCHES are issued when a specific hazard is possible during a specific time range.  

  • TORNADO WATCH: Issued when the National Weather Service believes thunderstorms are likely to develop, become severe and produce tornadoes and/or large hail and damaging winds. 
  • SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WATCH: Issued when the National Weather Service believes thunderstorms are likely to develop, become severe and produce large hail and/or damaging winds.
  • ACTIONS TO TAKE: Identify where you will be during the watch time frame. Next, determine where you will take cover if a warning is issued. This may be on the road, at home, at work, at school, etc. Stay alert to changing weather conditions. 

WARNINGS are issued when a specific hazard is or is believed to be occurring.

  • SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WARNING: Issued when a severe thunderstorm is indicated by weather radar or a spotter reports at least 58 mph winds or 1 inch hail. 
  • TORNADO WARNING: Issued when a tornado has been sighted or indicated by weather radar. 
  • ACTIONS TO TAKE: Take action immediately! Move to the lowest level of the building to an interior room with no windows. Stay in that room until the thunderstorm has passed. 

Getting Your Warning:

No matter what method you choose, be sure you have more than 1 way to get severe weather alerts just in case one does not work. Here are a few suggestions.

  • NOAA Weather Radio 
    • Weather radios are a cost effective and reliable method to receive notice of impending weather. 
      ⦁    Have battery back-up.
      ⦁    Equipped with a special alarm tone that will give immediate information about a weather, natural or man-made emergency, or a life–threatening situation. 
      ⦁    Can be programmed for your specific county.
      ⦁    The hearing and visually impaired can get these warnings by connecting weather radios with alarm tones, strobe lights, pagers, bed-shaker’s, etc. 

  • Outdoor Warning Sirens
    • Intended to alert those in recreational areas or who are outside. 
    • Sirens will sound for 3 minutes, then stop before being activated again.
    • This continues until the warning has ended or when the storm has moved out of the area.
    • There is NO All Clear siren sound. If you hear the sirens...Take Cover!
  • Call Notification System / Phone, Text & Email
  • Local TV & Radio Stations
    • Monitoring local radio and TV along with other tools will help keep you informed of changing weather conditions. Local media will also provide the “all clear”.
  • Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA)
  • Social Media and Cell Phone Applications 
    • Social media can be a good place to find updates and information about ongoing or potential severe weather. Be sure to follow official sources like DCEM, National Weather Service & local news outlets. 
    • Some cell phone applications offer alerts for severe weather. Before relying on an application, ensure it provides an audible tone to alert you even when the app isn't running.

When a warning is issued for your area, take the following safety precautions:

  • In home or building:
    • Move to a pre-designated shelter, such as a basement.
    • If a basement is not available, move to an interior room or hallway on the lowest floor and get under a sturdy piece of furniture.
    • Stay away from windows.
    • Do not try to outrun a tornado. Abandon the vehicle, and move into a pre-designated shelter or the lowest level of a building. 
    • If a suitable structure is not available, lie flat in a ditch or depression, cover your head and neck with your arms, and be aware of flash flooding.
  • Mobile homes
    • Even if tied down, offer little protection from tornadoes and should be   abandoned. 
    • If severe weather is possible, see about staying with a friend or if your park has a shelter available. 
  • Apartments:
    • If on an upper floor, see if a neighbor below is available to assist you or if the complex has a ground level or basement facility available.
    • Otherwise, go to and interior room on the lowest level possible.

You may not always be in a familiar place when severe weather strikes. Any time severe weather is possible, use the information above to identify a good shelter before the storms arrive. You can also ask the manager or a similar person where their shelter is located. 

We understand that many of our community members utilized public buildings during severe weather, most of which are closed or not open to the public due to COVID-19. Specifically, with the current health precautions in place, LMH Health is not available for sheltering.

The following buildings will be open, only during the specified times, when a Tornado Warning is issued:

  • Sports Pavilion Lawrence (100 Rock Chalk Lane, Lawrence): 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday
  • Community Building (115 W. Eleventh St., Lawrence) 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday
  • Douglas County Fairgrounds Building 21 (2120 Harper St., Lawrence): 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Monday to Friday

If in the past you have taken shelter during severe weather in a location not listed above, call ahead before a severe weather event to determine if it is still open and the hours of operation. Do not assume that location will be open because many are closed or are not allowing entry. This could be very dangerous. If you need shelter outside of the times listed above, contact a location that is open 24 hours.

If you take shelter in a public location, please take these precautions:

  • Wear a mask (cloth masks are OK)
  • Practice social-distancing techniques (staying 6 feet away from others) as much as the situation allows
  • Bring your own hand sanitizer
  • Do not bring pets
  • As soon as possible upon returning home from the shelter, wash your clothes and shoes to limit potential sources of COVID-19.

Special Sheltering Considerations:

*Identify your best shelter: an interior room with no windows on the lowest level of a building.

  • If under quarantine (exposed but not showing symptoms): Go to your designated shelter. Follow social-distancing practices as much as possible and wear a mask. 
  • If self-isolating with family (symptomatic): It is recommended to have a separate location for the isolated person to take shelter. This space should be cleaned after use. If no such space is available, follow social distancing guidelines and wear a mask. 

While in a shelter, all individuals are encouraged to:

  • Wear a mask
  • Use social-distancing techniques (staying 6 feet from others) as the situation allows
  • Wash your hands / use hand sanitizer
  • Clean the space after use

Floods are one of the most common hazards in the United States, and Douglas County has experienced a number of flooding and flash flooding events in recent years. 

Terminology Review:

  • Flood Watch - is issued when conditions are favorable for flooding. It does not mean flooding will occur, but it is possible.
    • This is the time to prepare and monitor weather forecasts and conditions.
  • Flash Flood Warning - is issued when a flash flood is imminent or occurring. A flash flood is a sudden violent flood that can take from minutes to hours to develop. It is even possible to experience a flash flood in areas not immediately receiving rain.
    • Take Action! If you are in a flood prone area move immediately to high ground.
  • Flood Warning - is issued when flooding is imminent or occurring. 
    • Take Action! Evacuate, if told to do so. Avoid areas prone to flooding include low water crossings.

Identify and Reduce Your Flood Risk:

  • Know your flood risk and elevation above flood stage. Use this map for help. You can also view your flood zone by visiting the County's website.
  • Identify low water crossings and local streams or rivers nearby that could flood or flood easily during storms. If so, be prepared to move to a place of safety. Identify at least two ways to leave your neighborhood in case one route is blocked by flooding.
  • Keep your automobile fueled in case you need to leave quickly or have to take an alternate route home. 

Steps to take before a flood:

  • Develop a family or personal emergency plan – Plan and practice a flood evacuation route from your home, work or school that takes you to higher ground.  Make sure your family knows how to contact one another in the event of an emergency, and ask an out-of-state relative or friend to be your emergency family contact. Don’t forget to plan for your pets
  • Put together a Preparedness Kit — Include a first aid kit, nonperishable food, bottled water, rubber boots, rubber gloves, NOAA Weather Radio, battery-powered AM/FM radio, flashlight, and extra batteries.
  • Get flood insurance – Flooding can cause significant damage to homes and businesses, so    protect yourself from the financial risk by purchasing insurance. Flood insurance policies typically take 30 days before they take effect, so don’t wait until it’s too late.  
    • Visit FloodSmart.gov for more information on flood insurance or talk to your local insurance agent.
  • Safeguard your possessions - Create a personal flood file containing an inventory of your possessions, important personal documents and a copy of your insurance policies.  Keep it in a secure place, such as a safe deposit box or waterproof container.  A great way to keep these files handy is to scan them on a scanner and store them on a USB flash drive or Secure Digital Card.
  • Prepare your house - Place the furnace, water heater, washer, dryer and electrical components on cement blocks at least 12 inches above the projected flood elevation.  Also, make sure your sump pump is working and install a battery-operated backup, in case of a power failure. 

During the Flood/Flash Flood Warning:

  • If advised to evacuate, do so immediately.
  • Avoid areas subject to sudden flooding.
  • If you come upon a flowing stream where water is above your ankles, STOP! Turn around and go another way.
  • Do not walk through moving water. Six inches of moving water can make you fall. 
  • Do not camp or park your vehicle along streams, creeks or rivers, particularly during threatening conditions.
  • Children should NEVER play around high water, storm drains, etc.
  • Continue monitoring NOAA Weather Radio, television, or emergency broadcast station for information.
     

Driving Tips: Turn Around, Don’t Drown. Nearly half of all flash flood fatalities are auto related!

  • Do not attempt to drive over a flooded road. The depth of water is not always obvious. The road bed may be washed out under the water, and you could be stranded or trapped.
  • 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.
  • Do not drive into flooded areas. If floodwaters rise around your car, abandon the car and move to higher ground if you can do so safely. You and the vehicle can be quickly swept away. 

Why is preparedness important?

Fires, water main breaks, and power outages are all possible interruptions to your regular schedule which many only impact you or your neighborhood. Floods, tornadoes, winter storms, and heat waves are natural disasters which can impact a much larger population for an extended period of time. All who live and work in Douglas County are subject to these and other man-made and disease-related emergencies which can happen with little notice and can change the course of your day or year. Taking steps to be prepared can reduce fear, anxiety, and losses that accompany emergencies.

What is your role in an emergency or disaster?

Emergency Services and government agencies may not be able to respond to your needs immediately. Their buildings, equipment, communications, mobility, and personnel, may be severely hampered by the emergency or disaster event or they may need to focus efforts elsewhere. Local government and disaster-relief organizations will try to help you, but you need to take steps to ready yourself and your family for the emergency. Everyone needs to be prepared to survive on your own for a minimum of 3 days, and in some cases you may need to be able to stay home for 10 days.

While we cannot control natural disasters, emergencies, or unexpected events, we can be prepared, and we can protect ourselves and our families. Taking time to plan and prepare will help you and your family lessen the impact an emergency has on you. The most important concept in developing a Family Emergency Preparedness Plan is communication. Every member of the family needs to be involved so that when disaster strikes, everyone will know what to do, and how to keep in touch. How well you manage the aftermath of a disaster depends a great deal on how well you prepare today—before the disaster strikes! 

Here are steps you can take to prepare yourself and your family:

  • Though not the most fun task, identify the hazards or risks you may face. Tornadoes, power outages, house fire, etc.
  • Identify what steps you can take to minimize the negative impacts from those hazards or risks.
    • Identifying a severe weather shelter, washing your hands or staying home when sick, installing and checking smoke detectors, etc.
  • Create an Emergency Plan to include
    • Multiple ways to get emergency alerts
    • How you will communicate with friends/family - where you are and that you are safe
    • Where you will take shelter during severe weather
    • What routes you can take to leave your neighborhood if you need to evacuate
  • Build an emergency kit
    • These are basic supplies (many of which you likely have around the house) to have ready for any emergency. This kit/bag/container can lessen the stress of an emergency. 
    • Consider your personal needs - glasses/contacts, medications, etc.
    • Don't forget your pets!

Why is preparedness important for my business?

Businesses face a wide variety of hazards which can impact or interrupt your operations.

  • Natural disasters like floods, fires, tornadoes, and damaging winds.
  • Health hazards like widespread sickness, like the flu keeping employees home.
  • Human-caused/technological disasters like gas line breaks, accidents, power outages, equipment failure and acts of violence.

What is my role, as a business, in preparedness?

Each business can takes steps to lessen the impact of an emergency on their staff, customers and operations. 

  1. Identify what risks you face. Let's start with severe weather since it is Severe Weather Week! 
  2. Develop an emergency plan. This doesn't need to be super fancy and we have a checklist
  3. Train your staff on how to execute your emergency plan.
  4. Test your plan! Yes, we encourage you to actually do what your plan says you'll do.
  5. Make any needed changes and set a schedule to review and test your plan at least annually. 

What else should I consider?

Your emergency plan is the start of getting your business ready for an emergency - both specific to your business or a community-wide disaster. Next, consider working through a Continuity of Operations Plan. Basically, what will you do when your business is interrupted - short term or long term. What's most important to get up and running, can you operate elsewhere, how do you communicate with staff, etc. Here's a guide. We're also more than happy to help guide you in the process. Your business is important to you, your staff, your customers and your community! We want to help make sure you are ready to recover following an emergency! Join us in getting prepared. 

While tornadoes seem to take a lot of the focus during severe weather conversations, thunderstorm winds are the more common cause of damage. That's why we are taking a deeper look at Thunderstorms.

What is a Thunderstorm? 
A thunderstorm is formed from a combination of moisture, rapidly rising warm air and a force capable of lifting air such as a warm and cold front, a sea breeze or a mountain. All thunderstorms contain lightning. 
Thunderstorms may occur singly, in clusters or in lines. Thus, it is possible for several thunderstorms to affect one location in the course of a few hours. 
Severe thunderstorms are capable of producing either damaging winds (58 mph or greater) and large hail (1 inch or greater).

Thunderstorm Facts

  • At any given moment, nearly 1,800 thunderstorms are in progress over the surface of the earth. 
  • On average, the United States gets 100,000 thunderstorms each year. Approximately 1,000 tornadoes develop from these storms. 
  • Large hail results in nearly $1 billion in damage to property and crops. 
  • Straight-line winds are the most common cause of damage from thunderstorms. 

 

Lightning is fascinating to watch but also extremely dangerous. In the United States, there are about 25 million lightning flashes every year. Understanding the dangers of lightning is important so that you can get to a safe place when thunderstorms threaten. If you hear thunder--even a distant rumble or a crackling aloft--you are already in danger.

What is Lightning?

Lightning is an electrical discharge that results from the buildup of positive and negative charges within a thunderstorm. When the buildup becomes strong enough, lightning appears as a “bolt”. This flash of light usually occurs within the clouds or between the clouds and the ground. A bolt of lightning reaches a temperature approaching 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit in a split second. The rapid heating and cooling of air near the lightning causes thunder. 

Lightning Facts

  • Lightning bolts can strike up to 10 miles from their parent cloud into areas with blue skies. This is called a Bolt from the Blue.
  • Temperature of lightning is estimated at 50,000 F (5 times hotter than the surface of the sun)
     

Lightning and Thunderstorm Safety:

  • How far away is the thunderstorm? Count the number of seconds between a flash of lightning and the next clap of thunder. Divide this number by 5 to determine the distance to the lightning in miles.
  • Apply the 30/30 Rule: Go indoors if, after seeing lightning, you cannot count to 30 before hearing  thunder. Stay indoors for 30 minutes after hearing the last clap of thunder. 
  • Identify a safe shelter as a thunderstorm approaches:
    • Safe Shelters
      • Substantial building—fully enclosed with a roof, walls and floor, and has plumbing or wiring. Avoid showers, sinks, bath tubs, &  electronic equipment. Unplug or use surge protectors on electronics. 
      • Enclosed metal vehicle — metal-topped vehicle such as a hard-topped car, minivan, bus, truck, etc. Don't touch anything metal or charge your phone via the vehicle. 
    • Unsafe Shelters & Vehicles include car ports, open garages, covered patios, picnic shelters, golf shelters, tents of any kind, baseball dugouts, sheds and greenhouses. Unsafe vehicles include golf carts, convertibles, motorcycles, etc.