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Tornado season: The question is not if, but when...

Posted 2/11/2009   Updated 2/13/2009 Email story   Print story


by Staff Sgt. Brandi Baker
509th Civil Engineer Squadron

2/11/2009 - WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- With tornado season approaching, the members of the 509th Operations Support Squadron Weather Flight are always on the lookout for developing storms. 

There are four critical ingredients to look for that can create a tornado; moisture, instability, lift and wind shear. When these conditions exist, the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla. issues a Tornado Watch. 

A Tornado Watch is declared when tornados and other severe weather are possible. A Watch can last up to six hours and cover an area up to 40,000 square miles. When a Tornado Watch is issued, local storm spotter networks, consisting of trained volunteers, activates to watch for any forming tornados. If a tornado is spotted, the local weather service will issue a Tornado Warning. 

A Tornado Warning is declared when a tornado has been sighted or detected. Whiteman AFB as well as Johnson and Pettis counties have a network of warning sirens in place when a Tornado Warning is in effect. The National Weather Service also provides a free text message service to advise of severe weather. 

There are several danger signs to look for during severe or adverse weather. Dark-greenish skies, large hail, a dark low-lying cloud line and loud roars are just a few to keep in mind. 

Shelter should be sought immediately should a Tornado Watch or Warning be issued or if any of the danger signs exist. Most larger buildings such as shopping stores, schools and hospitals have pre-designated shelter areas. On-base housing residents have torm shelters available to them as well. If there is no designated shelter available, the safest place is the center of an interior room in the lowest level of the building away from corners, windows, doors and outside walls, a interior hallway or closest is ideal. 

Vehicles, trailers and mobile homes should be evacuated immediately. Seek shelter in the nearest sturdy building or storm shelter. A last resort if caught outside is to lie flat in a nearby ditch and cover your head with your hands. Be aware of potential flooding in this situation. 

If your family has no plan, consider making one. Evaluate the nearest building that would best be used during severe weather. Preposition an emergency supply kit and regularly check those supplies to ensure preparedness through severe weather. 

Notification is another important aspect of preparedness. Active duty, Guard and Reserve members on base can register for the AtHOC network using the purple globe icon in the lower right hand corner of their computer. The AtHOC system has options to alert members through computer, e-mail, phone and text message. Dependents and civilians on-base can listen for broadcasts over the base Giant Voice system. Local media stations, TV and radio, will also be broadcasting important information. There are also National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration radios available at local stores as well as several Web services that provide free and paid notifications. 

The below tips will help ensure safety during severe weather: 

1. Gather information about hazards - Contact local National Weather Service, emergency management and American Red Cross offices for the types of severe weather that could affect the area and learn community warning signals and plans.

2. Create a family plan - Pick two places to meet, a spot outside the home in case of a fire or other such emergency and place away from the neighborhood if homes are inaccessible. Choose an out-of-state friend as a check-in contact if families are separated.

3. Implement the plan - Post emergency numbers by phones, install safety features in houses (smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, etc.) and inspect the home for potential hazards. Learn basic safety measures such as CPR and first aid, how to use a fire extinguisher and how and when to shut off water, gas and electricity in the home. Teach children how and when to call 911 and keep enough supplies in the home to meet needs for at least three days. Important family documents should be kept in waterproof containers. Also keep a smaller disaster supplies kit in the car.

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