Severe weather in the form of tornadoes, lightning, flash foods, damaging winds, and destructive hail strike Illinois each spring, summer and fall, sometimes with incredible violence. 2011 was a devastating year for tornadoes in the United States. There were more than 1700 tornadoes nationwide, including 59 killer tornadoes which claimed 550 lives. It was the deadliest year for tornadoes since 1925.
The National Weather Service urges you to develop a safety plan for use at your home, workplace, school, vehicle, and for outdoor activities. Be aware of severe weather safety rules. Planning ahead and knowing what to do might save your life. For more information visit the Illinois Emergency Management Agency web site at http://ready.illinois.gov/.
Tornado Watches and Warnings
Tornadoes are the most destructive storms that occur in Illinois. Being prepared for a tornado can save your life.
- A tornado watch means severe thunderstorms and tornadoes are possible in your area over the next few hours. Be prepared.
- A tornado warning means a tornado has been sighted by a trained storm spotter, or intense rotation that will likely produce a tornado has been detected by Doppler radar. Get to a place of safety immediately.
In Illinois, most tornadoes occur from April through June, during the mid afternoon through early evening hours, but they can occur anytime of day and any month of the year. Last year, Illinois had 73 tornadoes, well above the 30-year average of 46 tornadoes. In 2006, Illinois set a state record with 124 tornadoes. Illinois ranks fifth in the nation in tornado frequency per square mile. There were no fatalities and only 8 injuries from tornadoes in 2011. The strongest tornado, rated EF3, struck near Girard in Macoupin County on April 19.
When a tornado threatens, you may only have seconds to save yourself and your family. Have a preparedness plan for your home, school, and workplace. Know where to find the best tornado shelter.
In a home, go to the basement and get under the stairwell, or under a heavy piece of furniture. If there is no basement, go to an interior closet, hall or bathroom on the lowest floor and stay away from windows. Cover your head with pillows or sofa cushions.
- In schools, hospitals, churches and office buildings, go to small interior rooms or interior halls on the lowest floor. Long corridors with doors or windows on the end can act as wind tunnels. Stay away from windows. Avoid large open areas with free span roofs such as gymnasiums and cafeterias.
- In steel and concrete high rise buildings, it is not necessary to get to the lowest floor, but go to interior halls, bathrooms or closets. Stay away from windows.
- In shopping centers, avoid large open areas and glass. Seek shelter in bathrooms, small interior spaces and behind counters. Do not attempt to escape in your vehicle.
- Abandon mobile homes and vehicles for a nearby reinforced building. As a last resort lie flat in a ditch. Do not seek shelter under an overpass.
Lightning is the most frequent important weather threat to personal safety during the thunderstorm season. Keep these lightning safety tips in mind; Plan ahead and avoid dangerous lightning situations. Check the latest forecast before going outdoors for extended periods. Watch for storms and seek shelter indoors when storms approach.
Lightning often strikes the tallest object. If caught outdoors during a storm, don’t stand next to tall trees or power poles. And don’t be out in an open area where you may be the tallest object. A closed, hard top metal vehicle is safe in a thunderstorm. An open structure such as a picnic shelter will keep you dry but it will not protect you from lightning.
If boating or swimming, get out of the water when storms approach and seek shelter indoors. Avoid using electrical appliances, corded telephones and metal plumbing when indoors during a thunderstorm. It is okay to use a cell phone or cordless phone. The best way to stay safe from lightning is to go indoors as soon as there is a threat. A good way to remember that is “when thunder roars, go indoors!”
Look for more information during national lightning safety awareness week June 24 through June 30 or visit www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov.
Flash Flood Safety
A flash flood is a rapid rise in creeks and streams, or serious urban flooding, caused by heavy rain from thunderstorms, which poses a threat to life and property. Floods and flash floods kill more people nationwide than any other storm hazard in most years. In Illinois, most flash floods occur in July and August, and they often occur at night. Last year, one man died in flooding in Sangamon County, Illinois when he drove around a barricade into a flooded road on June 18. Three people died in flooding that occurred in Jo Daviess County July 27 and 28.
About half of all flash flood related deaths occur in vehicles. Don’t drive through flooded roads, especially if the water is moving rapidly. Flooded or washed out roads are especially difficult to see at night. Remember, “Turn around, don't drown!”
Don’t let children play near storm drains, creeks or flooded areas. If you live near a creek or stream, evacuate to higher ground if water rises rapidly or if a flash flood warning is issued. Urban flooding is also potentially dangerous. Heavy rain that results in flooding of streets, viaducts and underpasses in an urban area can pose a threat to motorists. Heavy rain can also result in flooded basements, ponding of water in low spots and rapid flooding of drainage ditches and storm sewer systems.
March 12 through 16 is national flood safety awareness week. For more information, visit www.floodsafety.noaa.gov.
Severe Thunderstorm Safety
Severe thunderstorms pose a threat to life and property. They produce damaging downburst winds of around 60 mph or greater, and/or large destructive hail, one inch in diameter or greater. Flooding rains, frequent cloud to ground lightning, and tornadoes are also possible in severe thunderstorms.
A severe thunderstorm watch means severe thunderstorms are possible in the next few hours. Be prepared. A severe thunderstorm warning means a thunderstorm capable of causing property damage and injury has been sighted or detected by radar. Go indoors and stay away from windows.
Damaging straight line or downburst winds from a thunderstorm can do as much damage as a weak to moderate tornado, so take severe thunderstorm warnings seriously. Very large hail, golf ball or larger, is not only very destructive, but it occurs with the most violent of storms.
NOAA Weather Radio – All Hazards and National Weather Service Web Pages
Today, a better understanding of tornadoes, new technology such as Doppler radar, faster communications, and better Skywarn storm spotting networks, allow meteorologists to provide more accurate and timely warnings for destructive tornadoes and severe storms.
But in order for the warnings to be effective, people must receive the warnings in a timely manner and take proper actions to protect themselves.
The best way to receive severe weather watches and warnings is with a tone alert NOAA Weather Radio – All Hazards. A weather radio will give you severe weather information direct from your local National Weather Service office. Watches and warnings are preceded by a tone alert that can automatically activate your radio and get your attention with a high pitched alarm – even if storms hit in the middle of the night. S.A.M.E equipped radios can be programmed to only alert you to watches and warnings for a specific county, or group of counties.
In addition, the radios can alert you to a non-weather emergency such as a hazardous material spill or child abduction.
Weather radios can be purchased at many electronics and department stores for 30 to 80 dollars. They are highly recommended for homes, schools, hospitals, nursing homes, day care centers, and businesses. You should also take one along when boating or camping. More information about weather radio can be found at http://www.nws.noaa.gov/nwr/index.html.
Remember, sirens are outdoor warning systems and should not be your primary method of receiving tornado warnings.
You can get up to the minute forecasts, watches, warnings, storm reports, radar images, satellite pictures, climate data, severe weather safety information, and more from NOAA’s National Weather Service online at weather.gov. You can view warnings graphically to see if you are in the path of a warned storm.
For northeast Illinois go to weather.gov/chicago
Each National Weather Service issues a Hazardous Weather Outlook every morning. This product highlights any potentially hazardous weather, including severe storms, that is forecast for the next seven days. The Hazardous Weather Outlook is available on NOAA Weather Radio and on the local NWS web pages.
Although not directly provided by NWS, there are vendors who provide weather apps for smart phones, which can send watches and warnings to your phone as a text message.
MORE SEVERE WEATHER AWARENESS TIPS