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Severe Weather Safety-Know What to Do

It is a sad reality that many of the deaths and injuries associated with severe weather each year can be avoided. In any discussion of the dangers posed by various weather scenarios, the bottom line is that poor judgment kills more people than any other factor. This may sound a bit cold and harsh, but if you stop to think about it, it is inescapable. Lightning usually kills those who refuse to come inside when they should. Flash floods kill those who insist on remaining in the flood zone with their doomed possessions or risk trying to cross flowing water. Winter storms kill those who risk travel when they should not be on the road. Yes, there are times that a storm is so powerful and devastating that even those who do the right thing suffer, but those deaths and injuries are a small percentage of the total. Nature is, at times, a cruel and unforgiving place. When we fail to understand and respect the power and danger brought by severe weather at any time of year, we place ourselves, our loved ones and our property in jeopardy.

The National Weather Service and your local television meteorologists take the job of warning you about potentially dangerous weather very seriously. To assist in this task, a number of terms have been developed to help you assess the risk and act accordingly. The most basic of these terms are the watch and the warning. Despite aggressive efforts to keep the public aware of these terms, there is still a large number of people that do not know or have forgotten the difference.

A severe weather watch means that the weather situation mentioned in the watch statement is possible in the watch area. A winter storm watch means that a winter storm may occur in the specified time frame. A tornado watch means that conditions are right for thunderstorms that may produce tornadoes. The purpose of the watch is to make you aware of what could happen, and allow you to plan and prepare for the possible weather event. Winter storm watches are usually issued many hours in advance of the storm's arrival. This gives you time to run to the store and stock up on household goods or groceries, alter travel plans and generally make sure you have what you need on hand if you need to stay put for a day or two. Tornado and flash flood watches are issued so you can review safety procedures and plan where you will go for safe shelter if the watch is upgraded to a warning for your area.
A severe weather warning means the mentioned weather situation is imminent or taking place at that moment in the warning area. A tornado warning means a tornado has been sighted or indicated by radar. You should go to the basement or lowest level of the building you are in. Stay away from doors and windows. Mobile homes should be abandoned in favor of more suitable shelter or a nearby ditch or depression. Lie flat with your arms covering your head because a tornado's winds are weakest within a few feet of the ground and you will be a smaller target for flying debris. In a flash flood warning, you should get to high ground immediately and stay away from streams or natural drainage areas. In a winter storm or blizzard warning, you should remain where you are. If you planned well during the watch, you will already be at home or in a place you don't mind staying for a while as travel should not be attempted when a winter storm or blizzard warning is in effect. The severe weather watch means "have a plan and know what to do". The severe weather warning means "act on your plan immediately."
Now, there are some weather statements that require judgment calls on your part. For the most part, these take the form of advisories. The purpose of the advisory is to make you aware of a weather situation and allow you to make an informed decision on how to act on that information. For example, the snow advisory is issued when snow will not fall in sufficient amounts to justify a winter storm warning, but it may cause slick roads or other inconveniences. Advisories are also issued for weather events like frost, wind chills, blowing snow, dense fog and high winds. If you don't garden, then a frost advisory means nothing to you.
If you live three blocks from work in the heart of town, odds are a dense fog situation will not impact you much. If you live in an apartment and drive a sports car across town to work, you will care less about a wind advisory than a trucker pulling a tandem rig from Rapid City to Pierre. Advisories have differing levels of significance to different people, and how to respond to them is left largely up to you.
Please keep in mind, however, that there are those who need and value weather information that may seem unimportant to you personally. Those people need to see the weather symbols and messages on television, just as you would expect them to be there for you.
News interviews with those who have had a narrow escape in severe weather always seem to contain at least one of two statements. "I didn't think it could happen to me," or "It struck without warning." It can happen to you, and odds are that you will have time to make a decision at some point in your life about what to do in a dangerous weather situation. Taking the time to develop plans of action for various weather situations now will prevent panic and the potential for wrong decisions when danger is imminent.


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