Thornhill: Tornado season is upon us

It’s spring in Kansas again, and we all know what that means. Tornado season is once again upon us. Sometimes it seems like the media and meteorologists like to whip us all into a frenzy of fear, with terms like “scary-looking clouds” or “extreme storm outbreaks.” Fear not, gentle reader. I, your friendly neighborhood storm spotter, am here with some tips to keep you calm, cool, and collected whenever severe weather builds.

First and foremost, don’t panic. Even if it looks like the National Weather Service is painting a bright red bullseye on your house for high tornado probability, remember that weather models are just that, models. Think of severe weather patterns like gathering the ingredients for tacos. Not only do all of the ingredients have to be present to form a taco, they have to be assembled. So, if you have the shell, meat, lettuce, and cheese, unless you have the sauce, you’re still probably not going to have a taco. Ditto tornadoes. Patterns and predictions can and do change over the course of a few days, so just because you see that you’re in an enhanced risk area three days before the next predicted event, you might not be on the day of. Being familiar with actual terminology will be helpful as well—being able to identify a cumulonimbus is often less panic-inducing then “scary-looking clouds.” Be alert and aware, but don’t view forecasts as guarantees.

Another important skill is being able to find yourself on a map. Know what your county looks like. Know what your surrounding counties look like. Know where your county is in relation to the nearest major city. Know where you are in relation to landmarks (like lakes or reservoirs) or major highways. Again, be able to find yourself on a map. Listen for your location when listening to or checking watches and warnings.

Speaking of watches and warnings, there are countless ways to monitor weather headed your direction. Of course, there’s the tried and true NOAA weather radio, programmable to sound alarms for your location. For your smartphone, you have your choice of radar apps to download, from the free and no-frills to the spendy 3D trackers. You don’t really need to drop big bucks though—I have a few different weather apps, and I usually use the KAKE free radar app for quick checks. Since you know your location (and the app can pinpoint it for you), checking the severity and previous path of the approaching storm should be easy as pie. I personally don’t recommend relying on future track on radar, since it’s only a guess.

If you’re on social media, be sure to follow National Weather Service-Wichita for the latest updates on watches and warnings. If you’re a weather geek like I am, there are other tornado chaser pages that are very informational. Even Reed Timmer (Extreme Meteorologist) is worth a follow—but if he’s headed in your direction, you might want to take cover.

Its important to remember, though, that these sites are not your personal forecast pages. You shouldn’t need to be asking the NWS whether your location will get any rain—you should be able to find your location on their forecast map and draw your own conclusions. NWS usually includes approximate timing when the event is about 24 hours away, so you don’t even need to ask when your area will be impacted. Please bear in mind that the NWS office sometimes has only two people working, and when severe weather is happening, they need to stay on top of the storm to be able to give accurate warnings. If you’d like to help them by reporting your local conditions, check out the Storm Fury On the Plains series they present every year (usually in March) or look into storm spotter training and certification.

Before severe weather even threatens, be sure you have an emergency kit and an emergency plan for any situation. This time of year, have a storm shelter in mind (you know, that interior room or basement thing), and stock it with bottled water and nonperishable food, flashlights (with fresh batteries), and bedding, if possible. Get those phone chargers charged up and check your emergency lanterns or candles. If you have an outdoor storm shelter, now would be a good time to make sure nothing has decided to move in that you wouldn’t want to shelter from a storm with.

If you have any questions about emergency preparedness, please feel free to contact Marcy Hostetler, our Marion County Emergency Management Director (on Facebook as Marion County, Kansas Emergency Management). She has great resources to share to help you be prepared for any situation.

Remember: Don’t Panic, know your location, stay informed by following maps, know actual terminology, and be prepared. Our Kansas weather is powerful and magnificent, something to be respected, but not afraid of. Stay safe out there!

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