As the wind whips up and the house shakes with the vibration of thunder, the planning begins.I grab my iPad and check the weather radar as lightning illuminates my bedroom at 3:30 in the morning.
I have not heard the weather sirens sound outside so I know that a tornado warning has not been issued.
“Never rely on the weather sirens if you are indoors,” said Ramsey Fire Chief Dean Kapler in a later conversation.
They are only designed to notify people who are outdoors to seek substantial shelter indoors because of approaching dangerous weather, he said.
In Anoka County, the weather sirens are only sounded when the National Weather Service issues a tornado warning or if local public safety people or trained Skywarn spotters see a tornado, said Jani Bialke, 911 coordinator.
Once the sirens go off, there is no guarantee people inside buildings will hear them because well-insulated buildings may buffer the sound as will tree cover and the distance from the siren, Kapler said.
It is best to get a weather radio, he said.
Sure, a radio that sounds every time severe weather hits anywhere in Minnesota.
Not so. The new weather radios can be programmed for given areas of the state and only cost between $20 and $65.
There are also cell phone applications for web-based weather updates and local news agencies have very accurate forecasting equipment, Kapler said.
If you don’t want to invest in a weather radio, the National Weather Service and local weather agencies offer weather alerts by e-mail, text message, cell phone calls and social media postings.
OK, I’m not relying on the outdoor weather sirens. It’s time to pull out the weather radio someone gave me as a gift.
In the cold light of morning, I started thinking about what I would do if a tornado did happen.
I live in a basement-less townhome.
Off to the computer to get the suggestions on where to go during a tornado.
According to Minnesota’s Homeland Security and Emergency Services, I should avoid windows and go to the lowest level in a small center room, like a bathroom or closet or under the stairwell, or interior hallway with no windows.
Once there, the agency recommends crouching low to the floor, facing down and covering my head with thick padding like mattress or blankets to protect against any falling debris.
The safest place to be is in the door frame or where multiple walls come together. On the lowest level, Kapler said.
For people in apartment-style homes, the same thing applies – go to the lowest level and interior area or underground parking garage – always staying away from the windows.
People living in mobile homes should leave and seek shelter elsewhere, “even if the only alternative is to seek shelter out in the open,” according to Homeland Security’s website.
“Most tornadoes can destroy even tied-down mobile homes and it is best not to play the low odds that yours will make it,” the website states.
Some communities have tornado shelters, but if not seek out a sturdy permanent building within easy running distance.
If there is none nearby, the agency recommends laying flat on low ground away from your home, protecting your head.
“If possible, use open ground away from trees and cars, which can be blown onto you,” according to the website.
For more information on how to be safe during severe weather, go to the Homeland Security and Emergency Management website at http://dps.mn.gov/divisions/hsem/weather-awareness-preparedness/Pages/severe-weather.aspx.