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Emergency Management offers tips for staying safe during tornado season

A storm that moved through Eastern Iowa Saturday, June 14, 2008 passes over Burlington Street in Iowa City near the bridge over the Iowa River. (Brian Ray/The Gazette)
A storm that moved through Eastern Iowa Saturday, June 14, 2008 passes over Burlington Street in Iowa City near the bridge over the Iowa River. (Brian Ray/The Gazette)

By Gretchen Teske, GTNS News

Although tornadoes can form at any time as long as the conditions are right, spring is typically the time southeast Iowa begins to see them. Washington County Emergency Management Coordinator Marissa Reisen says getting prepared is the best way to ensure safety.

Reisen said the first thing people should do when they hear a tornado warning is to take it seriously. Tornadoes can form in an any season and weather conditions, but most often favor stormy conditions. She said the speed of the tornado, how fast it is spinning, is what determines how destructive the tornado will be; not how fast it is traveling- a common misconception.

“If you hear sirens, that means there is a threat in your area,” she said. Checking weather radios, aps and listening to the experts is crucial during this time, she said.

Once the threat of a tornado has been established, she recommends people seek shelter in the lowest level and most interior space as possible. For most homes, this is the basement, but for homes without one or for apartments or hotels, the hallway would typically be the safest choice.

She said once inside, to put bike helmets on kids, put smaller kids in car seats and make sure everyone is wearing shoes. If a tornado does touchdown and windows are shattered, keeping everyone safe in the aftermath is important, too.

Bringing blankets and pillows into the shelter area as well is advised because they can be used to cover and shield from debris.

“If the place where you’re sheltering is hit, the more protection you can have from flying debris any anything falling, the better off you are,” she said.

For those in a vehicle at the time a tornado touches down, she said the best thing people can do is pull off the roadway, park the vehicle, put on the seat belt and put their head below the steering wheel. She also recommends covering the body with any blankets or coats in the car to help protect from debris.

Because tornadoes can last anywhere from two to 45 minutes, making a safety kit is essential, she said. Tornado safety kits can be made easily and she recommends every home, office and vehicle have one. She said the most important things to include in the kit are first aid supplies, water, food, a flashlight, weather radio and extra batteries.

Having these in an accessible place where they can be grabbed by any member of the family is key to ensuring safety. She said they are especially important after the storm because until people exit the shelter, there is no way to assess the damage.

One of the first things she recommends people due before they leave their shelter is to check themselves and anyone else over to ensure no one is injured. Next, she says to proceed cautiously and be conscious of the smell of gas leaking or something burning because although the tornado has passed, the danger still lurks.

“Just because the tornado has passed doesn’t mean the hazards are gone,” she said.

For this reason, Reisen says getting a weather radio is important because a storm that produced one tornado has the ability to make multiple. Although things might appear safe, the best way to find out is to listen to the professionals.