There's a chance you heard tornado sirens going off in your community today. It's a part of Severe Weather Awareness Week.
Rich Pollman, the warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service site for southeast Michigan, said the area sees around 220 severe weather events every year. That’s reason enough to have a plan for you and your family, but Pollman said it’s a constant battle to get people prepared for severe weather.
“The last few years we’ve only had a few — a handful of tornadoes — when we should have had 12,” said Pollman. “The law of averages says this will work itself out, so we want to guard against that complacency.”
Pollman said it’s important to know the difference between a severe weather and/or tornado watch, and a warning. A watch can give you four to six hours of prep time before a potential severe weather event, but if a warning is announced that’s the time you have to take action if you haven’t already.
A permanent, sturdy structure is the safest place in a storm. If you have a basement it’s the safest place, but if you don’t Pollman said you need to put as many walls between you and the storm as possible.
“It’s a small closet, a small hallway where the bedrooms are off, or a bathroom that doesn’t have an outside wall.”
If you plan ahead you can even bring pillows into the closet to guard yourself from flying debris, or a helmet if you have one inside the house. That’s the type of preparations you can be taking while a watch is in place.
If you’re trapped outside and are nowhere near a sturdy building the situation demands extra attention to planning — Pollman said you’re now playing the statistics. If you try to ride out a storm in a vehicle you’re hoping that the storm isn’t severe enough to flip the car. If you’re in a field you’re looking for a low-lying spot, possibly a ditch, that is far away from trees or other large items that could fall on you. Debris can still fall on you that is picked up, but the hope is you minimize your risk of being struck by flying debris.
“I wouldn’t suggest riding it out in the ditch, or a car,” said Pollman. “That’s why you pay attention to the weather, a permanent building is really the only safe place to be during a tornado.”
Experts suggest making a plan and practicing it with your family. This week’s testing done by municipalities is a good reminder for families to practice, or form, a plan too. The Department of Homeland Security has a ready-to-go form that helps walk you through a plan that will help you if you’re starting from scratch, you can access it here: Make a Plan.
The statewide tornado drill will happen at 1 p.m. today, but will exclude Macomb County, which tests tornado sirens on the first Saturday of every month.