Severe weather possible soon, experts say

Officials say being informed is essential
to staying safe.
Wednesday, August 6, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:29 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The worst may be over, but severe weather can strike at any time. Although July has been relatively tranquil, meteorologists say nasty weather is right around the corner for August and September.

MU graduate student Kristen Gillam doesn’t take chances when it comes to severe weather.

“When my roommates and I hear a tornado siren, we get in the bathroom with a radio, bottled water and a blanket,” Gillam said. “I think we’ve done that twice since moving to Southfield three years ago.”

That’s exactly what experts recommend when storms strike. When bad weather approaches, there are a number of “do’s and don’ts” to ensure safety.

First and foremost, stay informed.

“Have a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather radio, or a battery-operated radio in order to listen to a local weather station,” said James McNabb, emergency management director for Columbia/Boone County.

McNabb said an Atmospheric Administration weather radio is the single most important device a person can have. It reports weather conditions 24 hours a day and special alerts for severe weather watches and warnings.

The type of warning or notice issued will direct what actions should be taken.

Mike Hudson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said the objective is always safety, but the course of action varies depending on the type of storm.

Missouri gets its fair share of both floods and tornadoes because of its location on the eastern edge of Tornado Alley, which is the area of the Plains where tornadoes are most commonly found, said Patrick Market, associate professor of atmospheric science at MU.

The number one weather killer in Missouri is flooding, Market said. Flash flooding occurs rapidly and with considerable force. Rainfall can overwhelm drainage systems and flow with a strong current, so pedestrians should be cautious near ditches and storm drains. It only takes 6 inches of flowing water to knock adults off their feet.

Hudson advises motorists never to cross areas where water is over the road. Driving through flowing water is dangerous because it only takes 2 feet of water to wash away an automobile. That includes sport utility vehicles and trucks.

In the event of a tornado, one should get underground or as close to the ground as possible. When indoors, go to a small interior room such as a closet or bathroom on the lowest floor of the structure.

Highway overpasses offer no protection from tornadoes. This is a myth of the 20th century, Hudson said. Instead, experts advise lying down in a ditch to minimize your chance of being struck by flying debris.

People should not rely on outdoor warning sirens, McNabb said. They are not designed to penetrate walls, so they can only be heard outside.

Missouri averages 26 tornadoes a year, and they have been reported every month of the year. Missouri already had about 90 tornadoes in May.

In the event of a severe storm with lightning, try to get inside a sturdy structure. Some things to stay away from are windows, the bathtub, appliances and phones that have a connection from the wall to the receiver.

Hudson’s general rule with lightning is “if you can hear it, clear it.” Market adds that “if you can see it, flee it.” If lightning is visible and thunder is audible within 30 seconds of each other, get inside.

Market offers one key piece of advice when severe weather is approaching. “When you hear thunder or see lightning, get inside,” said Market.

Gretchen Schiltz of Columbia either didn’t hear or disregarded such information as a child.

“When we were kids and there was bad weather, my dad and brother would go down into the basement and my mom and I would go out on the porch to watch,” Schiltz said. “I guess we were just more fearless.”

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