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Are you ready for tornado season?

It's easier and faster than ever for meteorologists and city officials to warn residents of approaching severe weather. Besides weather alerts that instantly appear online and on local TV stations, emergency sirens can be activated warning people...

It's easier and faster than ever for meteorologists and city officials to warn residents of approaching severe weather. Besides weather alerts that instantly appear online and on local TV stations, emergency sirens can be activated warning people that a tornado is on its way.

But Mark Frazier, National Weather Service meteorologist-in-charge, said it's just as important for Red River Valley residents to plan ahead, long before a severe storm is in the area, so they'll know what to do in an emergency.

"The philosophy that we try to share with the public is being attuned to what's going on with the weather," he said. "We have to take the best precautionary measures that we can as individuals and families to seek the safest shelter that we can."

With the recent outbreak of deadly tornadoes across the Midwest in mind, here are some ways to plan ahead and stay safe this tornado season.

Be aware


Frazier said many people have a plan for what they'll do if there's a fire -- practicing escape routes and making sure they have fire extinguishers and smoke alarms -- yet they often don't spend much time thinking about how they'll stay safe during a tornado.

"Part of that preparedness for fires is having smoke detectors in your home; for severe weather, it's having a weather radio," he said. "It can save your life just like a smoke detector."

Frazier said weather radios are a good option because they can alert people to approaching storms 24 hours a day. Text message or email alerts can do the same thing, arriving instantly on Internet-enabled phones to warn of hazardous weather. And weather alerts can also be heard on the radio or seen on local TV stations.

Seek shelter

Another part of planning for a tornado is looking around your surroundings, he said. It's important to figure out the safest, most secure place to wait out stormy weather because severe storms can develop rapidly.

The safest shelter is in a small basement room that's away from windows, doors and furnaces.

"The smaller the room that you're in, the better because the walls are closer together and it offers more stability and structural integrity," he said.

If there is no basement, take cover in a ground floor closet or bathroom.


Mobile homes provide limited protection in the event of a tornado, but Frazier said it sometimes isn't a good idea to go outside if severe weather is bearing down. He suggested planning ahead to find a designated storm shelter and, if possible, try to wait out the storm in a safer location.

Frazier said the simplest tornado safety tip is to make a habit out of checking the latest weather information and monitoring changing conditions. Looking at a forecast helps people plan ahead for possible bad weather later in the day, he said, lowering the chance that they'll be caught off guard if a tornado develops in the area.

"I think the bottom line is simply being attuned to what's going on and answering those questions so if we get to that point in time where we have severe weather, they've got that drill down," he said.

Heed sirens

City emergency manager Randy Gust said East Grand Forks officials activate emergency sirens only when there's a strong likelihood of severe weather. There are three reasons the sirens are sounded: a funnel cloud has been spotted, a tornado is on the ground or straight-line winds are gusting at more than 50 mph.

It's the same case with Grand Forks' emergency sirens, communications specialist John Bernstrom said. The city follows similar criteria as East Grand Forks but also will activate the sirens if there's a report of a nearby wall cloud, which can produce tornadoes.

Residents often wonder why the sirens aren't loud enough to be heard indoors, he said. "The purpose of the sirens is to get people from outside to inside," he said, adding that it's meant to tell residents to seek shelter.

Gust said officials do their best to educate residents about the alert system and how they can plan ahead for what they'll do during bad weather. But he said in an emergency, staying safe largely comes down to people heeding the warning and keeping themselves out of harm's way.


"I think the majority of people are aware that when they hear sirens and the alerts come out, they need to be vigilant," he said. "We just cannot force people to take cover when this happens, so it's up to the people to be aware."

Reach Johnson at (701) 780-1105; (800) 477-6572, ext. 105; or send e-mail to rjohnson@gfherald.com . Follow him on Twitter: @JohnsonReports.

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