Tornado and severe storm alerts

Tornado alerts in Seward

Chances for tornadoes occurring are highest during the spring and summer months. The National Weather Service issues weather bulletins in the event of tornado watches or warnings. A tornado watch means that the potential exists for tornadoes to develop, and persons in the watch area should be on the lookout for severe weather.

When a tornado warning is issued in Seward, it means that a tornado has been sighted, either above or on the ground. Warnings will be accompanied by the sounding of the town siren, a long, unwavering, even tone. You should take cover immediately. You should familiarize yourself with the procedures posted.

Please note that Seward's siren is also sounded in event of fire to alert the volunteer fire department personnel.

Tornado 101

Tornado watch

This means that conditions are such that storms capable of producing a tornado may develop.

Action: Move smaller objects indoors. Grills, bicycles, patio furniture and lawn mowers can become missiles in tornadic winds and cause additional damage. Stay close to your TV or radio to see if a tornado warning is imminent. Go to a shelter when it begins to storm - don't wait until the sirens are sounded.

Tornado warning

This means that either a tornado has been sighted or that it is highly probable that one will develop. A warning will be signaled by the storm warning sirens.

Notification: The Seward tornado warning signal is a three minute steady signal on the sirens. You should immediately seek shelter in the nearest shelter. (If the sirens sound again, it is further warning, not an all clear.)

Action: If a radio is available, keep tuned to a local station or NOAA Weather stations. The Seward County Communications Center can interrupt the audio of most cable TV channels. The "All Clear" signal is given over FM radio stations and not the sirens. Try to remain calm at all times.

Precautions

Tornadoes have occurred in Nebraska in every month except February; however 78% have occurred in the months of May, June and July. Always be aware of your surroundings, the current environment and the different possibilities that may occur. Make decisions based on what is happening or has the potential to happen. Here is a likely scenario:

  1. I checked the forecast this morning before I left for school. The possibility of severe thunderstorms was mentioned.
  2. It is a warm and very humid day.
  3. There is a strong, southerly wind blowing.
  4. There is static from time to time on my radio.
  5. There is a big dark cloud in the southwest sky.
Assessing the situation

Based on your assessment of the environment and the possibility of severe weather, here are some actions you can take:

  1. I should take a portable radio with me today.
  2. Between classes, I should use my radio to check what is going on with the weather. The buildings and grounds office sends information on weather watches and warnings via email. The blue screen televisions also post weather bulletins.
  3. As I go to my classes, I keep in mind where to go in the building I am in for shelter (In the lowest level away from doors and windows).
  4. When it begins to storm, I must be aware of my shelter options.
  5. When the sirens begin to sound (or I hear a warning announcement on my radio) I must seek shelter immediately.
Everyone must assess for themselves what their risk is. In this age of increasingly instant communication, it is possible to have enough information to be aware of the presence of severe weather.

If you are in an office or classroom

Have you given any thought about what to do in case the tornado warning sirens sound during office hours?

When the fire alarm sounds everyone knows to immediately leave the building. When the Seward sirens sound, it is best not to leave the building. Obviously it is better to seek shelter in a basement. If the building you are in has no basement, or if there is no nearby building with a basement, go to the lowest level and get in a small interior room or hallway. Stay away from glass and exterior walls; put as many walls between you and the storm as you can. (If you go outside to watch the show, you may become part of the cast.)

Please share these facts with others. Encourage everyone to make plans for where they will go whenever severe weather strikes. A good idea is to have a drill during the next regularly scheduled siren test. Concordia's environmental health & safety office encourages you to take responsibility for plans in your area.

If you are in a building with a basement

If you are on campus during a normal work day, the best places to seek shelter are buildings with basements.

These buildings have basements: Brommer, David, Dorcas, Esther, Founders, Janzow, Jesse, Jonathan, Link, Music, PE, Philip, Science, Schuelke, Strieter, Timothy, TLEC and Weller.

If the building that you are in has no basement, go to the ground floor and get in an interior (windowless) room or hallway. It is generally too risky to go to another building once the sirens have sounded.

If you are handicapped

Handicapped persons who are mobility impaired must also make plans. If a power outage occurs during severe weather, elevators may not work. Always go to a small interior room or closet; stay away from windows and exterior walls. Plan ahead and become aware of accessible shelters on campus.

If you are in a residence hall

When the alarm is sounded, grab your pillow and shoes and head for the basement. Take shelter in the basement corridor or a windowless room.

Know in advance your residence hall's plan for severe weather. Avoid building lobbies because of the glass that may be blown in by high winds. Follow the instruction of hall staff and don't leave the building until an "all-clear" is given.

If you are in other housing

When the storm warning sirens sound, it is best not to leave your home unless better shelter is just a minute or two away. If your house does not have a basement, go to the lowest floor and get in a small interior room or hallway. (If you have time, you might get into a bathtub and pull a mattress over the tub.) Stay away from glass and exterior walls.

Some of you may remember an old rule that said opening windows would "equalize the pressure." This is iffy at best, and a waste of precious time. Leave the windows alone and get as far away from them as you can. If you are in a mobile home, seek shelter elsewhere. Mobile homes are notoriously unstable and frequently destroyed by tornados. If there is no storm shelter nearby, go outside and find a ditch or depression and lie flat, face down, with your hands on the back of your head.

If you are in ... Wal-Mart, for example

If you are in a gymnasium, auditorium, or theater (most likely full of people), follow the instructions of those in authority and don't run in panic. Large open span areas such as these are subject to collapse, so it is best to seek shelter in a hallway or small room. This is also true of large stores like Wal-Mart or supermarkets. In those situations, if there is no time to seek better shelter, go to the very back of the store - away from any large areas of glass - crouch down, and cover your head.

If you are in a moving vehicle

If you are in a motor vehicle, don't try to outrun the storm. Tornados do not travel in a predictable direction, and some are faster than others. Don't stay in your vehicle - it's worse than a mobile home. In addition, driving in a city is very dangerous because everyone will be ignoring traffic laws in a rush to get to shelter. If there is no nearby building, find a ditch or depression and lie flat, face down with your hands on the back of your head.

If you see an overpass nearby, do not consider it a shelter. Overpasses are very dangerous because they offer no protection from the blast of flying debris in the violently shifting winds of a tornado. For more information read NOAA's report on Highway Overpasses as Tornado Shelters.

Plan ahead

Residence hall assistants, professors, department heads and administrative leaders should seek out the best place for everyone to take shelter. Everyone should make similar plans at home. Make sure you have a portable radio and flashlight (with extra batteries), a first aid kit (along with necessary medications), sturdy shoes and work gloves, bottled water and canned food (don't forget the can opener).


This document is adapted from "Answers to Frequently Asked Tornado Questions" by the Oklahoma State University Environmental Health and Safety Department. Contact John D. Townsen, Concordia's environmental health, safety and security manager, if you have questions (Safety@cune.edu).