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Tornado preparation urged

Forecasters and emergency responders are trying to make sure people are prepared.


"We help them come up with strategies for how they’ll relax when a storm comes in."

—Mary Gaudreau

This spring has already seen several tornadoes rip through the south, and forecasters and emergency responders are doing their best to make sure people are prepared.

Around the country, officials from the National Weather Service (NWS) are planning storm spotter training courses to both help the public and the meteorologists themselves.

“The main emphasis (in the storm spotter trainings) is on the various cloud formations that come in before severe weather,” said John Robinson, warning condition meteorologist for the NWS forecast office in Little Rock, Ark. “It’s important to be able to recognize those.”

Robinson will teach a storm spotting course on Monday in White County, Ark. Besides being able to spot dangerous cloud formations, attendees will learn about tornado safety tips and about severe weather history in the state. The courses are open to anyone, and he said the NWS relies heavily on its storm spotters.

“Although the Doppler radar tells us a lot, the radar beam is always somewhere above the ground – it never actually tells us what happened at ground level,” he explained. “So we might see rotation 15- to 20,000 feet above ground that may lead to a tornado touching down, but the radar does not tell us whether a tornado touched down.”

The NWS office in Little Rock has more than 5,000 spotters across the 45 counties they serve. The storm spotters also help the forecasters know just how correct their forecasts are as well.

“We do keep track of how well we do,” said Robinson. “You know, what if we’re putting out a lot of warnings but nothing happens? We’ll have to make some adjustments. The same goes conversely.”

Around the country, many faith-based disaster responders are working with local and state emergency management departments to prepare the public. In Oklahoma, these responders are uniting with the state department of emergency management for the Ready Oklahoma program – which is aimed at making Oklahomans prepared for any type of disaster.

“(The groups) do a pretty good job of storm preparation in Oklahoma,” said Mary Gaudreau, director of care ministries for Oklahoma United Methodist Disaster Response (OKUMDR). She added that the state chapter of Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster also touches base again in the spring to “gear up” and be ready.

Gaudreau said she also focuses on communities hit by tornadoes in previous years by offering spiritual care and whatever else the congregations may need. OKUMDR brought in a meteorologist to speak to one affected congregation recently.

“We help them come up with strategies for how they’ll relax when a storm comes in,” explained Gaudreau, who is also a field staff consultant for the United Methodist Committee on Relief.

“There’s a lot of lingering trauma, and it’s not uncommon to find folks who have been double-hit by disaster. Some are even triple hit.” This is why Gaudreau said she makes sure her organization is available to congregations and communities coming up on one-year and two-year anniversaries of disasters. It is also why she maintains contact with a number of ministerial alliances.

The survivors of twister outbreaks are also utilized in the preparations. OKUMDR produces a pamphlet entitled “The Calm After the Storm,” where survivors express what they wished they had known before the storms struck. The majority of survivors say they wish they had not waited so long to ask for help, noted Gaudreau.

“Most were afraid to ask for help because they’ve never had to ask for help before – they’re used to being the helpers in society themselves.”

So far this March, state departments of emergency management around the country have been holding tornado drills to make sure schools and businesses are prepared. Virginia just held its annual Tornado Preparedness Day, as did North Carolina.

The NWS reports that 1,722 tornadoes struck the U.S. in 2004, and NWS forecasters are predicting another active tornado season this year as well. The peak tornado season is between March and July, but twisters can develop during any season. Tornadoes can also strike anywhere in the country, but are most prevalent in the South and Midwest.

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Related Links:

NOAA Tornado Guide

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