Stepping outside, you see dark rain clouds and lightning and hear rumbles of thunder. What do you do?

Watching a television or listening to a weather alert radio, a thunderstorm or tornado watch or warning is issued for your area. Do you know what to do?

Driving along the road, you come upon water over the roadway. What’s the best thing to do?

In all of these instances, safety should be come first, and you should stay out of harm’s way, said Crystal Pettet, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Indianapolis.

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Because Indiana weather is known to change from day to day, Hoosiers are reminded to practice their safety procedures this week, which is designated Severe Weather Preparedness Week.

Don’t be alarmed at 10:15 a.m. and 7:35 p.m. Tuesday when you hear sirens sounding around Jackson County. It’s only a test.

“We’re approaching the season where we will be asking schools and businesses to participate Tuesday in emergency preparedness,” said Duane Davis, Jackson County Emergency Management Agency director.

“Sirens are going to sound. Schools are going to be asked to initiate their emergency weather plans. Businesses, I ask you to do the same. That evening for your homes, for your families, the same principle. You need to plan for severe weather. The best way to prepare is before the storm happens.”

Weather spotting

Pettet recently visited Seymour for a National Weather Service spotter training class to provide basic information on how people can look at weather patterns and get an idea of what’s forming and what could happen. That drew nearly 50 people.Pettet said weather spotters are key to helping radar operators know what’s happening on the ground.“Spotters are the eyes and ears of the weather service,” she said. “You provide important ground truth to what I can see on the radar and what I know about the environment. When we put together spotter reports with the technology that we have at the office, together we can help save lives.”

Jackson County is between the Indianapolis and Louisville National Weather Service radars, and Pettet said information local weather spotters can provide is essential.

“When I put out a warning, if people hear it’s a Doppler radar-indicated tornado, they are less likely to take cover than if they hear trained spotters have reported a tornado at this location,” she said. “When people hear that other people have actually seen a tornado and they have a specific location on that, they are far more likely to take the action that they need to take to protect their own lives.”

It’s also important for spotters to know how severe weather is forecast, how it forms and what it looks like.

The Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma, puts out a forecast outlook, which is a forecast of severe storm potential up to eight days out.

Local weather service offices issue a hazardous weather outlook, which is a seven-day product that identifies severe weather potential in the coming week.

Watch or warning?

A watch is issued when conditions become favorable for severe weather, and spotter networks may prepare to activate.A warning is issued when severe weather is occurring or is imminent based on Doppler radar or spotter reports. Spotters report weather damage information to the National Weather Service and local officials.A thunderstorm occurs when warm air rises and cold air sinks, and there has to be warm, moist air, Pettet said.

For severe storms, there has to be some sort of wind shear, which is a change in both speed and direction of wind. Severe thunderstorm warnings are issued when there are winds 58 mph or higher and hail an inch or larger in diameter, Pettet said.

Supercells are single-cell thunderstorms that can persist for many hours and produce extreme winds, flash flooding, large hail and significant tornadoes.

Looking at a radar picture of the United States, a squall line shows a line of thunderstorms that can form along or ahead of a cold front. They can contain heavy precipitation, hail, lightning, straight-line winds and possibly tornadoes.

Squall line rains are preceded by a shelf cloud, which is a low, horizontal, wedge-shaped cloud associated with a thunderstorm gust front that produces downbursts and wind damage.

A wall cloud is smaller than a shelf cloud and cylindrical and involves rotation. Pettet said you can pick out a particular cloud and see if it’s ingested into the storm or rotating around.

Funnel clouds are attached to a thunderstorm base, involve rotation and tend to be more smooth with well-defined edges, Pettet said. They don’t reach the ground and don’t always become tornadoes, she added.

Tornado, flood threats

A tornado is a violently rotating column of air in contact with the ground and causes damage. If debris is spiraling upward, it’s a tornado, according to the weather service.In the event of a tornado, Pettet said you should stay away from windows; seek shelter in a basement or an interior room or closet on the lowest floor; and cover your head with your hands, blankets or pillows.

If you live in a mobile home, she said it’s important to go into a sturdily built structure nearby. If you find yourself in a vehicle and can’t drive away from a tornado, hunker down in a ditch.

People tend to think of spring as the main tornado season, but tornadoes can happen any time of the year, Pettet said. On Dec. 23, tornadoes were reported around Indianapolis.

“While it is true that more tornadoes happen in the spring numbers-wise across the country than any other time of the year, they can happen any time,” she said. “People need to be prepared all year-long.”

Flooding also can be a significant threat. Pettet said you should never drive through flooded roadways, and it’s important to remember the phrase “Turn around. Don’t drown.”

Code of contact

As long as it’s safe, Pettet said people are encouraged to report severe weather to local officials and the National Weather Service.That can be done via email, social media, phone, amateur radio or Internet. If you use the online reporting system, Pettet said it’s important to be specific and provide contact information in case weather officials need to ask you followup questions.The National Weather Service shares weather information by wireless alerts on smartphones, television, radio, Internet, text alerts, social media and weather radio.

If you share or retweet weather alerts, be sure it’s current, and if you post pictures, include the date, time and location, Pettet said.

The National Weather Service also is pushing the Weather-Ready Nation Ambassador initiative, which is a program that recognizes businesses and counties for having weather safety and preparedness plans in place.

Pettet said Jackson County was the first of the 39 counties in the National Weather Service’s Indianapolis office coverage area to be recognized as a Weather-Ready Nation Ambassador.

“It’s all about preparedness and communities being prepared beforehand, being ready for the weather that might strike you,” Pettet said. “One of the big parts of preparedness is knowing how you’re getting your information and wherever you are having some sort of way of receiving weather information, knowing where the safe places are and knowing what it is that you’re supposed to do.”

Davis said his office works with the National Weather Service and Indiana Department of Homeland Security to share weather information and also assess damage after a weather event.

Jackson County Emergency Management Agency also is active on social media. Through Facebook and Twitter, the department shares information about weather and significant events in the county and encourages people to share information and pictures.

“We’re all one community,” Davis said. “We’re all here gathering information together, and we want to report that as soon as possible.”

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Receiving and sharing weather information

Smartphone wireless alerts:

Television, radio and Internet:

Text alerts:

NOAA Weather Radio:

Social media: Search “US National Weather Service Indianapolis Indiana” on Facebook to find information and share storm pictures or reports; follow the weather service on Twitter @NWSIndianapolis and use the hashtags #INWX and #NWSIND

Weather spotter reporting (spotters only): 800-499-2133 or 317-856-0359; online reporting system at; email reports and photos to [email protected]

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The Jackson County Emergency Management Agency is in the Jackson County Courthouse Annex at 220 E. Walnut St., Brownstown.

Duane Davis is the director.

For information, call the office at 812-358-6110; visit; or follow Jackson County EMA on Twitter and Facebook.

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March 20 through 26 is Severe Weather Preparedness Week in Indiana.

On Tuesday, in Jackson County, two tests of outdoor warning sirens will be conducted — one at 10:15 a.m. and the other at 7:35 p.m.

Radio stations should interrupt the broadcast for an announcement similar to the usual monthly test. Broadcast, cable and satellite television stations should display a text crawl across the screen. Severe weather radios will receive a tornado warning test.

Jackson County Emergency Management Agency encourages you to take advantage of this opportunity to test your sirens and activate your emergency response plans during this test.