Always staying prepared: As storm season approaches, education, readiness key

Just three weeks ago, an EF2 tornado with winds estimated at 115 mph made its way across the southern part of Jackson County, destroying or damaging homes, barns, sheds, garages and other buildings.

There were no injuries or fatalities reported as a result of the March 1 tornado, but some are still cleaning up the damage.

The tornado was the 20th reported in Jackson County since 1950 and the first since 2011. Two people died and 51 more were injured during those 20 tornadoes.

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With spring’s arrival, Hoosiers can expect more severe storms in the weeks to come. But how many people really know what steps to take when bad weather strikes?

This week is Severe Weather Preparedness Week in Indiana.

The annual campaign is conducted to educate people about the hazards of severe thunderstorms, tornadoes and flooding and to help everyone be prepared when severe weather occurs.

A statewide tornado drill was conducted Tuesday, once in the morning and again in the evening, to allow residents, businesses and schools time to practice their emergency plans without the real threat of dangerous weather.

All Jackson County schools are on spring break this week and will conduct tornado drills at a later date.

Seymour Assistant Police Chief Craig Hayes said all five of the city’s warning sirens worked with no problems when dispatch set them off at 10:15 a.m. Another test was scheduled for 7:35 p.m. The city’s sirens also are tested at noon on the first Friday of every month.

In the event of severe weather, the police station waits for notification from the National Weather Service that a tornado warning has been issued for the area or that it’s very close before activating the sirens, Hayes said.

“If it’s a really severe thunderstorm with damaging straight-line winds, we may set them off for that, too, but we leave that up to whoever is in charge that shift,” he said.

The sirens are set off once and may remain on for a complete five-minute cycle. There is no all-clear sign, he said.

Although the warning sirens can be heard indoors, Hayes said people should not rely solely on being able to hear them.

“They are designed as an outdoor warning system, so if you are outside and don’t have access to a radio or phone, it may be the only warning you get that severe weather is close,” he said.

But people should not wait for the sirens to go off before seeking shelter, he said.

“Everyone should have an idea of the difference between a watch and a warning,” Hayes said.

If the area is placed under a severe thunderstorm or tornado watch, it means conditions are favorable for storms to develop and people should keep their eyes and ears open.

It’s also important to have a home safety plan that you can practice with your family.

“You may not be there when a tornado hits, and your kids need to know what to do,” Hayes said. “If you don’t have a basement, figure out the safest place in the house and make sure there are flashlights, a radio and bottled water and that everyone knows where they are at.”

Hayes recommends parents know emergency dismissal policies for schools, too, in the event of severe weather.

“There may be early release or they may keep them later,” he said. “You need to know where you can meet your kids.”

If severe weather is being predicted, Hayes also said people should go out before it arrives and secure items like trampolines, basketball goals, outdoor patio furniture and trash cans that can blow away and damage vehicles or homes.

In 2016, Indiana saw a total of 35 tornadoes, 15 more than the annual average, according to the National Weather Service. The state had a record 72 tornadoes in 2011.

On March 2, 2012, an EF4 tornado struck Henryville, about 20 miles south of Jackson County. Nearly a dozen people in different southern Indiana communities were killed that day as a result of the storm system, and it destroyed the elementary and junior-senior high school in Henryville.

Although tornadoes can happen any time of the year, they are most prevalent from April to June, according to the National Weather Service.

Tornadoes aren’t the only dangerous weather event Jackson County has dealt with recently. In the same March 1 storm system, lightning struck an electrical substation in Seymour causing a fire and severe damage. Many residents were without electricity for most of the day and night.

The message of Severe Weather Preparedness Week is simple but important, said Duane Davis, director of Jackson County Emergency Management Agency and Office of Homeland Security.

The first step in being prepared is to have a plan of action.

That begins with being aware of what is going on, Davis said.

People need to monitor changing weather patterns, he said. That includes having access to television, radio, internet or text message weather alerts.

Davis said advances in technology allow meteorologists to issue watches and warnings much earlier than in years past.

“Fortunately, the National Weather Service has technology that has really helped them to track such weather patterns, and they can give us days until the severe weather actually arrives,” Davis said.

He recommends people sign up for email and text message alerts through the county notification system and that they purchase a weather alert radio for home and work.

Next is to have a preparedness plan and know what to do and where to go, Davis said.

After the danger of a real storm has passed, Davis urges people to take the time to check on others.

Pretending there’s a tornado outside can go a long way in preparing for the real thing, Davis said.

“If you plan what you are going to do and where you’re going to go, it becomes more familiar and takes away some of the stress of the situation,” he said. “It’s not unlike planning for a trip so that everything runs smoothly.”

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The Indiana Department of Homeland Security is asking Hoosiers to keep the following in mind when encountering flooded roadways. Some tips include:

  • Never attempt to cross a flooded road, even if it seems shallow. Water can conceal dips; or worse, floodwater can damage roadways, washing away the entire road surface and a significant amount of ground.
  • Remember, just a few inches of moving water is enough to carry away most vehicles, including SUVs and pickup trucks.
  • Be especially cautious at night when it is harder to recognize high water danger.
  • For more flood safety tips, visit and

The department also offers these tornado safety tips:

  • In a home or small building, go to the basement (if available) or to an interior room on the lowest floor, such as a closet or bathroom. Wrap yourself in overcoats or blankets to protect yourself from flying debris.
  • In a school, hospital, factory or shopping center, go to interior rooms and halls on the lowest floor. Stay away from glass-enclosed places or areas with wide-span roofs such as auditoriums and warehouses. Follow the instructions of the facility safety officials.
  • In cars or mobile homes, abandon them immediately. Most tornado deaths occur in cars and mobile homes. If you are in either of these locations, leave them and go to a substantial structure or designated tornado shelter. If no suitable structure is nearby, lie flat in the nearest ditch or depression and use your hands to cover your head.

Source: Jackson County Emergency Management Agency and Office of Homeland Security