On May 20, a 1.3-mile-wide tornado tore through Moore, Okla. near Oklahoma City, destroying everything in its 17-mile path. So far, 24 people died, including two infants and 10 children, according to the Washington Post. The tornado was an EF5 – "the most powerful category of tornadoes," CNN reports.
As the country watches Oklahoma pick up the pieces and mourn its losses, we're reminded of how devastating and destructive severe weather can be. Here in southeast Michigan, we've had our fair share of damaging winds and rain – and even the occasional tornado. In fact, our region is currently in the beginning of a stretch of time that's more prone to bad weather.
Make sure your family is prepared for any harsh Michigan storms this spring and summer. Here's how.
Severe weather in southeast Michigan
From May to August, southeast Michigan usually experiences its severe thunderstorm and tornado season, says Peter Locke, emergency management aide at Macomb County's Emergency Management department.
In 2012, Michigan saw six tornados – a below-average number for the state, which typically logs 15. However, in March 2012, an EF3 tornado hit Dexter, Mich., part of an "early start to severe weather season," the Michigan Committee of Severe Weather Awareness reported during April's Severe Weather Awareness Week.
From 1950 to 2012, Macomb County experienced 20 tornadoes, Oakland County saw 31, Wayne County had 29 and Washtenaw County endured 27 tornadoes, the committee reports. The National Weather Service reported two deaths and four injuries in Michigan in 2012 caused by severe thunderstorm winds.
How to prepare
Families should prepare for severe weather by putting together a kit full of essential items, Locke says. "You could lose your electric power" or "a tree could be tipped over and rip up your water lines," he explains. Therefore, your kit should include:
- Bottled water (only good for six months)
- List of necessary medications you take
- Canned food that's easy to open without an electric can opener
- Personal information and papers (i.e. medical insurance, homeowner insurance)
- Changes of clothing
In addition, the Michigan State Police Department's Emergency Management Division suggests packing:
- A flashlight
- A battery-operated radio
- A first-aid kit
"Keep all of this put together in some type of container that can be sealed," Locke says. That way, if your home is damaged or destroyed, vital information, such as your homeowner insurance company's phone number, can be found easily.
What to do before and during
"If the sirens are going off, there's a threat in your county," Locke says, meaning get inside – and "turn on your television or radio." Tornado sirens only go off if there's a tornado warning or winds exceeding 70 miles per hour, he says – not if there's a tornado watch.
Once the sirens are going off, don't go outside. "Trust us," Locke advises. Then, seek shelter and "ride it out."
If indoors, Locke advises heading to a basement – but "it's not enough to be in a basement," he says. "You still need to get against the wall and try to get under a very heavy table," or even under cast cement sinks or stairs, to protect yourself from falling debris.
Not in a building with a basement? Find "the most interior room in that building," Locke says, whether it's a closet or an interior hallway. Make sure it doesn't have glass or windows to the outside.
Locke says if driving, we're often advised to pull off to the side of the road and lie in a low ditch. But even then, "It's really not a safe area to be." He suggests finding a school or retail building nearby.
Throughout the storm, "Keep a radio available with you so you can follow the storm" and know when the National Weather Services gives the all-clear, Locke says.
Practice and talk to your kids about safety practices and safe areas in your area, even if there's not an immediate chance of severe weather. The way Locke sees it, "Most the time, you're at home" – especially when these storms hit –which is usually around 4-6 p.m.
"(We're) taking the time to train (children) at school; why don't we take the time to train them at home, too?" he says of running drills.
After the storm
Be very careful after the storm if there has been a lot of destruction or there is a lot of debris around.
"Assess the damage," Locke says. "If it looks too dangerous to go in, don't go in."
Also, "Be aware of your surroundings." There are often downed power lines that can fall onto a metal fence, electrifying the entire fence in your backyard, he says as an example.
Families should also have a communication plan in place. "One of the biggest things for people is (they're) worried about their relatives who have been involved in these disasters." To avoid panicking, work out a system of people you'll call to let them know you're OK (and who can alert others, too).
For more information on severe storm safety practices, visit the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Ready.gov site.