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When thunder roars, go indoors

By: Terry Oparka | C&G Newspapers | Published April 10, 2018

METRO DETROIT — Did you know that you only have 10 to 15 minutes of lead time after a tornado warning is issued until it may strike? Or that more people in Michigan are killed and injured from severe thunderstorm winds than any other severe weather? 

Michigan Severe Weather Awareness Week is April 8-14. 

While tornadoes can occur anytime during the year, they are especially common during the late spring and early summer months. 

Though the total number of severe weather events was far below average last year, according to the Michigan Committee for Severe Weather Awareness, there were five weather-related deaths and a flood event that struck central lower Michigan that caused more than $220 million in damages. 

Of the five weather-related fatalities, three were caused by high winds and the other two were the result of flooding. 

“Never ignore severe thunderstorm warnings,” said Richard Pollman, warning coordinator meteorologist for the National Weather Service in White Lake. “When they issue the warnings is the time for action. Take severe thunderstorm warnings as seriously as a tornado warning. Severe thunderstorms cause more damage than tornadoes and affect more people in a given year.” 

Pollman said the NWS programs for students feature the phrase: “When thunder roars, go indoors.” 

The average tornado is 3 miles long and 100 yards wide on the ground, Pollman explained. The average swath of severe thunderstorm is 5 miles long and 1 to 2 miles wide. 

“Both bring down trees,” Pollman said. “You should move to a permanent building — not a backyard shed or a picnic shelter — or into a car with a metal roof — not a ragtop convertible.”  

Once indoors, move away from outside walls and windows in the case of severe winds from a thunderstorm or tornado, Pollman said. 

“If you feel threatened, go to the most hardened part of the home,” he said. This means under the steps in the basement, if you have one, to avoid falling debris. 

“If you don’t have a basement, put as many walls between you and the tornado as possible,” Pollman said. This could be a closet or small hallway or any room without a window. 

Also, if you are seeking shelter, get pillows, blankets or a mattress to protect yourself from flying debris. 

“Get low on the lowest floor,” Pollman said. 

He said it’s important to stay informed about the weather through weather apps on smartphones; a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather radio, available at most big box stores or online; or the NWS website, weather.gov. 

The NWS offers the Skywarn Storm Spotter Program. According to the NWS, it is a “volunteer program with between 350,000 and 400,000 trained severe weather spotters. These volunteers help keep their local communities safe by providing timely and accurate reports of severe weather to the National Weather Service.” 

“Spotters are very important,” Pollman said. 

He said they provide “ground truth verification,” which the radar cannot. 

“Radar can see up the cloud base, but not what’s happening at ground level,” Pollman said. 

He said that trained weather watchers also help to identify which warnings are “good, key warnings” for their communities and to alert downstream communities. 

“It allows us to issue better warnings next time,” he said. “We want people to be prepared.”

 

Emergency kits 
DTE Energy shared a number of ways to be prepared for power outages, via email. Keep an emergency kit on hand that includes a battery-powered radio, a flashlight and candles, extra batteries, a first-aid kit, a fire extinguisher, bottled water and nonperishable food.

Also, those who depend on electrically powered medical equipment should ask their physician about an emergency battery backup system. If someone has a medical condition that would be adversely impacted by a power outage, they should develop an emergency plan that allows for alternative accommodations with family or friends. 

Cordless telephones need electricity to operate, so a corded phone or cellphone should be kept on hand. Also, homeowners should learn how to manually open automated garage doors. Those who depend on a well for drinking water need to plan ahead on how they will obtain water, and store containers of water for cooking and washing, DTE states. 

DTE Energy advises everyone to have an emergency kit and a plan in place before a power outage. During a storm, remember to stay at least 20 feet away from downed power lines and anything they are in contact with, including puddles of water and fences. Keep children and pets away. If using a generator, remember to operate it outdoors to avoid dangerous buildup of toxic fumes. After a storm, customers should stay out of flooded or damp basements or other areas if water is in contact with outlets or any electrically operated appliance. The water or moisture may serve as a conductor of electricity. This can cause serious or even fatal injury.  

DTE Energy continues: Turn off and unplug all appliances to prevent an electrical overload when power is restored. Leave on one light switch to indicate when power is restored. Don’t open refrigerators or freezers more often than absolutely necessary. A closed refrigerator will stay cold for 12 hours. Kept closed, a well-filled freezer will preserve food for two days. During low-voltage conditions — when lights are dim — shut off motor-driven appliances such as refrigerators to prevent overheating and possible damage. Sensitive electronic devices also should be unplugged. 

Roland Russell, store manager for Menards in Warren, said the largest generators “fly off the shelf” during a power outage. 

“We do an emergency shipment, and they’re usually here the next day. If I see severe weather forecast, I put an order in,” he said. 

Russell said that submersible pumps are also available and a good idea to have on hand for basements, especially in spring.

 

Be prepared
Troy Fire Chief Dave Roberts said that in the event of a severe weather alert, the Troy Fire Department — a volunteer force — puts all the fire stations on standby so firefighters are at the station, ready to respond. 

“Downed power lines and lightning strikes cause fire,” he said. 

During the flooding event on Aug. 11, 2014, when 5 inches of rain fell in southeast Michigan, Troy firefighters rescued a number of motorists from vehicles along Maple Road near John R and Rochester roads. 

Roberts said it’s best to avoid driving during rapid rainfall and not to try driving through deep water, which poses unseen dangers. 

There is flood insurance available, but you have to get it through a federal program, and your insurance representative can help you through the process, said Lori Conarton, of the Insurance Alliance of Michigan. She explained that the alliance lobbies on behalf of member insurance agencies and provides consumer outreach. 

“Although it doesn’t feel like spring, now is the time to be prepared,” she said, noting that there is a 30-day waiting period for flood insurance. 

Damage from windstorms is generally covered under homeowners’ policies. That includes tornado damage or if a tree falls on a home. However, if a tree falls on a vehicle, that is covered under the comprehensive portion of vehicle insurance, Conarton said. She noted that damage from breaking glass or a deer collision would also fall under the comprehensive portion of vehicle insurance. 

She stressed the importance of having a safety plan, a way to get weather alerts, safety items and a home inventory on hand in the event of a loss. 

A home inventory would include receipts or the value of your possessions and photos, and it should be kept in a safe place. 

“If you do have a claim, this will help to settle it easier and faster,” she said. 

The NWS website is weather.gov. To contact DTE Energy during a power outage, call (800) 477-4747, visit DTE’s website at dteenergy.com or access the DTE Energy mobile app from your smartphone or tablet. The app is available free of charge from the Apple Store or Google Play. Additional information is available through the online power outage map at www.dteenergy.com/outage.