National Weather Service officials urge that it is never too early to start getting ready for the next big storm.
And in a place like Missouri, we all know how quickly the weather can change from good to bad, particulary in the event of severe weather.
“Severe weather can occur pretty rapidly,” said Chris Bowman, a meteorologist at the NWS Weather Forecast Office in Pleasant Hill. “It can be on the order of a few minutes or a tenth of a minute that a severe weather thunderstorm can form.”
March 2 kicked-off Missouri’s Severe Weather Awareness Week, an annual effort to encourage residents throughout the state to plan and prepare for how to react to tornadoes, flash flooding and other severe weather events.
“I encourage all Missourians, including schools, businesses and recreational groups, to use Severe Weather Awareness Week to plan and practice how they will respond to severe weather in specific scenarios – indoors, outside and while traveling,” State Emergency Management Agency Director Michael Barrett said. “Reacting quickly and properly can save lives.”
On each day during the awareness week, the NWS is providing safety tips and educational information on their website. Topics have included preparedness, tornado safety, flash flood safety, severe thunderstorm safety and a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather radio day.
“The weather is a lot different than winter weather, where you might have days of notice,” Bowman said. “A severe thunderstorm is probably going to be moving in and out quickly.”
Thunderstorms can also produce tornadoes with little or no advanced warning, he said. Multiple tornadoes ripped through the Midwest in 2013. Areas in St. Louis and Branson were particularly hit hard.
According to the NOAA website, there were seven weather and climate disaster events last year with losses exceeding $1 billion each across the United States.
These events included five severe weather and tornado events, a major flood event and the western drought/heat wave.
Overall, these events killed 109 people and had significant economic effects on the areas impacted.
According to the Weather Channel, May is the peak calendar month for tornado activity in Missouri, and as part of the Missouri Severe Weather Awareness Week, Cass County municipalities participated in the 40th annual statewide tornado drill during the awareness week.
Bowman said the purpose of the drill is to make sure a community’s siren system is working properly, and if there are problems, make sure that they are ironed before heading into another severe weather season. He also said schools use them to practice their tornado safety measures that they have in place.
The drill was originally scheduled for March 4, but was rescheduled to 1:30 p.m. March 6. During the drill, outdoor warning sirens and weather alert radios sounded, indicating that residents should seek shelter.
The NWS says that the safest shelter location is the basement or an interior room in the lowest level of a building. The drill is completed once everyone is accounted for in the designated shelters.
In addition to communities across Missouri participating in the exercises, a handful of eastern Kansas counties, including Doniphan, Atchison, Leavenworth, Wyandotte, Johnson, Miami, Linn, Bourbon, Crawford and Cherokee, also participated in the drill this week.
“It’s important to remember that tornadoes and dangerous flash flooding can develop rapidly and with little warning,” said Gov. Jay Nixon in a statement. “I encourage Missourians to talk at home, at work and at school about severe weather safety so that in times of real emergency, folks are prepared for whatever Mother Nature brings.”
The NWS will also be hosting a Skywarn Public Spotter Training Program in Cass County on Thursday, March 13.
“We give a general overview of the ingredients needed for severe weather,” Bowman said. “We talk about what different types of severe weather look like so people don’t confuse a rain shaft with a tornado.”
The annual event will begin at 7 p.m. and will take place at the Lions Community Center, 500 Schug Ave., Peculiar. The public is invited to attend.
“It’s a good educational opportunity for people to come learn about what we do, as well as what severe weather may look like,” Bowman said.
Another resource available to area residents is Missouri’s stormaware.mo.gov website, which includes detailed videos showing how to react to severe weather and how to find shelter in specific types of buildings – houses with or without basements, mobile homes and schools. The website also includes information about tornado sirens and weather alert radios, as well as links to free severe weather texting services that can alert people across the state about upcoming severe weather events.