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Tornado season is here

The busiest months for storms and tornadoes in Michigan are in the spring and summer

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Posted: Friday, April 21, 2017 1:08 pm

You never think it will happen to you, until it does.

 In Fenton, that moment came 10 years ago on Aug. 24, 2007, when many local families were just sitting down to dinner. That’s when an F2 tornado plowed into the heart of this city, damaging homes, municipal buildings, businesses and trees.

 That same year, a tornado hit Davisburg Elementary School in the Holly School District, causing $600,000 worth of damage.

 Fortunately, no one was hurt as a direct result of either tornado. However, the unpredictable, scary path of these storms has left an indelible mark on every person’s vulnerability in the face of violent weather, especially as we head into storm season this year.

 The months of May, June, July and August are considered the most dangerous for severe weather and tornado outbreaks in Michigan. They typically occur in the late afternoon and evening, although they can happen anytime of the day, during any month.

 In 2016, 16 tornadoes roared across the state, including six in the Upper Peninsula, a weather record. Flooding, severe thunderstorms and tornadoes caused about $160 million in damages.

 The average lead-time for tornadoes to develop is only about 10 to 15 minutes, which means residents need to be ready to act quickly when a warning is issued.

 If residents hear emergency tornado sirens outside of their testing times the first Saturday of each month at 1 p.m., they should take them seriously and seek shelter. Don’t ignore the sirens — if the tornado siren in Fenton is activated, it means one has been sighted in or near Fenton, or is heading this way.

 “When there are severe storms in the area, Fenton has the ability to set off our weather sirens independent of the county system,” said Fenton Fire Chief Bob Cairnduff. “Most of our severe weather typically comes from the southwest and out of Livingston County.  During our 2007 tornado, we set our sirens off ahead of the tornado hitting.  The National Weather Service hadn’t even issued a tornado warning for Genesee County yet.  We feel this saved many lives.”

 Cairnduff said that  residents should understand that when the sirens are set off in Fenton there is dangerous weather approaching very soon.   “The sirens are set off for three minutes, then will be activated again if the weather threat is still active,” he explained. “They will continue until the threat is gone.  There is not an all clear siren.”

 Signs that can indicate an approaching tornado includes a dark, often greenish sky, large hail, a large, dark low-lying cloud and a loud roar, similar to a freight train.

 Stay tuned to commercial radio or television broadcasts for updates on changing weather conditions or approaching storms. Know the difference between a Tornado Watch — conditions exist for a tornado to develop, and a Tornado Warning — a tornado has been sighted or indicated by weather radar.

 “We always recommend people are aware of incoming weather,” said Cairnduff.  “Most people nowadays are constantly connected with their phones and computers to weather apps, but it is always a good thing to set up weather alerts that will automatically notify you of weather in your area.  Most of the weather apps have this feature.”

To be ready, residents should:

• Know in advance the lowest place you can take cover during a tornado — usually a basement or interior bathroom away from windows, doors and outside walls. In the basement, you should crawl under a sturdy structure, such as a stairwell or workbench.

• Develop a 72-hour emergency supply kit with essential items, such as a three-day supply of water and food, a NOAA Weather Radio, important family documents, prescriptions, medical equipment, etc.

• Develop a family plan about how to contact one another in the event of a weather emergency.

• If severe weather is coming, move and secure outdoor lawn furniture and other objects.

• Make sure all cell phones are charged.

During a tornado:

• Seek shelter in the safe spot at home. If necessary, use a pillow or blanket to protect your head from glass.

• If you are in a vehicle during a tornado, do one of these two actions:

 1) If it’s safe to do so, get out of your vehicle and lie in an area lower than the roadway, covering your head with your hands.

 2) Otherwise, stay in the car with your seatbelt on and put your head below the windows, covered with your hands or a blanket.

After a tornado:

• Inspect your home, property and vehicles for damage. Check for electrical problems and gas leaks. If damage is suspected, shut off power, natural gas and propane tanks.

• Avoid downed power lines and report them to Consumers Energy.

• Restock supplies in your emergency kit.

What NOT to do after a tornado

 “One of the most important things for people to NOT do is go anywhere near downed wires,” said Cairnduff. “Power lines can fall and be touching things like fences or phone/cable lines and the power line is still energized and now is conducting energy through those items.  People can lean on a fence that is energized and be electrocuted. “

 “We treat all power lines as if they are still energized,” added Cairnduff.  “Residents should never go near them as they are extremely dangerous. Parents should not let their children go out and play right after a storm until they are sure there are no downed wires in the area.”

Source: Michigan.gov, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

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