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Prepare Now for Severe Spring Weather

With severe weather threatening large sections of the Midwest, the American Red Cross has steps you can take to be prepared for the challenges the current warmer weather is creating.

Officials are watching for tornadoes and flooding today. Forecasters say a wetter-than-usual winter and a jet stream over the part of the country known as "Tornado Alley" could lead to an active tornado season this spring. Rains and warmer weather could trigger flooding in the Midwest. The National Weather Service issued a flood warning for areas along the eastern border of Iowa and the western border of Illinois near the Wapsipinicon and Skunk rivers, tributary rivers of the Mississippi River.

“It’s important to be prepared for severe weather,” said Scott Conner, senior vice president, Red Cross Preparedness and Health and Safety Services. “Disasters can strike quickly and without warning. The best way to help protect yourself and your family is to know what actions you should take now.”

If it has been raining hard for several hours, or steadily raining for several days, be alert to the possibility of flooding. Follow these safety steps if heavy rains and flooding are likely:

Know what flood warnings mean:

  • A flood WATCH means a flood is possible in your area. During a flood watch, move your furniture and valuables to higher floors of your home. Fill your vehicle’s gas tank in case you have to evacuate.
  • A flood WARNING means flooding is already occurring or will occur soon in your area. If a flood warning is issued, listen to local radio and television stations for information. If told to evacuate, do so as soon as possible.
  • A flash flood WATCH means flash flooding is possible in your area. Be alert to signs of flash flooding and be ready to evacuate quickly.
  • A flash flood WARNING means a flash flood is occurring or will occur very soon. Evacuate immediately. You may only have seconds to escape. Move to higher ground away from rivers, streams, creeks and storm drains. Do not drive around barricades. If your car stalls in rapidly rising waters, abandon it immediately and climb to higher ground.

Over the years, tornadoes have been reported in every state in the country. They are more common in the Plains states. These powerful events are capable of destroying well-made structures, uprooting trees, and hurling objects through the air like missiles. Follow these important guidelines about tornadoes if these damaging weather events are possible in your area:

  • Know your community’s warning system.
  • Identify a safe room where family members and pets can gather in a tornado. It could be your basement, storm cellar, or a windowless interior room on the lowest floor.
  • Practice periodic tornado drills so that everyone knows what to do if a tornado is approaching.
  • Prepare for high winds by removing diseased or damaged limbs from trees.
  • Move or secure lawn furniture, trash cans, or anything else that can be picked up by the wind.
  • Watch for tornado danger signs, such as dark, often greenish clouds; a wall cloud; cloud of debris; large hail, a roaring noise, or a funnel cloud.

Be aware of what the warnings mean:

  • A tornado WATCH means a tornado is possible in your area. Be alert to changing weather conditions. Blowing debris or the sound of an approaching tornado may alert you. Many people say it sounds like a freight train
  • A tornado WARNING means a tornado has been sighted and may be headed for your area. Go to safety immediately. Do not wait until you can see the tornado.

Safety steps to take during a tornado:

  • If you are inside, go to the safe place you picked to protect yourself from glass and other flying objects.
  • Mobile homes are not safe during tornadoes. If you have access to sturdy shelter or a vehicle, abandon your mobile home and immediately go to the nearest sturdy building or shelter.
  • If you are caught outdoors, go immediately to a basement or sturdy building. If this isn’t possible, get into a vehicle, buckle your seat belt and drive to the closest shelter.
  • If flying debris occurs while you are driving, pull over and park. Now you have the following options as a last resort. You can stay in the car with the seat belt on and put your head down below the windows, covering yourself with your hands or a blanket if possible. Or if you can safely get lower than the level of the roadway, exit your car and lie in that area, covering your head with your hands. Your choice should be based on your specific circumstances.

After a tornado

  • Return home only when authorities say it is safe to do so.
  • Watch out for fallen power lines or broken gas lines and report them immediately.
  • Stay out of damaged buildings.
  • If you smell gas or hear a blowing or hissing noise, open a window and get everyone out of the building quickly. Call the gas company or fire department.
  • Listen to the radio for information and instructions.
  • Use a flashlight to inspect your home for damage. Do not use candles.

Get the facts you need — before, during, and after a disaster or emergency situation. There is more important information on how to be prepared for flooding, tornadoes, and other emergencies in the Preparedness section of our web site.