Prepare now for storms

Mary Beth Cooper
Residents need to make preparations now before a tornado or storm whips through the area.

John Gain stood in his perennial greenhouse as an early spring storm approached.  

Intuition told him to evacuate as the roaring winds picked up. Just after he left, a straight line wind ripped through the area and launched the greenhouse 40 feet. Gain’s story is just one reminder of the danger of spring storms.

“It got underneath the one end of it and made it go airborne and then slammed it upside down,” said Gain, owner of Gain’s Garden Center at 4727 E. Lakeland Terrace just south of Rome.

Gain said the damage was most likely not tornado related. He suspects that the damage was caused by a straight line wind because of the small area that was affected.

“They don’t cover a large area and they don’t whip stuff around. They just like to take a narrow path,” he said.

Much to his surprise, the items in the greenhouse remained intact. Only the wood burner inside was moved.

“The plants were sitting on the bench just like they were before and the wood burner was outside,” he said.

Stories like Gain’s are a reminder that storms may produce damaging winds or tornados. Most storms capable of producing tornados strike from March to the end of September, according to Vicky Turner, director of the Peoria County Emergency Management Agency.

Turner said tornado preparedness is essential. This involves having a pre-planned place to go in your home.

“Have a location picked out in order to seek shelter somewhere,” she said.

The best place to go is usually a basement, according to Turner. However, she said that even in a basement it is important to avoid shelving and items that could cause flying debris. Shelter underneath a staircase is often a viable option, she said.

If there is no basement available, it is important to seek shelter in an interior room. The room should be window free if possible.  

Another dangerous situation involves encountering a tornado in a vehicle. Turner said it is important to get inside if possible. If there is no interior location available, get in a ditch.

“You don’t want to try to outrun the tornado. Get out of your vehicle,” she said.

She said it is not recommended to stand underneath an overpass. Flying debris could be a problem.

The possibility of tornadic activity is also of great concern to schools. As a result, administrators have a plan in place long before storm season approaches.

“We have procedures that we practice every year,” said Dustin Birkel, assistant principal of IVC High School.

“We’ve identified the safest places in the building with the fire and the police and we practice going to those stations and how to cover with our tornado drills,” he said.

Drills take place once a semester. The most recent drill took place in early March.

Another area of concern involves public events, according to Steve Maurer, Chillicothe chief of police. He said preparedness saves lives, as seen in the outcome of the recent St. Louis tornado.

“Anytime we expect a large number of people at events it draws our attention,” he said. “What concerns us most is when we have special events going on.”

Maurer said a solid plan has been instilled. This involves warning crowds and taking them to a safe house.

“Basically, between the fire chief and myself, if we have any knowledge of any inclement weather we would go out and find a contact person for the event, and therefore, in advance of a storm coming, we could warn them so they could take precaution,”

Maurer said.

“Summer Camp has an evacuation plan in place. There are also safe houses in place such as the high school and the library,” he said.

“The reason the people in St. Louis lived through what they did is because once they got a warning a half hour before they were able to do something about it,” he said.