'Knowledge is power': Dallas County residents reminded of upcoming severe weather events during annual week

Becky Carlyle
Correspondent

Severe Weather Awareness Week, held March 22-26 in Iowa, is meant to educate the public about upcoming threats from severe weather, said Dallas County Emergency Management Specialist Rachelle Keller.

“It is also a great time to practice emergency plans and refresh or build your emergency kits, so when severe weather hits, you and your family are prepared," she added.

Topics that will be covered during the week include: 

  • Monday - Severe Thunderstorms 
  • Tuesday - Weather Warnings
  • Wednesday - Tornados 
  • Thursday - Family Preparedness 
  • Friday - Flash Floods

What is the difference between a severe weather watch and warning?

A watch means the conditions are favorable or possible. When a watch has been issued, be prepared. A warning means the conditions are occurring or imminent. When a warning has been issued, take action.

What is severe weather?

The National Weather Service defines the threshold for severe weather, but generally, severe weather poses risks to life and property. Severe weather events can happen anytime of the year, but are most often seen in the spring/summer.

“All severe weather events have the potential to cause damage to life and property,” Keller said. “One significant challenge is that we see people not taking weather seriously.”

Keller encourages Dallas County residents to check the forecast regularly, for all weather events, to see if there is any risk for severe weather. She also wants people to know exactly how their communities issue warnings. 

Effective Oct. 1, 2020, outdoor warning sirens are activated for tornado warnings and severe thunderstorm warnings that include 70 mph or greater winds.

More:Outdoor warning siren criteria now includes 70 mph winds for rural Dallas County

Keller shared that during severe weather events, when sirens are activated, it’s important to take cover and monitor local media. She said that when the sirens stop, it does NOT mean the threat of severe weather is over.

A outdoor warning siren in Dallas Center. Rural Dallas County communities will now activate the warning sirens for 70 mph winds starting on Oct. 1.

“Sirens are outdoor warning systems and people should have other ways to receive alerts for when they are inside and in rural areas, like AlertIowa,” Keller said.

To sign up for alerts in Dallas County through AlertIowa, text ‘DALLASALERTS’ to 69310.

Severe Weather Tips from Keller

Thunderstorms 

Trees and power lines on cars and the Pattee Street following the derecho on Aug. 10, 2020.

During a thunderstorm, monitor the weather. Go to a secure location. Stay away from windows. Thunderstorms can also produce tornadoes, dangerous lightning and heavy rain that can cause flash flooding. After a thunderstorm, pay close attention to any downed power lines and debris. 

Tornados 

A tornado forms in June 2020 in Waukee.

During a tornado, go to the basement or small interior room without windows. Put as many walls between you and the outside as possible. Protect your head. If you are in a mobile home, get out and go to a sturdy building or storm shelter. After a tornado, pay close attention to any downed power lines and debris that could be dangerous. 

A statewide tornado drill will take place at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, March 24. In the event of severe weather the test will be postponed until Thursday, March 25.

More:Perry to participate in statewide tornado drill on March 24

“Sirens in Dallas County will be sounded, at which time, we encourage individuals to practice as if there were a tornado,” Keller said. 

Flooding

Highway 169 north of Adel was closed in March 2019 because of water over the road.

During a flood, water levels can quickly change. If you live in a low-lying area, get to higher ground. If your home does flood, do not go into a room if the electrical outlets or cords are submerged in water. Don’t walk or drive through flood waters. It only takes six inches of moving water to knock you off your feet.  

Derechos

The safest place to be during a derecho is inside a secure building. If caught outside, take cover under a shelter and cover your head. 

Hailstorms 

During a hailstorm, take shelter inside a secure building and stay away from windows. Monitor the local media for other severe weather that may be taking place. 

High Winds 

The safest place to be during high winds is indoors. If you are caught outside, take cover under a shelter and watch for flying debris. High winds can be especially dangerous to people driving high-profile vehicles such as a truck or SUV. If the winds are severe enough to prevent driving, pull off the roadway and turn on your hazard lights. 

Preparedness

Preparation is key to staying safe and minimizing impact.

“Make a severe weather plan and practice the plan with your children,” Keller said. “When disasters happen, knowing who to call and where to meet is an important part of emergency planning for you and your family.” 

  • Check the forecast regularly. 
  • Know how to receive alerts. 
  • Have an emergency plan in place and practice it. 
  • Trim trees around your house with dead branches. 
  • If there is time before severe weather hits, secure loose objects outside and close windows and doors.  
  • Build an emergency kit.
  • Sit down with your children and let them help in the process. 

“According to some surveys, less than half of Americans are prepared for an emergency,” Keller said.

Ready.gov has a list of resources and games that children can participate in to become more prepared as well as tips and plan templates

Power Outages

  • Have an alternative power source like a generator. 
  • Have flashlights/batteries for every household member. 
  • Know your medical needs. 
  • Have a power outage plan for medical devices powered by electricity. 
  • Have enough nonperishable food and water. 
  • Install carbon monoxide detectors and smoke detectors with battery backup.

Outdoor Safety During Severe Weather

If you are in a vehicle, drive to the closest shelter. If you are unable to make it to a safe shelter, either get down in your car and cover your head, or seek shelter in a low-lying area such as a ditch or ravine and cover your head. Do not park under a bridge or overpass.

If you are outside, seek shelter inside a sturdy building. Sheds and storage buildings are not safe. If you are unable to locate a sturdy building, seek shelter in a low-lying area such as a ditch or ravine and cover your head.

The Dallas County Emergency Management Agency practices all-hazards planning that is capability based, Keller said, which allows them to appropriately apply resources based on the incident at hand rather than planning for many individual specific types of events. 

“As with all planned or unplanned events we participate in, we conduct a coordinated review of successes and short-falls,” she added. “We are always in the process of fine-tuning and revising our plans to best fit the changing needs of the community and disaster area and have followed this same process following the August derecho and COVID-19.”

For more information on severe weather, tips and preparedness activities, follow Dallas County Emergency Management Agency on Facebook. 

“Knowledge is power. Know the threats and be prepared for them. Make an emergency plan and practice it,” Keller said.

A 150-year-old tree was damaged at Oakland cemetery in De Soto.