By Lisa LaPlante
In 2016, the August 20 tornado outbreak across West Michigan caused more than five million dollars in damage. The National Weather Service determined that six tornadoes touched down in a matter of hours, including two EF0 tornadoes in Grandville, Wyoming and Grand Rapids. The State of Michigan was hit by 16 tornadoes last year, just slightly higher than the average 15 per year. Kent County has a system of sirens to alert residents of high winds or tornadoes. Starting Friday, April 7, and continuing on the first Friday of every month at noon through October, tornado alarm testing will be heard in Kent County homes and businesses.
It is important to plan in advance for disasters to know how you and your family will get to a safe place, how to contact each other and what to do in different situations. “Traffic was a dilemma in the initial hours after the tornadoes hit Kent County last August,” said Kent County Emergency Management Coordinator Jack Stewart. “Trees and debris in roadways made getting around difficult. Determine a location where you will meet your family during an emergency, both near your house and further away, in case your neighborhood streets are closed.”
If a disaster occurs, it may be easier to make a phone call to a designated out-of-town contact, as phone lines may be overwhelmed. Make sure that person is aware that he or she is the designated contact. Pet owners should have a disaster plan for pets as well. This is a great time to review severe weather plans, refresh supplies and make sure preparations are complete. Check flashlights and stock up on fresh batteries. Homes should have enough fresh drinking water and canned food items for three days, a can opener, an all-weather radio, and a first aid kit.
If you don’t hear the sirens April 7 at noon, please contact your local township or city office. Be vigilant whenever severe weather is in the forecast. While no location is completely safe from a tornado or severe thunderstorm, it is important to seek all possible protection. For more about severe weather, go to http://www.michigan.gov/documents/msp/SWApacket_554981_7.pdf.
Smartphone apps are available that will provide notification of weather watches and warnings. Severe weather watch means the potential exists for the development of storms/tornadoes, so be mindful of changing conditions. Severe weather warning mean that storms are imminent or occurring. Move indoors to a place of safety. If it is a Tornado Warning, take shelter in a location on the lowest level of the building, such as the basement, or in a small, windowless room at the innermost part of the building.