OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. --
As spring emerges from winter’s cold shadow, warmer temperatures melt away the snow and ice in the Offutt community. Unfortunately, spring and summer weather bring dangers of their own.
Taking a few moments to learn how to prepare for and respond to severe weather may reduce stress and increase the odds of making it through a disaster unscathed.
“The main severe weather-related dangers for this area include lightning, tornadoes, hail, and flash floods,” said Trip Spiller, Offutt’s Chief of Emergency Management. “Being prepared can reduce fear and anxiety as well as help reduce the risk of injury or death for Team Offutt members and their families.”
Tornadoes are one of the most severe weather threats in the area. These storms often form at the edges of thunderstorms and can actually occur all year round, however most occur between March and August. Tornadoes can form at any time of day but are more likely to form between 3 - 9 p.m.
Two tornadoes swept through Offutt Air Force Base and Bellevue, Nebraska on June 16, 2017. The two storms produced damaging winds as high as 135 mph, destroying several homes, damaging property and leaving thousands without power.
When dealing with tornadoes, it is important to know the difference between watches and warnings. A watch means that conditions are favorable for a tornado to develop. During this time, monitor weather broadcasts and be able to reach a shelter within a few minutes. A tornado warning means that a tornado has been indicated by weather radar and that a tornado is imminent. People in the affected area should take shelter immediately.
A good tornado shelter is a windowless, interior room on the lowest level or basement of a building that is away from windows, doors and outside walls. If available, people should get under a sturdy piece of furniture and use their arms to protect the head and neck. When at work, look for the designated tornado shelter and follow announced instructions.
Another hazard to be aware of are thunderstorms. Along with heavy rain and wind lightning strikes have the potential to be deadly.
“A lot of people believe is that if it is not raining, there is no danger from lightning,” Spiller said. “This is incorrect as lightning often strikes outside of heavy rain and may occur as far as 10 miles away from rainfall. If you can hear thunder, you are within striking distance of lightning.”
At the first sign of lightning, head inside and follow the 30/30 rule: If a thunderclap can be heard less than 30 seconds after seeing the corresponding lightning, the storm is close enough to pose a threat.
During the storm, do not touch any corded electronics or plumbing as lightning could find a path through the wires and pipes. After the storm, wait 30 minutes before going outside.
Surprisingly, flash floods can be a major threat. The swift nature of flash floods brings the power to move or destroy vehicles, trees, boulders, buildings, bridges and more.
“People tend to underestimate flash floods the most,” Spiller said. “On average, flooding results in more deaths than any other thunderstorm hazard.”
If there is any possibility of a flash flood, immediately move to higher ground. As little as six inches of moving water can knock an adult off their feet and 12 inches of water can sweep away a vehicle. Never attempt to drive across a flooded road, the pavement may no longer be intact and it is difficult to judge the true depth of the water.
These kinds of severe weather may cause anxiety, but being prepared can make all the difference.
“Families should know the severe weather terminology for the area and the appropriate actions to take,” Spiller said. “Develop and practice an emergency plan with your family and build an emergency supply kit.”
A good emergency supply kit includes essential supplies:
- A three-day supply of drinking water for each person (one gallon per day).
- A three-day supply of ready-to-eat, non-perishable food for each person.
- A manual can opener.
- First aid kit with manual and any needed prescriptions.
- Personal sanitation supplies.
- Weather alert radio.
- Hand crank or battery-powered flashlight.
- Extra batteries.
- Cell phone with charger.
- Local maps.
- Family emergency plan.
- Copies of any important documents.
- Supplies for pets, if applicable.