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Experts offer advice on preparing for severe weather

Brake lights from a pickup truck heading westbound on Owens Road near the intersection of Somonauk and Owens Roads in Pierce Township can be seen as lightning strikes during a thunderstorm this past July.
Brake lights from a pickup truck heading westbound on Owens Road near the intersection of Somonauk and Owens Roads in Pierce Township can be seen as lightning strikes during a thunderstorm this past July.

DeKALB – A tornado is expected to hit Northern Illinois University once every 50 years, with the last one touching down near a residence hall in 1981.

One is expected to strike within DeKalb’s city limits once every 30 years, said NIU meteorologist Gilbert Sebenste. The last time a tornado hit DeKalb was in 1994, destroying a house on Cherry Road.

It’s not very frequent, but that’s no excuse to be complacent, Sebenste said.

“If you live in your house all your life in the city of DeKalb ... you are more likely to see a tornado from your house at some point in your lifetime,” he said. “... It might not hit your house, but you might see it.”

Severe thunderstorms and tornadoes typically strike in spring, but Sebenste encouraged residents to be prepared to deal with high winds, thunderstorms, hail and other weather calamities a little later this year.

“Generally, tornadoes and severe thunderstorms are common from April to June,” Sebenste said. “However, this year, because it’s been exceedingly cold in the northern parts of the hemisphere, the severe weather season is being delayed and pushed back.”

Disaster experts recommend people take shelter if a tornado warning has been declared. For most homeowners, this will either be a basement or an inner room in the house.

Apartment dwellers, especially those living in higher-level floors, should see if they have a common shelter or basement area they could go to, said Dennis Miller, the coordinator of the DeKalb County Emergency Service Disaster Agency.

Larger apartment buildings can lose the entire side of their buildings during a tornado, said Timothy Reinhold, the senior vice president for research and chief engineer at the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety. This is because the connections between the frame and the walls are usually weaker.

“You could lose that whole section,” Reinhold said. 

Candace Iskowitz, the public affairs director at the Insurance Institute, said that there’s not much apartment dwellers can do, except buy renter’s insurance.

Reinhold said there are various businesses that will build tornado shelters or harden certain parts of a home, like an interior walk-in closet, that will provide additional protection during a tornado.

Tornadoes aren’t DeKalb’s only problem. The county just came off the heels of flooding that led to the evacuation of Evergreen Village Mobile Home Park.

Miller said the area also experiences severe winter storms as well as extreme heat and drought.

Miller said homeowners can do a number of things in anticipation of flooding or heavy rain. If the house is prone to flooding, people should raise things off the basement floor. They can also deploy sandbags the day before rain is forecast.

“Be prepared for what might have entered your house or basement,” Miller said,

Reinhold also recommended people develop a plan for emergencies, especially if they live in an apartment complex.

Joe Dillett was one of the American Red Cross volunteers who handed out cleaning kits and food to residents affected by DeKalb’s flooding earlier this month.

Dillett said he usually responds to fires that leave families homeless. Apart from shelter and material goods, Dillett said the most important thing he provides in a disaster is emotional support.

“We pay particular attention to medications, what was lost in the disaster,” Dillett said. “They really need the support when they lose the house. It’s just having a hand on their shoulder and helping them through it.”

Tips on preparing for a disaster

• Build an emergency kit that will provide you and your family with enough food, water, and other supplies for 72 hours. 

• Make sure downspouts are pointed away from the foundation and are properly draining away from the property.

• Always place electronics on higher shelves or keep them up off the floor. 

• Prepare an evacuation kit with important papers, insurance documents, medications and other things you may need if you are forced to be away from your home or business for several days.

• Inspect sump pumps and drains to ensure proper operation. If a sump pump has a battery backup, make sure the batteries are fresh or replace the batteries.

• Trim branches hanging over the roof and near windows of your home. High winds can easily snap off weak branches and blow them around, shattering glass and crashing into the siding. The sound of branches scraping against your home is a signal that they need to be cut back.

•  When using an emergency electric power generator, get fresh air immediately if you begin to feel flu-like symptoms, sick, dizzy or light-headed.

Sources: Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security

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