DeKALB – With Illinois among the top 10 states to be hit with tornadoes, the threat of severe weather is real.
The best way to be protected from the very real threat is to prepare, emergency officials say.
According to the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, Illinois ranks fifth in the United States for the number of tornadoes per square mile.
The city of DeKalb is likely to be hit by a tornado every 30 years. The last one to touch down in the city destroyed a house on Perry Road in 1994, Northern Illinois University meteorologist Gilbert Sebenste said.
The DeKalb area also gets hit at least twice a year with thunderstorms that produce winds of 58 mph or faster, hail the size of a quarter or larger, or a tornado.
“Obviously, we do have a severe weather threat here in DeKalb,” Sebenste said.
April through June is considered peak season for severe weather in the DeKalb County area, but because of the brutally cold winter, Sebenste said to expect this year’s storm season to stretch into July. At the end of this week, temperatures will fall into the mid-50s, Sebenste said, staving off severe weather.
Rising warm, moist air fuels thunderstorms, according to Accuweather. Generally, the risk for tornadoes and violent thunderstorms decreases when temperatures near the ground are cooler.
The delay will give residents more time to prepare, a key when dealing with thunderstorms or tornadoes, said DeKalb County Emergency Services Disaster Agency Coordinator Dennis Miller.
“Everyone should have their own plan,” Miller said. “People should be aware and cognizant of what’s going on and have a plan to respond.”
Emergency plans should detail how to take special medications or food in case it is necessary to evacuate, Miller said. He also advised people to know where they need to go in case of a tornado or storm.
People should move to the lowest level of their residence, he said. Apartment-dwellers should find either a common shelter or basement area, or move into an interior room such a bathroom where they could lay in the bathtub. Manufactured home residents should know where the common shelter is for their neighborhood, Miller advised.
Finding a room without windows on the lowest level possible will offer the best protection, Illinois Emergency Management spokeswoman Patti Thompson said.
“When winds start whipping around, it can pick up debris, and debris can turn into projectiles,” Thompson said.
Being prepared for severe weather includes having an emergency kit complete with a flashlight, extra batteries, a radio, water, food and a first aid kit, Thompson said, adding the kit could be needed even in the case of a power outage because it could cause stores to close.
Everyone should be prepared, Miller and Thompson agreed, because severe weather threatens the state equally.
On June 12, an F-1 tornado with winds of about 100 mph touched down at Shabonna Lake State Park after it moved through southern DeKalb County.
An F-1 tornado falls low on the Fujita Damage Scale used to measure tornadoes. The scale ranges from tornadoes with winds slower than 73 mph classified as F-0 to those producing winds faster than 261 mph classified as an F-5.
“But it still snapped trees and power poles down to the base,” Sebenste said. “So even a weaker tornado can do some damage.”
Thompson said that of the tornadoes that have touched down in Illinois since 1950, 76 percent have been weak, 22 percent have been strong and only 2 percent have had winds in excess of 167 mph, including the tornadoes that devastated Washington and New Minden in November.
Receiving enough warning also plays a crucial role in being prepared for a storm, Thompson said. She recommended listening to a storm radio or downloading the American Red Cross or other smartphone applications in order to have enough warning to take shelter.
“Being alerted as soon as possible can give you the time to get into a safe place,” Thompson said.
Local agencies have launched systems offering residents alerts to complement the regular warning sirens that sound in the case of severe weather.
Genoa and DeKalb have launched the CodeRED System, which allows agencies to send text alerts or emails to residents in the case of an emergency such as a tornado or severe thunderstorm.
Both municipalities are still collecting phone numbers and have yet to send out alerts through the system. However, police said they plan to within the coming weeks, especially in light of the severe weather season.
“There are a lot of ways these days to get notice,” Thompson said. “No matter what way, it could give you time to prepare.”
Tips for preparing for severe weather
• Have someone at home, work or wherever people gather monitor weather conditions, regardless of the time of day. Many deadly tornadoes occur at night. Monitor watches and warnings in your areas using a weather alert radio, cellphone app, local TV, local radio or the Internet. Do not rely solely on outdoor warning sirens, especially if you are asleep.
• Keep all of your important records and documents in a safe deposit box or another safe place away from the premises.
• Insure your property and possessions. Make an inventory of your possessions using paper lists, photographs and/or videotapes of your belongings. Give a copy to your insurance company. Update your inventory and review your coverage with your insurance company periodically.