Severe Weather Awareness Week, held from March 25-29, helps to kick off the storm season with reminders to the public, said AJ Seely, Coordinator for the Dallas County Emergency Management Agency (DCEMA).


“It’s really just big about recognizing that severe weather poses a significant threat to Iowa,” he said. “Going into the spring, summer months, it’s just a good time to remind everybody of what certain types of things mean.”


Area residents haven’t seen severe weather like tornados for six months or more. Seely added this week is a good way to offer tips on finding a safe place, how to be prepared and how to get warning information.


DCEMA offered tips on various severe weather events or terms each day through the week on its Facebook page.


ThunderstormsSevere thunderstorms can occur at any time of the year, day or night. The peak season for thunderstorms is from April through September, and during the afternoon or evening hours.Severe thunderstorms can create straight-line winds. These winds can reach hurricane force and in extreme cases, 100+ mph. Wind damage can be extensive and affect entire counties instead of narrow tracks like tornadoes. Objects like branches, trees, barns, outbuildings, high-profile vehicles, and power lines/poles can be toppled or destroyed, but as wind gusts increase damage to roofs, windows or homes can also occur.Large hail is also common and can produce tremendous property damage. Usually large hail does not become life threatening unless people are stuck outdoors without shelter. Hail is considered severe when it reaches the size of a quarter or larger.


Watches and WarningsA watch generally means that conditions are favorable or possible in the watch area for a specific type of event, such as a severe thunderstorm or tornado. For example, a severe thunderstorm watch means that conditions are favorable for the development of severe thunderstorms in the watch area.A warning generally means that there is an imminent threat or storm occurring. For example, a Tornado Warning means that a tornado has been sighted or indicated by weather radar.


TornadosDallas County has been impacted by 51 tornadoes since 1955. Most recently a tornado impacted parts of Minburn and Woodward in 2009.The peak tornado months are May and June, followed by July, but tornadoes can occur any time of year if conditions are right. Peak tornado time is 3 to 9 p.m., but they can occur day or night, and may be hard to spot or wrapped in rain at times. Tornadoes are not always visible and can form with little advance warning.


Seely added that outdoor warning systems are meant to alert those outside.


“They’re not made to reach inside people’s homes,” he added. “A lot of people expect that they’re going to be made aware of it, a tornado that’s coming, but it’s not intended to do that.”


Instead, he encourages people to purchase a NOLA weather radio. Another option is to sign up for the DCEMA’s free subscription service. Seely said it’s through the National Weather Service, so when they send out an alert, it goes out to everyone signed up through the DCEMA system.


If a tornado or funnel cloud is spotted, or a warning is issued, take action to protect yourself:At home, move to a sturdy building. Shelters are more safe than mobile homes, especially mobile homes older than 1976.Stay away from windows. Do not try to open or close windows.Stay away from outside doors and garages.Move to a basement and get under something sturdy.If you have no basement, move to the lowest level and get in an interior room, like a bathroom or closet. Put as many walls between you and the storm as possible.At work, move to a basement or interior hallway on the lowest level. Leave large span rooms.At school, seek shelter in interior rooms and get under desks or sturdy objects. Be careful in hallways that may act as wind tunnels and funnel debris.Move students off buses and back into the school. Do not let students board buses during a tornado warning.When traveling, do not try and outrun a tornado. If the tornado is some distance away, drive away from it. If the tornado is relatively close, leave your vehicle for a sturdy building. If no shelter is available, seek refuge in a ditch or culvert. Crouch down and protect your head.If outdoors, find a shelter if possible. If boating or fishing, move to shore. If no shelter is available, seek refuge in a low spot. Crouch down and protect your head.


Family Preparedness


Family preparedness is the key to bridging the gap between disasters and government response.Step 1: Put together a plan by discussing these questions with your family, friends, or household. How will I receive emergency alerts and warnings? What is my shelter plan? What is my evacuation route? What is my family/household communication plan?Step 2: As you prepare your plan tailor your plans and supplies to your specific daily living needs and responsibilities. Think about the different ages of family members, dietary needs, medical needs, frequent locations, pets, etc.Step 3: Download and fill out a family emergency plan or use them as a guide to create your own, at https://www.ready.gov/make-a-plan.Step 4: Practice your plan with your family/household.


FloodingFlash flooding, one of the leading thunderstorm killers, is a rapid rise in small creeks or streams, usually from excessive thunderstorm rains. Flash flooding can also occur with ice jams on rivers or if a dam fails.Most people don’t understand or respect the force of flowing water. Many automobiles become bouyant in as little as 2 feet of water, and you can lose control of your vehicle in as little as 6 inches. Even pickup trucks or SUVs may begin to float in relatively shallow water given the size of the tire.Most flash flood related deaths occur from people driving into high water. This is especially dangerous at night when people may not see the flooding and simply drive into it.When flash flooding is observed, or a warning is issued, move to high ground. Never drive into flood waters. Obey all road closure or high water signs - find an alternative route if needed. Be especially cautious at night when it is more difficult to spot flash flooding.


While Severe Weather Awareness Week is almost over, Seely said the important thing is for residents to have a way to receive information about weather events. Along with knowing what to do when a watch or warning is issued.


“It’s kind of just a good time to boost that public awareness and hopefully allow them to better respond based on the information that they know,” Seely said.


He encourages area residents to sign up for the DCEMA’s subscription service by texting “dallasalerts” to 69310 or going online to https://entry.inspironlogistics.com/dallas_ia/wens.cfm.