With spring, the severe weather season is upon us, and state and local officials warn residents to prepare for potential emergencies.
Governor Mike DeWine declared the week of March 17-23 Ohio’s Severe Weather Awareness Week. He warns that Ohio’s often unpredictable weather patterns warrants all residents to familiarize themselves with possible threats during the upcoming months. These include thunder and lightning storms, flooding/flash flooding, tornadoes and extreme heat.
“Ohio faces a number of severe weather challenges and it drastically impacts public safety for all jurisdictions in Butler Co,” said Matthew Haverkos, director of the Butler County Emergency Management Agency. “We want to make sure residents are aware of what they can face.”
During this week, Haverkos recommends creating a preparedness kit containing water, non-perishable food, first aid equipment, flashlights and extra batteries. He advises residents to invest in a weather radio at home to receive the latest updates and for smartphone users to download a weather app that can provide severe weather notifications.
“At some point you will experience a disaster, either personally or through family or a friend,” Haverkos said.
Ohio is certainly no stranger to tornados over the years—a large, destructive vortex of rotating winds in a funnel-shaped cloud. However, the National Weather Service reports that Butler County has only seen 15 of these beasts since 1950, with the strongest coming in 1990. Tornado season runs from April until July, but tornadoes can happen, and have happened, at any time in the year, according to the Ohio Committee for Severe Weather Awareness (OCSWA).
The OCSWA encourages everyone to know the difference between tornado watches and warnings. Watches mean conditions are right for tornadoes to form and residents should stay alert for weather updates. Warnings mean that a tornado is happening or is imminent and people should take shelter underground or in a windowless interior room immediately.
The acronym DUCK is the recommended protocol during tornado warnings:
D – Go DOWN to the lowest level, stay away from windows
U – Get UNDER something (such as a basement staircase or heavy table or desk)
C – COVER your head
K – KEEP in shelter until the storm has passed
To keep everyone safe, the county maintains widespread outdoor warning siren systems. Haverkos points out that each jurisdiction in the county owns and operate its own sirens, but if one jurisdiction sets its siren off, it will set off all the others in the county as well. He said that in the past few years, advances in radar technology and storm spotting have prompted the county to transition from setting sirens off for tornado watches and warnings, to using them just for warnings.
According to the Butler County EMA’s website, the sirens can also go off and alert residents for an impending enemy attack or a chemical emergency. The sirens tests take place on the first Wednesday of every month at noon, as long as there is no threat of severe weather that day.
“If there is severe weather and someone hears a siren at any point, take cover and tune in until you hear something different,” Haverkos said.
The City of Oxford’s sirens are located around town on East Walnut Street, Martin Dining Hall, on the Miami University campus, Sandra Drive, Country Club Drive, McKee Avenue and Brookville Road. In Oxford Township, warning sirens are located at Bonham Road, 6582 Morning Sun Road, 6015 Brown Road, 6640 College Corner Pike, 5830 Taylor Road and 6405 Todd Road. Some areas, particularly rural areas, are beyond the reach of the sirens, which is why it is suggested that people keep a weather radio in their home or a weather alert app on their phone.
Thunderstorms and lightning also pose safety challenges. When thunderstorms arise, it is not safe to be outside. The peak time for these storms occurs in the summer months. The NWSCA advises to remain indoors for 30 minutes after the last clap of thunder. During thunderstorms with lightning, the NWSCA also says to avoid contact with corded phones, electrical equipment, water, windows, doors and anything metal.
Haverkos mentioned that Butler County sees areas that flood on a regular basis and areas that flash flood. Floods generally develop over a period of days, whereas flash-flooding can occur with little or no warning and can peak in minutes. According to the NWSCA, six inches of moving water can knock an adult down and two feet of rushing water can sweep away most vehicles. Oxford Police Lieutenant Lara Fening says that certain streets in town experience flooding because of junk buildup in the storm drains. Old house foundations are also notorious for basement flooding, which Fening warns is dangerous due to the risk of electrocution.
Fening recollected that in 2008, two people died from a falling limb caused by high winds. They were driving through Hueston Woods State Park on motorcycles. Oxford is certainly not immune to weather-induced injuries and fatalities.
In the event of severe weather, Fening says that the city of Oxford and Miami possess different concerns. The university attempts to secure safety for large crowds being outside, like outdoor sporting events, while her department juggles the safety of businesses, mobile homes and community parks.
Fening said that around 15-20 years ago, her department took a ‘hand-holding’ approach to public safety during weather emergencies. Police would make sure that residents without a secure place to be during a storm received placement somewhere safe during severe weather, like the basement of a church. Now, Oxford Police encourages everyone to have a plan beforehand before it’s too late.
“Now, we aren’t going to say ‘you need to go to this person’s basement,’” Fening said. “Everyone needs to have a plan and activate it.”
On Miami’s campus, Claire Wagner is the school’s Director of University News and Communication. When severe weather strikes, her department keeps students and staff informed through a variety of channels.
“MUPD, among many resources, gets emails from the EMA (Emergency Management Agency) when severe weather is predicted,” Wagner said. “These can be high winds almost any time of year. In the spring and early summer, it is thunderstorms, tornado watches and warnings.”
The school deploys an Emergency Notification System to mass-communicate critical, time-essential information. Messages can be sent via text message and email. Miami also possesses tall emergency call towers known as “blue lights” that have speakers capable of blasting out warnings up to 500 feet. Many of the university’s phones have “VoIP” (Voice over Internet Protocol) capabilities and can receive messages and blare out safety recordings. The newest tool is placing a full-screen warning on university-owned computers.
Wagner mentioned that it is important to use multi-model communication (numerous methods) to make sure that everyone across Miami’s campuses stays informed. Her best advice for students is to stay aware of surroundings and be familiar with the tips on miamioh.edu/emergency.
The school recently acquired the title of being National Weather Service StormReady®. According to the National Weather Service, the program assists communities in the communication and safety skills needed to save lives and property. To earn the distinction, a community must establish a 24-hour warning point and emergency operations center, have more than one way to receive severe weather warnings and forecasts and to alert the public, create a system that monitors weather conditions locally, and develop a formal hazardous weather plan. Currently, the state only has 38 sites with this title.