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Henry, Washington counties prepare for severe weather

GTNS file photo

Severe storms are a common occurrance in the Midwest during the spring and summer months. The National Weather Service is encouraging people to be ready for severe weather.
GTNS file photo Severe storms are a common occurrance in the Midwest during the spring and summer months. The National Weather Service is encouraging people to be ready for severe weather.

With severe winter weather only weeks in the past, the National Weather Service (NOAA) is encouraging people to get ready for severe spring and summer weather during a week of education.

The week of March 25 through 29 has been designated the statewide Severe Weather Preparedness/Awareness Week. The service hopes people will use this time to increase their awareness and response to severe weather hazards that can happen during the spring season. Most area schools will hold tornado drills in conjunction with the county’s drill. At 10 a.m., Wednesday, March 27, Washington and Henry counties will hold a test of their emergency alert system with a simulated tornado.

“Its typically a time when our buildings go through our regular tornado procedures,” Mt. Pleasant Community School District Superintendent John Henriksen explained. “We are required to do drills four times a year. Typically we do two in the fall and two in the spring.”

Washington County Emergency Management Coordinator Marissa Reisen said severe weather events common to the area include thunderstorms, some tornadoes and straight-line winds. She is also very concerned about the possibility of “record-breaking” flooding this spring as snow from areas north of Washington County is melting into waterways. NOAA predicts over 200 million people are at risk for flooding in their communities this spring. Already this year heavy rains coupled with the melting of a larger-than-normal amount of snow has caused flooding in several states.

Henriksen only received information on the awareness week Thursday afternoon. He said Henry County Emergency Management Coordinator Walt Jackson is encouraging area schools to participate in the activities.

Jackson hopes the awareness goes beyond the schools and average people take the time to learn what should be done in the event of severe weather. He advises people to have a few days of supplies stored in the home as well as a battery-powered radio. He also advises people not to be too dependent on their cellphones for information, as the service can be knocked out if a very large storm hits the area. He also recommends people to sign up for Alert Iowa, a mass notification and emergency messaging system available through the Henry County Communications Center.

“People should use common sense,” he said. “Look at your house. If there is a tornado warning or watch, don’t be sitting on your front porch watching the weather for safety reasons.”

He also said parents should take the time to teach children what to do in the event of severe weather.

Reisen also recommends Washington County residents sign up for the county’s WENS system, which issues text notifications of emergency situations. The service is available from the Washington County Communications Center.

“One thing I want people to know is if they get damage as the result of any kind of weather, give me a call,” she said, “The state is working on getting a disaster declaration as the result of what has been going on in western Iowa. They are including anyone with any damage.”

Reisen can be contacted at 319-653-7794.

She recommends people plan out in advance where they will seek shelter in the event of severe weather. Reisen recommends people establish a place, usually a basement, for emergencies and stock the area with supplies that may be needed.

Washington Schools Superintendent William Stone said the times for tornado drills during the coming week would be up to the individual building principals.

The National Weather Service website lists Monday as the day to learn about severe thunderstorms; Tuesday tests people’s receiving warning information; Wednesday tests tornado awareness; Thursday is family preparedness day; and Friday raises awareness of flash floods. For more information go the NOAA site at https://www.weather.gov/dvn/Awareness_Weeks#Top.