DePauw community prepares for tornado season


Doug Cox, emergency management coordinator, has only seen a tornado once, in Indianapolis. But he said once was frightening enough.
April marks the start of tornado season for much of the Midwest, and according to the Weather Channel, central Indiana is at a greater than typical risk for tornadoes this April. But Cox said that DePauw students and faculty should be concerned every year about the possibility of tornadoes.
"We're regionally located in an area that has had a high frequency of tornadoes over the last several years," Cox said.
Cox said that today's technology is wonderful relative to the way radars can track a tornado, but that a tornado is still difficult to anticipate. Though the weather service can predict the intensity of a tornado to some degree, it might not be exact.
"What it can't tell is what kind of damage [the tornado] is going to do," Cox said.
Additionally, if a tornado would touch down at DePauw, it is likely that damage would also impact Greencastle. Thus, emergency management has to think about resources from a community-based perspective.
Cox said if a tornado would be spotted in the area, the Putnam County 911 Center, which works with the National Weather Service, would be responsible for triggering tornado sirens on campus and in the Greencastle community.
"Definitely when you hear a tornado siren outside, that means go inside," he said.
When the state of Indiana is under risk for severe weather, as it was this past week, Cox hopes that people will be proactive in thinking about the safety of the area they are in.
Cox said in the event of a tornado, he would encourage people to go to the lowest level of a building and seek an interior hallway, closet or bathroom. He would also encourage people to crouch low and cover their heads, and stay away from glass.
He also said it is incumbent upon everyone to pay attention to the weather if there's a risk for severe storms, and not just wait for a siren to go off.
"When the warning goes out, it doesn't come out and say, 'In eight minutes there's going to be a tornado,'" Cox said.
Lauren Krumwiede, a junior environmental science major, isn't doing anything out of the ordinary to prepare for tornado season, but that's because she checks the weather on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, website every day.
"[I'm] just paying a little extra attention to the forecast for the week," she said.
Krumwiede also brushes up on severe weather terminology, such as the difference between a tornado watch and warning.
The NOAA website states that a tornado watch is issued when weather conditions are favorable for tornadoes, whereas a tornado warning is issued when a tornado has actually been spotted in the area.
James Mills, professor of geosciences, isn't doing anything at this point to prepare for tornado season, but that's because he already has pretty much everything ready to go.
He said during a severe storm, people should have a NOAA weather radio, a cell phone, or another device to track oncoming weather and wait for the "all clear."
If they are at home, it is beneficial to have about a four to five day supply of water, blankets, matches, flashlights and a basic supply of food.
"You want to have a minimum few days' or a week's worth of supplies stored and ready to go," Mills said. "And then some type of communication device to contact people and to listen to the weather."
Though Mills has never seen a tornado, he has taken students down to the Julian basement during tornado warnings.
Along with getting to a basement, Mills said windows should be avoided, not only because of glass, but also because of the risk of objects flying through glass.
"Pieces of straw can penetrate a two by four in the highest wind velocity," Mills said.
Mills also said to avoid kitchen stoves, refrigerators, furnaces and water heaters - anything connected to gas, live wires, or hot water.
But before the storms come, looking out for warning signs is important.
Mills said one thing to watch for is a dark sky with a greenish hue. Hail is also a sign, but doesn't always indicate a tornado. Dark, low clouds spinning are a good indication that a tornado is developing.
"If you hear a loud roar, they say it's like a freight train or a really loud semi, that's a tornado," Mills said.
Mills recommends that students and faculty review facts about tornadoes on websites such as in order to prepare.
"Do it now, before the storms come," Mills said. "Know ahead of time what the warning signs are, what to do during [the tornado], what to do after."
Mills said one has a better chance of survival if they know what to do ahead of time.
Though weather is something that no one can control, everyone can control how they respond to the weather, and how they can prepare for it before it comes.