Tornadoes struck the Midwest this week but luckily Lee’s Summit only had heavy rain and thunderstorms.
But those are dangerous too.
A leading cause of deaths associated with thunderstorms is flash flooding, usually when a motorist intentionally drives into high water thinking they’ll be able to navigate the blocked street, said Assistant Fire Chief Jim Eden.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, flash floods cause more than 90 fatalities each year, compared to an average of 55-60 for lightning and 60-65 for tornadoes.
There are Lee’s Summit creeks and ditches that can flood streets during severe thunderstorms.
“It just depends on where rain falls heaviest,” Eden said.
A motorist can’t be aware of the exact depth of a flooded street, he said, because one cannot tell if a bank or roadway is eroded. Two feet of running water can easily move a vehicle, Eden said.
“Don’t drown, turn around,” Eden said, quoting the National Weather Service public service campaign regarding flash floods. Find a different route. And don’t let children play in swollen creeks.
Eden said first everyone should be aware of forecasts and plan their days accordingly.
“It’s very important to pay attention to watches and warnings,” Eden said.
A watch is declared when weather conditions are favorable for a certain kind of storm, and a warning means those extreme conditions exist, he said.
Area fire departments will have crews outside monitoring the weather to confirm storm conditions reported by radar, including Lee’s Summit, which will alert the city’s emergency command center.
If severe weather is expected, it’s better to be at home where many residents have basements for shelter.
“Don’t’ tempt it,” Eden said. “Don’t wait to the last minute when you may not have time to get to a safe place.”
Watches and warnings can be delivered several ways. Television stations will broadcast them. Lee’s Summit has sirens for warnings, but those are for warning people outdoors and often can’t be heard inside.
Eden recommends getting a battery-backup NOAA emergency weather radio, which can be programmed to activate with special alarm tones for life-threatening situations in a county as warnings are issued by the National Weather Service. The radios are available through local stores.
The city also offers a service called Nixle.com that alerts users of emergency conditions through mobile phones or email. It also has an emergency radio system that links the department with schools and public buildings.
Residents should be aware of the where to take shelter in their homes or workplaces when a warning is issued. For a tornado or high winds, that would generally be the lowest interior room of a building, in a room that’s structurally strong and away from glass, he said. An exception is mobile homes, which afford little protection. They should be abandoned.
If you’re in a big box store, frequently the rest rooms are the safest place. Outdoors, find a ditch or low area to lie in, covering your head.
Lee’s Summit has only one Federal Emergency Management Agency approved shelter, which is at Metropolitan Community College-Longview, for students there.
Eden said during a warning, it is usually safest to seek shelter where you are at, rather than try to leave for another location.
The city makes arrangements with downtown churches for emergency shelter during major events such as Downtown Days.
“If we need to shelter a large number of people at one time, we can do that,” Eden said.
Eden said residents should make some preparations ahead of storms.
Family members should have a communications plan. They should agree on a gathering place to gather if they can’t go home. He suggests giving a friend or family member a list of who to call if a tornado hits your area. You can call them and ask them to notify other relatives you’re OK, because you’ll probably have other things to do, like securing your property.
They should have an emergency kit with their medications, enough prepared food for several days (and a manual can opener), blankets, battery-operated radio and flashlights and spare batteries. And a first aid kit to for care until professionals arrive.
Lighting is a hazard that can kill even far away from rain. If you are outdoors and can hear thunder, you’re in danger of being electrocuted.
It may occur as far away as 10 miles from rainfall, so during thunderstorm warnings it’s best to stay indoors. Stay out of tubs or showers. If in a car, roll up windows and avoid touching metal.
It’s a myth that rubber tires or soles are protection from a lightning strike.
Eden knows that first hand. While on duty and storm spotting for the department, his car was hit by lightning, but he wasn’t hurt.
“There was a loud noise and blinding light, all the lights got real bright and then went out,” Eden said. All the radio equipment was fried. There were two glowing stubs where the vehicle’s antenna were posted.
“That brought home to me that when it’s storming outside, stay inside,” Eden said. “I consider myself very lucky. I’ve had to work a couple of lightning incidents where they weren’t so fortunate.”