Springtime in Minnesota brings threat of severe weather

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For students, the month of April marks a time to start cramming for final tests and finishing up projects. However, for Minnesota, April marks the time to begin preparations for worst-case scenarios.

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety spent the last two weeks informing the public about potential dangers that arise in the spring. Each year the Homeland Security and Emergency Management office (HSEM) collaborates with the National Weather Service and 16 state and local agencies to sponsor “Severe Weather Awareness Week”. Raising awareness through statewide tornado drills, creating public power points, and making a list of emergency plans, the state office wants the public to feel safe as they begin enjoying the warm weather.

Director of HSEM Joe Kelly says that the most important thing a person can do this time of year is to make a plan.

“We can’t stress enough the importance of families sitting down and talking about what to do during emergency situations,” he said. “If you have a plan in place, it’s important to practice what you know so that way everyone can stay safe.”

The HSEM website offers community members lists of emergency plans and kits, so that everyone has access to safety information.

Emergency Kit List – For Home:

  1. A gallon of drinkable water
  2. Non-perishable food (soups, canned pasta, granola bars, etc.)
  3. Flashlight and spare batteries
  4. Whistle
  5. Tool kit
  6. First aid kit
  7. Plastic garbage bags
  8. Extra shoes
  9. Battery powered radio

Emergency Kit List –For Vehicles:

  1. Drinking water
  2. Non-perishable food
  3. Flashlight and spare batteries
  4. Blankets or a sleeping bag
  5. Jumper cables and tool kit
  6. First aid kit
  7. Sand or cat litter
  8. Small shovel
  9. Gloves, hats, boots and jacket
  10. Red bandana or help signal

While the warm weather and clear skies don’t suggest any danger, in Minnesota the weather can change hourly.

Stearns County Emergency Manager Erin Hausauer warns people that severe weather occurs more frequently in Minnesota than people realize.

“Everyone knows that we can get bad snowstorms, but most people don’t realize that we do actually get tornados and flash floods, which are just as dangerous,” she said. “Severe thunderstorm warnings that bring significant hail and wind are our greatest threat.”

According to the National Weather Service, Minnesota sees an average of 40 tornados per year. In 2010 there was a record-setting 104 twisters that touched down across the state.

In the event of a tornado, HSEM tells people the best plan of action is to take shelter in a basement and listen for updates on a weather radio. If the house or building doesn’t have a basement, the place to go to is the lowest floor in a small room without any windows.

Staying calm and using common sense is important in these risky situations. Kelly says the thing to be on the lookout this season is wildfires. Minnesota may be the land of 10,000 lakes, but the state can have its dry spells.

“The best thing to do if you see a fire is to notify police and stay away from it,” Kelly said. “Wildfires can move quickly, and we don’t want people trying to play hero and trying to put it out. Let the authorities take care of it.”

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has adopted a program called Firewise, designed to address the risk wildfires in wilderness homes. The goal of the program is to inform the public about fire prevention, especially to homes that are near evergreens and prairie marshes that are more at risk.

The HSEM website offers many opportunities for families to get prepared, including tips on how to talk to kids about safety with Play-it-Safe activity books and family emergency contact lists.

Spring weather gets people outdoors, but it’s important to remember that the weather can change quickly. The Stearns County Emergency Management Department wants people to have a plan in place, so that they can enjoy the warm weather safely.