While this spring is proving to be a long time coming, all too soon conditions will be right for severe weather and tornados. That fact will be highlighted April 15-19 as part of Tornado and Severe Weather Awareness Week in Wisconsin.
Perhaps the most noticeable devices that towns have to alert citizens of severe weather are sirens, and there are seven located throughout Oneida County. Four of these sirens are located in Rhinelander. One is on Stevens Street.; there is one on West Phillip Street.; one is on Lincoln Street; and one is located at Nicolet College. There are also sirens in Hazelhurst, Minocqua and Woodruff.
Three of the sirens in Rhinelander are maintained by the city and they are activated for weather occurrences other than just tornadoes. (The siren at Nicolet College is owned by the college.) While the sirens in Minocqua, Hazelhurst and Woodruff only go off when a tornado warning has been issued, the sirens in Rhinelander go off for tornado and severe weather warnings as well. “We feel it is a better safe than sorry scenario,” said Ken Kortenhof, Oneida County Emergency Management director. “Major damage, especially with straight line winds, can happen in a storm and we want people to be aware of that when severe weather is in the area.” All these sirens are tested every Wednesday morning at 9 a.m. from April 1 to Oct. 31.
Warnings to activate the sirens are administered by the National Weather Service located in Green Bay. Being complacent when a siren goes off can be a life-threatening mistake. “Even if the weather looks calm, the first thing people should do when they hear a siren is get to a safe place and then find out what is going on,” said Kortenhof. He advises that every household should have a weather radio and people who live in rural areas are especially encouraged to have one in their home. These devices can be purchased at the Oneida County Law Enforcement Center or at area electronics stores.
While television, radio and sirens provide ways to become aware of severe weather, a new program was put into place last June. Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) are now available to cell phone users. WEA messages look like text messages and are limited to 90 characters. These alerts will include a unique ringtone and vibration that are repeated twice. They do not target specific numbers and will activate any phone within the range of the tower where the warning was sent. Cell phone users should check with their providers to be sure their devices are WEA capable.
This is also a good time of year for families to make a plan in case of a disaster. Determine a safe place to go within the home when severe weather strikes in addition to determining a location for everyone to meet if families are scattered during a disaster. “It’s also a good idea to have bottled water on hand, blankets, non-perishable foods, medicines and pet necessities stocked up,” said Kortenhof. “Storms can leave an area without power for many days and these items might not be available if an area is destroyed by weather.”
Taking classes to learn how to prepare for a disaster situation or to learn more about threatening weather is also a good idea. In fact, the School District of Rhinelander is holding a severe weather and disaster preparedness class on Wednesday, April 17, from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the high school. Gregory MacMorran, a Red Cross volunteer and president of Disaster Awareness LLC, will share ways to prepare for natural disasters, fire safety and home security tips. The fee for this class is $5.
Another interesting class to take is the one sponsored by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). That will be held Wednesday, May 22, at 6 p.m. at the Oneida County Law Enforcement Center. There is no charge to take this class and participants will learn the warning signs of impending severe weather and tornados.
“The most important thing people can do when severe weather comes to this area is be prepared and be alert to changing conditions,” Kortenhof said. “That can save lives.”