Severe Weather Awareness Week started on Sunday with a whirlwind of severe weather watches and warnings. During this important week, the St. Thomas Public Safety Department reminds the St. Thomas community that the annual statewide tornado drill is planned for Thursday, April 19. The drill is an opportunity test spring and summer severe-weather safety procedures and for you to review what you would during a severe storm.

Here’s what happens

The National Weather Service will simulate two tornado warnings on April 19. The first will take place at 1:45 p.m. when all jurisdictions will activate their warning systems. This means the outdoor notification sirens will go off at a time other than the first Wednesday of the month. It allows schools, businesses and hospitals to practice their refuge plans.

At 6:55 p.m., a second simulated warning in all metro-area counties and many others throughout the state will give families and second-shift workers a similar opportunity.

To assist with your preplanning for severe weather, please review this information about tornado watches and warnings:

Tornado watch

The National Weather Service issues a tornado watch when weather conditions are favorable for the development of tornadoes. Continue with your normal activities, but pay special attention to the latest weather conditions, monitor radio and television weather reports and be prepared to move to a shelter if a tornado occurs.

Tornado warning

The National Weather Service issues a tornado warning when a tornado is reported or is imminent. Seek shelter immediately if you are in or near the path of the storm. Warnings are issued via radio and television by county and city names. Make sure you know the name of the county where you are and the cities that surround you.

Thunderstorm winds

Thunderstorms can produce straight-line winds that exceed 100 miles per hour. For this reason you should treat severe thunderstorms just as you would tornadoes. Move to an appropriate shelter if you are in the path of the storm. The National Weather Service also will issue a watch or a warning for these weather events.

The strong rush of wind from a thunderstorm is called a downburst. One of the primary causes is rain-cooled air that accelerates downward, producing potentially damaging gusts of wind.

Strong downbursts can be mistaken for tornadoes. They are often accompanied by a roaring sound similar to that of a tornado. Downbursts can easily overturn mobile homes, tear roofs off houses and topple trees. People caught outdoors are especially vulnerable because trees can fall into areas where people may be.

How to receive severe weather warnings

Severe Thunderstorm and tornado warnings are disseminated swiftly using hotlines and many other means of communication, including radio, television and the Internet. The development of technology has allowed people to receive warnings via cell phone, pagers and other methods. Spotters provide important storm reports, and emergency officials carry out the plans that emergency managers have developed. Updates are issued frequently until immediate danger has passed.

Outdoor sirens are used by many cities and counties to alert citizens to severe weather. The city of St. Paul is in the process of replacing all of its outdoor sirens. Many of these date back to the old civil defense days. The major changeover includes removing the sirens from private buildings, putting them on public rights of way, improving their placement for more effectiveness, and instituting new technology that will allow the Ramsey County Emergency Communication Center to set off the sirens in specific parts of the city rather than the whole county. The city of Minneapolis is also updating its sirens’ software to improve the operation of its system.

Many times people comment about not hearing these sirens inside of buildings. These sirens are intended only for outdoor notification. The outdoor systems do not offer an all clear signal; therefore, people need to consult other media for updates.

The best method of receiving weather warnings inside is with a NOAA weather radio. The National Weather Service will activate the tone-alert feature of the radio when there is severe weather. These radios can be purchased at most stores that sell electronic equipment. If you purchase one, make sure it has a battery backup and a “NWR SAME” receiver. This allows the users to program and receive weather notices for a specific geographic area; additionally, these radios will notify users of other types of emergencies such as amber alerts and hazardous spills. Check out http://www.weather.gov/nwr for more information.

The Public Safety Department encourages UST offices to coordinate monitoring of weather warnings through one of these NOAA Weather Radios and weather Internet sites.

Depending on the situation, Public Safety may supply notification through the UST Emergency Notification System; also, Public Safety officers may supplement notices with public address announcements, bullhorn announcements in buildings or personal visits to different offices or areas of campus. (Note: St. Thomas does not have a central public address notification system.)

The National Weather Service alerts media outlets to severe weather information so that it can be passed along. Local television stations are a good source for updated information.

Seeking refuge

People have asked about the best refuge area in the Anderson Student Center. With all of the glass in the building, community members who are in the building during a severe thunderstorm or tornado warning are encouraged to go the basement area near Dance, Bowling or the parking garage area.

For refuge in an apartments, residence halls or office buildings, community members should move to the innermost rooms on the lowest level. In most cases these will be the basements or tunnels of the buildings. In a hallway, crouch down and protect your head from flying debris; also, in the newer buildings on campus some of the stairwells are also designated as refuge areas.

Avoid areas with windows, glass and large roof expansions. This includes the buildings with large atriums, the Anderson Athletic and Recreation Complex field house, Schonecker Arena, and the first floor of McCarthy Gym.

At home, go to the basement, if possible. Get under a table, work bench or some other sturdy furniture to avoid falling debris. A stairwell also is a good place to seek shelter during a tornado. If you cannot get to a basement, go to a small, interior room on the lowest floor. Closets, bathrooms and interior walls afford the best protection in most cases; or, try to hide under a bed. Get under something sturdy or cover yourself with blankets. Stay away from windows.

In a mobile home, car, truck or other vehicle, abandon these as quickly as possible. Seek a sturdy shelter or permanent structure. Remember that many deaths occur when people try to drive away in a vehicle but get caught in deadly winds. Avoid bridges because they act like wind tunnels.

Outside, lie flat in a nearby ditch or depression and cover your head with your hands. Be aware of the potential for flooding. Do not get under an overpass or bridge. You are safer in a low, flat location. Never try to outrun a tornado in urban or congested areas in a car or truck; instead, leave the vehicle immediately for safe shelter. Protect yourself from flying debris. Flying debris from tornadoes causes most fatalities and injuries.

As with any potential emergency situation, the Public Safety Department recommends planning ahead. For severe weather make sure you have methods to learn about the severe weather, know where to go, and understand the different terminology that is used.

For more information, maps and other safety tips on severe weather and tornadoes check out the Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s Homeland Security website.

For more information about St. Thomas’ severe weather procedures, call Public Safety, (651) 962-5100.