With spring finally making its appearance in Central Illinois, so comes the severe weather which includes storms and winds that can cause thousands of dollars in damage as well as injury and death for those caught in it.
The best defense against the changing weather conditions is staying informed and having an emergency action plan.
“Some events have advanced warning; others have little or no warning. Having a plan in place will prepare everyone in the family for whatever comes along,” said Shelby County EMA coordinator Jared Rowcliffe. “Battery powered weather radios are very important to monitor weather situations.”
According to the Illinois EMA office, Illinois has an average of 550 reports of wind damage and large hail every year. Too often, people ignore severe thunderstorms because they believe only a tornado will cause damage or threaten their lives.
The fact is a majority of the property damage and injuries each year is from high winds and large hail.
Severe thunderstorms can produce tornadoes, damaging winds, lightning, hail and/or heavy rain. High wind from straight-line winds and downbursts can cause more damage than nearly 75 percent of the tornadoes that occur in Illinois. Extended power outages, downed trees and extensive damage to roofs, doors and windows can occur from straight line wind gusts or downbursts of wind.
“In rural areas outages are more common,” said Kevin Bernson, spokesperson for Shelby Electric Cooperative. “Crews are dispatched as soon as we know. We don’t necessarily wait for it to stop raining to begin. But of course, if a downed line, it’s safety first.”
Bernson said that customers may call in or use FaceBook to report a power outage. The co-op also has an automated system to know of a power outage among its customers.
Lightning also poses a real threat before and during thunderstorms. Lightning is blamed for 29 deaths in Illinois since 1990. Most lightning deaths occur under or near trees and in open fields. The best defense - seek shelter away from trees and power poles as soon as you hear thunder. If you can hear thunder, you are close enough to the storm to be struck by lightning. While a vehicle is normally safe from lighting, avoid touching metal parts of a vehicle when lightning is near.
Heavy and/or prolonged rainfall may accompany thunderstorms resulting in flash flooding which can sweep away everything in its path including vehicles trying to drive through it.
Flooding is blamed for 28 deaths in Illinois since 1995. Most of these fatalities occurred when people in vehicles tried to cross flooded roadways.
Flash flooding occurred recently after heavy rainfall, sweeping vehicles off the highways and into water filled ditches. In some instances the dive team and rescue squad had to rescue occupants.
“Any roads that were prone to flooding, flooded,” Rowcliffe said. “Flash floods claim hundreds of lives per year. More than any other weather related cause, 50 percent of those deaths involve a vehicle. Do not drive through water on a roadway.”
The speed and depth of water is not always obvious. Portions of a roadway may be washed out under the water. Two feet of water will carry away most vehicles.
Home flooding causes loss to personal property as well as damage to home structures. Know how to shut off electricity, gas and water at main switches and valves. Know where gas pilots are located and how the heating system works.
If you are in an area prone to flooding, evacuate before flooding happens. It is harder when water becomes too deep for ordinary vehicles.