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EMA talks twisters

BY Kaitlin Gebby - kgebby@chronicle-tribune.com

Above average summer heat could usher in severe weather, according to Huntington County Emergency Management (EMA).

Butch Williams, EMA deputy director, said whenever you have a cold front entering into a hot atmosphere, whatever storms are coming will be “amped up.”

The EMA team works together with a group of volunteers who are trained to spot storms and tornadic activity. Around 23 volunteers make themselves available to be called at a moments notice when severe weather is on the horizon.

Bob Jeffers, EMA director, said that luckily, they use the National Weather Service storm prediction system to look up to eight days ahead of time.

“If something is coming, we’ll know at the beginning of the week,” he said.

Jeffers said the last spout of severe weather to strike the Huntington area was last year. He said they utilized their Emergency Operations Center, which allows them to be in direct communication with dispatch, the National Weather Service, and local authorities in an urgent situation.

“We usually get a tornado once every three years,” Jeffers said.

Williams said other communities haven’t been as lucky as Huntington to have their severe weather spaced out. Kokomo and Howard County had been hit with numerous tornadoes in back-to-back years. The tornado that flattened the Starbucks in Kokomo and demolished dozens of other houses in 2016 is an example Williams uses when speaking on severe weather preparedness.

“With weather, you have two different types of people: People that don’t pay attention to the weather at all, and people who are scared of every lightning storm,” he said. “What you want is to be right there in the middle, not off on these extremes, and to have a healthy respect for the weather.”

Williams said the quick actions of Starbucks employees monitoring the weather at the time, who also sheltered their customers in the bathroom minutes before the building fell around them, is exactly why he believes preparedness and monitoring are key.

“Those people were huddled in that bathroom and came out without a scratch,” he said. “And it’s because you had people watching the weather with a plan.”

EMA teams also utilize text notifications to alert residents. In Huntington County, Code Red is a tool used for authorities to notify people via mass text or email.

The 20 or more tornado sirens posted around the county are also controlled by the EMA team, but their team can’t guarantee they’ll reach everyone. Williams said a weather radio is an ideal tool for staying on top of severe weather, and they only cost about $30.

“They’re just like your smoke or CO2 detector,” he said. “They sit nice and quiet until you need them, and when they go off they can wake the dead.”

He said a working weather radio and plan to seek shelter for severe weather this summer are basics for staying safe during tornado season.