Real life storm stories and how to be prepared

April 7th, 2012 at 9:29 pm by under Weather

I recently attended a severe storms conference in Des Moines put on by the Central Iowa National Weather Association.  I was so excited to hear about new technology, severe weather case studies and just be around other “weather geeks.”

Some of the presentations were heavy with meteorological jargon while others shared first hand experience of surviving a tornado and dealing with its aftermath.

Jeff Piotrowski is a storm chaser with He has been chasing for more than 30 years but all that knowledge couldn’t have prepared him for what he was about to see on May 22, 2011 in Joplin, MO.  He was chasing and calling back vital information while the EF-5 ripped through the city.  Instead of continuing to chase the tornado, or look at the footage he just captured he stopped and turned around.  Driving down a battered street Jeff got out of his truck and started helping those who were crying for help.  His wife used his truck to pull large trees and debris from the road so emergency personnel could get through the street.  They both spent three and a half hours helping people.  They saw death and destruction but also saw good Samaritans using pick up trucks full of injured people as ambulances.  After his presentation everyone there gave him a well deserving standing ovation.

Jeff’s experience reminds me to share a point with you.  Tornadoes are dangerous and deadly.  They’re not to be taken lightly.  I remember seeing video of some teenagers throwing a Frisbee into a tornado…that’s not smart.  Any object can be deadly if a tornado with 175mph winds is picking it up.  I also get annoyed when storm chasers yell and cheer when a tornado touches down.  So you’re excited a strong tornado is ripping away people’s lives and property?  As a meteorologist I understand seeing the force of nature come together and create a tornado is intriguing, I also understand these chasers provide sometimes life-saving ground truth reports and not to mention collect data that can be studied for further events.  However it’s not something to cheer about.  You can be in awe of a tornado like I am.  Maybe I feel this way because in June of 2010 I met a man who was on the phone with his daughter when she took a wrong turn and drove straight into a tornado.  It was late at night and she couldn’t see the twister – he tried to guide her to safety but instead she was killed.  Seeing the look in his eyes that next morning made me realize the pain many people feel after a tornado touches down.

So how can you be prepared when severe weather strikes?  I can’t stress this enough – get a NOAA weather radio.  It’s like a smoke detector for severe weather.  You have a smoke alarm in your house – why don’t you have one of these?  A TV isn’t going to suddenly pop on with your favorite meteorologists telling you there’s a tornado heading your way and you need to take cover.  Outdoor sirens aren’t going to work either.  They are to alert people who are OUTDOORS that there is severe weather.   If you have an app on your smart phone that’s great.  The more sources you have to alert you of severe weather the better.  But if an app isn’t going to wake you up or alert you I highly recommend you get a NOAA weather radio.  They can be found at several electronic stores and cost about $30.  You will have to buy a batteries and program it to only sound when a warning has been issued for your location.  Here’s a list of the codes you will use to program it – just click on the state you live in.  There are several online guides to help you program them.  Also if you ask someone at the electronic store may be able to help you as well.

Weather radios should be as common as a TV or smoke detector in everyone’s home.  I have one and I encourage you to get one as well.  It’s a small cost that could potentially save your life someday.


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