May 20 will be a day of some note for the small Kansas town of Codell in Rooks County. It was on that date exactly 100 year ago that an F3 tornado passed just east of the town.
What makes this particularly memorable is that the year before, May 20, 1916, an F2 tornado passed to the west of the town. What makes it even more memorable is that Codell was later hit by an F4 tornado that destroyed the school, a church and hotel and several homes. The date: May 20, 1918.
While the odds of such an occurrence are extremely small – Codell has been tornado-free since then – it highlights the capricious nature of tornadoes and severe storms and the need to be prepared for them, particularly during what is known as the severe storm season of April through June.
To remind Kansans to be prepared for severe weather, March 6-10 has been designated as Severe Weather Awareness Week in Kansas. During the week, the Kansas Division of Emergency Management will place special emphasis on reminding Kansans to be mindful of severe weather alerts and to make sure they are prepared.
“Check your home emergency kit to make sure it has everything you need,” said Angee Morgan, deputy director of KDEM. “Replace outdated items. Make sure flashlights and battery-operated radios are working and test the backup batteries. If you don’t have an emergency kit, now is a good time to start putting one together.”
Morgan said there are many good checklists available online to use as guidelines for putting a kit together.
“You can go to KSReady.gov, FEMA and many other sites,” said Morgan. “Go to the store and buy the basics – water, high-energy snacks, first aid supplies – and add an item or two to your shopping list every time you go to the store.”
Morgan said the week is also a good time to sit down with your family and review your home emergency plan.
“Then practice it,” said Morgan. “Have a drill so everyone knows what to do if the warning sirens sound and where you’ll meet if you are separated during a storm.”
KDEM also reminds Kansans that a storm does not have to include a tornado to be dangerous.
“Severe thunderstorms may include high straight-line winds that can knock down trees and power lines and even buildings,” said Morgan. “The possibility of large hail is another factor to consider, as is the prospect of lightning and floods.
“When the weather looks threatening, we have tendency to go stand on the porch and see if we can spot a tornado,” said Morgan. “That’s not the wisest thing to do.” Morgan advises that when severe weather is forecast, stay inside and monitor local media for weather alerts.
“Don’t tune it out, stay tuned,” said Morgan.