Goshen News, Goshen, IN

June 15, 2013

Keep taking those weather reports seriously


— If you lacked a peaceful, easy feeling Wednesday, you weren’t alone.

Throughout the day, media outlets were abuzz with breaking news: A massive line of storms was heading across the Midwest, and Michiana was in its path.

Some of us learned a new word Wednesday: derecho. Sounding like the name of a snack chip or mythical beast, a derecho is actually a storm of strong, straight-line winds. A derecho is to a typical thunderstorm what your grandmother is to Mike Tyson in his prime.

The skies grew ominously dark over Goshen in the early evening. And then it was here, the fearsome event — which turned out to be little more than a garden variety, late spring thundershower.

Goshen lucked out. But what gives? Why the hype?

Truth be told, the media thrives on excitement. “Nothing much to see here” is an invitation to consumers to switch channels, click on another website or pick up a different newspaper.

In Tornado Alley, the prospect of a massive storm is big news. And news outlets latched onto a story Wednesday that proved anticlimactic.

After a while, people turn a deaf ear to dire warnings. Time and again they’ve been told to take cover from a catastrophe that never arrived. The risk is that they will be tragically ill-prepared when a massive storm does hit.

Consider Wednesday’s storm. Even diminished, it did significant damage to a couple of buildings in downtown Mishawaka. The South Bend Tribune reports that funnel clouds were spotted near the St. Joseph-Marshall county line, with others seen southwest of LaPaz and near North Liberty.

Consider, too, that violent storms are no stranger to Elkhart County. Ask anyone living in Nappanee in  October 2007, when an EF3 tornado ripped through the city. Recall the horrific Palm Sunday tornadoes of 1965. Around here, damaging and potentially deadly storms are a matter of when, not if.

Predicting weather is an inexact science, but meteorologists do their best with the experience and technology at hand. They also get paid whether there’s a funnel cloud or not a cloud in the sky. When they sound a warning, we should listen. Weather watchers work to keep the public safe.

So what to do when the next big storm is on its way? Preparedness, not panic, is the best approach.

Rather than scramble during an emergency, have your family’s area of shelter selected beforehand. Keep water, medical supplies, blankets and a charged cell phone handy. Keep updated on reports from the National Weather Service (yes, this may involve the imperfect news media) and listen for warning sirens.

Ultimately, Wednesday’s storm was a nonevent. But what about next time? Elkhart County residents should know not to take chances.