Goshen News, Goshen, IN

Local News

March 2, 2012

Recent weather a reminder of twisters past

GOSHEN — Following the string of deadly tornadoes that swept across the Midwest this week, local officials are reporting confidence that they’re as ready as they can be in the event of a tornado touchdown here at home.

“I don’t know that you’re ever ready for something like that, but I guess we’re as ready as you can get,” said Goshen Mayor Allan Kauffman. “When something like that happens, it’s always a mad scramble.”

Nappanee Mayor Larry Thompson, who was in office when the city was struck by a massive tornado in October 2007, was quick to agree.

“I think we’re as prepared as any small city can be,” Thompson said.

According to Jennifer Tobey, director of Elkhart County Emergency Management, weather patterns in the Elkhart County area have grown increasingly unpredictable over the past few years, requiring the adoption of what she called an “all-hazards” planning method when it comes to the threat of an emergency or natural disaster.

“No matter what the emergency is, a lot of the response these days falls under the same parameters we use for any type of emergency or natural disaster,” Tobey said. “We used to be able to prepare for specific things like flooding in the spring and things like that. But now, with this crazy, crazy weather we’re getting, it really does lead into that all-hazards planning.”

According to Sam Lashley, senior meteorologist with the U.S. Weather Service-North Webster Office, while outbreaks of tornadoes in late February, early March are not necessarily unheard of for the Midwest, it is a bit early in the season to already see such significant outbreaks.

“I don’t want to say it’s unusual, because it has happened,” Lashley said. “March is an active time, certainly in the later part of the month. But especially in parts of northern Indiana, April into May is more our prime time for tornadoes.”

Armed with the knowledge that tornadoes cannot be prevented, only planned for, Tobey said her department has been highly proactive in its planning efforts when it comes to supporting others after a storm hits.

“We work very, very closely with the Elkhart County Health Department, the Red Cross and our amateur radio folks,” Tobey said of the county’s emergency planning process. “We have backup communications, and the Red Cross in particular has been very thorough in locating emergency shelter systems throughout the county.”

Thompson described a similar take on proactive planning when it comes to tornado preparedness within his city.

“We have some storm shelters in place for those who don’t have basements. We’ve tried to make sure there are several of those dispersed around the city,” Thompson said. “We also have standby power for running the city in the event that we lose power, and we’ve added a few more tornado sirens to our existing system — we have eight sirens now — so we extended our system a little bit after the tornado.”

Like Thompson, Kauffman also pointed to Goshen’s recently upgraded tornado siren network as a big advantage when it comes to early warning, though he added that they do have some limitations that people need to take into consideration.

“We’re fortunate that we’ve been able to upgrade our tornado warning sirens, but unfortunately people can tend to get a false sense of security from that,” Kauffman said, noting that the sirens are designed to be a warning system for people outside of their homes, and can often be hard to hear for people already indoors. “People need to be aware of those limitations.”

In looking back on some of the major weather events to hit the area in recent years, Tobey referenced the massive Nappanee tornado of 2007 as perhaps the most educational when it came to truly learning how best to handle something as unexpected and often destructive as a tornado touchdown can be.

“I think we always learn something from every situation we have to deal with,” Tobey said, “but what I think we’ve learned more since the Nappanee tornado in particular is the need to spread out our resources around the county, and of course having plenty of backup communications and personnel.”

While much of the county’s all-hazards plan deals with what to do after a tornado strikes, Tobey was quick to add that there is still plenty a person can do on their own to prepare for the possibility of a tornado touchdown.

“What’s most important when it comes to tornadoes is reporting,” Tobey said. “If you see something, say something. That little slogan can mean anything, whether it’s weather conditions, a child being abused, you name it — if you see something out of the ordinary, report it, because as soon as we receive the report, then emergency responders can go into response mode.”

Tobey also pointed to preparedness in the home as incredibly important when faced with the possibility of a tornado touchdown.

“The number one part of being prepared starts at home,” Tobey said. “Do you have a weather radio? Are you watching the television for reports when the weather is bad to see if something is turning sour? Are you prepared for the possibility of being cut off from everyone for up to 72 hours? These are all questions you need to be asking yourself when faced with the threat of a tornado.”

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