It’s never too early to prepare for severe weather

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Although recent cold temperatures and snowfall don’t lead one to think about thunderstorms, flooding and tornadoes, it’s never too early to prepare for the severe weather warmer months can bring. (NIT file photo)

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

Although recent cold temperatures and snowfall don’t lead one to think about thunderstorms, flooding and tornadoes, it’s never too early to prepare for the severe weather warmer months can bring.

“It’s important,” said Clayton County Emergency Management Coordinator Sarah Moser. “Take time to practice preparedness—where to be, what to do. The more you practice, the better you can react.”

Moser encourages residents to develop a plan that dictates where family members should go when severe weather strikes. As evidenced in the county last year, tornadoes, straight line winds, flash flooding, thunderstorms and more can occur quickly, so planning can help prevent people from being caught off-guard, she added.

Of those severe weather occurrences, Moser said flash flooding, like what happened near Millville last summer, is likely the hardest to predict or react to. 

“It’s so difficult to prepare for,” she said. “That’s why we got hit so hard.”

People should monitor the weather, noting if thunderstorms with heavy rain are expected, Moser said. 

“Be aware of your surroundings,” she advised. “Be up as far as you can. Don’t be in low-lying areas or on the sides of bluffs.”

For those looking to stay on top of the weather, there are resources available. Moser said the National Weather Service - La Crosse website and social media pages are helpful. 

Clayton County is also now part of Alert Iowa, a statewide mass notification and emergency messaging system run through Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management. The system can be used by state and local authorities to quickly disseminate severe weather or emergency information to residents in counties that utilize the system. Anyone can sign up to receive these free messages via voice, text and/or email by visiting Iowa’s Homeland Security website.

“Eighty-seven counties in Iowa currently have it. It’s pretty neat,” Moser said. “You get automatic tornado and thunderstorm warnings, but you can opt in for others.”

Moser said alerts can even go beyond weather, notifying people of incidents like hazardous spills.

The websites Safeguard Iowa and Ready Iowa also offer resources on disaster preparedness and situational awareness, as well as how to build an emergency supply kit. Kits should include items like water and non-perishable food, a first aid kit, battery-operated flashlight and radio (with extra batteries), extra clothing and bedding, and personal hygiene products. People should have copies of important documents such as driver’s licenses, birth certificates, insurance policies and financial information handy, as well.

Moser, herself, is also a valuable information source. She regularly attends trainings, meetings and workshops to stay abreast of important issues. She works with other county departments and local officials and municipalities to assure everyone is as prepared as they can be for severe weather and emergency situations. 

Experience dealing with severe weather situations, such as the July 19 McGregor tornado and the flooding in Volga just a few days later, has—although unwanted—helped her prepare for future occurrences.

“It helped me make sure I have as many people helping me as possible,” Moser said. “I’m a one-person department, so that makes it very challenging.” 

She added that those weather events also fine-tuned how the emergency operations center works during times of crisis. 

“We really moved forward with that,” she stated. “We have a system in place.”

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