Isaac Smith, The Southern
Karen Hall (right) looks out over her backyard with her
15-year-old daughter, Miriah Hall, Dec. 29, 2015 in Jacob. The day
before, Karen’s children had used wooden pallets to make a dock in
the standing floodwater behind their home.
The Southern File Photo
Strong winds whip around a tree outside the Christian Covenant
Fellowship on May 8, 2009. The pavilion in the background had just
Contributed by District Governor of 1CS Lions Derek Eurales
Lion Retha Eurales shops at the Du Quoin WalMart, picking up
items for need by people and families affected by the February 28,
2017, tornado; she is with the Lions of 1CS, which helped to fill
This is a radar view of the May 8 storm.
THE SOUTHERN FILE PHOTO
A bolt of lightning streaks through the clouds over downtown
Carbondale, on May 11, 2016. A weather system that caused tornado
and severe thunderstorm warnings across Southern Illinois also
caused the skies above Carbondale to be filled with lightning for
Isaac Smith / Isaac Smith
Construction progress is shown Tuesday at the site of a home
damaged by the February 2017 tornado along Illinois Route 3 near
Ava. As storm season approaches, experts stress preparedness moving
CARBONDALE — Spring has teased Southern Illinois in recent weeks — warm weather and sunshine have excited gardeners and given hope to daffodils and other spring flowers.
It has also hinted at spring weather with heavy rains and even some strong storms — meaning it may be time to revisit severe weather preparedness plans, experts say.
“Any time you go into the spring season, you’ve got to be ready,” said Christine Wielgos, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Paducah. She said severe weather can happen at any time — 2016’s winter flood fight and 2017’s February EF-4 tornado are examples — however she said April and May are typically the big months for tornadoes and strong storms.
“Forty-six percent of all of our tornadoes in this area have occurred in April and May,” she said, pointing to data she read for the last 20 years.
Wielgos and others made the point that being ready and paying attention to the weather are the best defense against dangerous storms. She said making sure to keep up-to-date with forecasts this time of year is crucial to staying safe.
Kelly Urhahn, Williamson County’s emergency management coordinator, said when she and her office educate people about storm preparedness, they focus on being ready for multiple hazards — what people can do to kill two birds with one stone.
“If you can prepare for more than one hazard with a bunch of things, then you are doing a lot better than having a bunch of different go-bags for a bunch of different hazards,” she said.
One big item was communication — making sure families have a plan for how to reach one another should disaster strike. She said this is particularly important for kids. Urhahn stressed that young people should know how to get in touch with parents or relatives.
One concrete tip Urhahn had for communication was to have a point of contact outside the state.
“Most of the time those long distance phone calls will work,” she said of times when cellular communication may be limited.
Urhahn also said having an all-purpose survival kit is always a good idea — she said things like non-perishable foods, radios and batteries are good things to have set aside, be it for a tornado or even a flood.
Flood preparedness is something Karen Hall admits she hadn’t given a lot of thought before December 2015. A resident of Jacob and originally from Chester, Hall said she grew up around the Mississippi River but never had to consider how it might force her out of her home.
RADDLE — Herbert Korando sits in his living room watching his family gather up the contents of his house and load them into cars and trucks. They have discussions about what should go and what can stay. Family photos and heirlooms are carefully packed and taken out. The 84-year-old is not sure what the fuss is about. He has seen high water before and is not scared by the reports coming from the Army Corps of Engineers that the river would crest just below 50 feet, the maximum capacity for the levees just miles from his house.
This changed in January 2016. Hall and her family found themselves scrambling to move items out of their home as water rose all around them.
“We had never experienced that before,” Hall said of having to pack up and move out of their house in a matter of days.
She said things were not organized in a way that they could move important items first. Looking back on this time, Hall said her family learned what was of value to them.
“We found that you can live without a lot of things,” Hall said, adding that the people in their lives were what was most important.
That said, though, Hall said after getting back — they had to leave home for seven days — she has left a lot of their things in the plastic totes they were put in during the flood. This will make it easier to should they ever have to vacate again. She also said they cut way back on things there holding on to.
Storage is something Urhahn touched on, too. She said keeping important documents in waterproof containers is a good idea, but she said technology has created an even better option in her mind. She said scanning documents and storing them to online cloud-based storage services like Dropbox or Google Docs could be useful after a disaster.
“Those tools are there; people just have to be educated on them,” Urhahn said.
Urhahn said in Williamson County there are other services she hopes residents take advantage of. She said the EMA has an agreement with the Lions Club to help after severe weather. Her office keeps lists of vulnerable persons and their addresses so that in times of crisis, members of the club can go check on these residents.
Urhahn said she also keeps a list of storm shelter locations that is used after major weather events. She said first responders will use this list, which is kept locked up until it is needed, to know where to check for residents after a storm. If someone is not found at their home, they will also be searched for in their storm shelter if they are on the list.
Remnants of previous weeks’ bad weather are still in the region. The U.S. 51 bridge at Cairo reopened Thursday afternoon after it was closed this past Friday because of high Ohio River levels. In Metropolis, there is still a river flood warning. According to an 8 p.m. update from the National Weather Service on Wednesday, the Ohio River was at 52.6 feet. It said flood stage begins at 37 feet.
CARBONDALE — A flood warning by the National Weather Service in Paducah was still in effect for Jackson, Union and Alexander counties as of Thursday, but the worst of the flooding — which threatened levees, forced scores of roadway closures and led several counties to declare states of disaster — appeared to be over.
Wielgos said while she had no projections to give about what this year’s storm season could look like and just how severe it could be, she stressed that being informed was the best advice she could give.
Urhahn said one way to stay on top of local weather and emergencies is through the NIXLE messaging services. This is a text-messaging service that, according to its website, provides users with information from their local emergency responders and school systems. To sign up for the service, users should text their zip code to 888777.
Hall said since the flood in 2016, she and her family take forecasts a lot more seriously.
“You pay more attention to announcements and things like that,” she said. “You don’t take it for granted that ‘Oh, things will be fine.’”
Hall even uses their experience to remind her kids to clean their rooms.
“Now, what if you had to pack this room really quick?” she asks them when their rooms get messy.
After all the discussion about preparedness, Urhahn circled back to one main theme.
“If I could encourage anyone to do anything is to have as many layers as possible when it comes to communication,” she said.