The week of April 16-20 is Tornado and Severe Weather Awareness Week in Wisconsin.
The Wisconsin Emergency Management team and the five National Weather Service Forecast Offices that service Wisconsin are asking that everyone take time to go over their safety plans so that they will be ready when severe weather strikes. That includes farms.
Wisconsin averages 23 tornadoes per year, with most tornadoes occurring in the 3-9 p.m. time-frame. The busiest spin-up hour is 6-7 p.m.
The peak tornado season in Wisconsin is May-August, with June having the greatest number of tornadoes.
A record-setting 62 tornadoes occurred in 2005, followed by 46 in 2010. In 2008, Wisconsin had 38 tornadoes, including one EF3 tornado in western Kenosha County on Jan. 7.
The "average" Wisconsin tornado has a 7-8 minute duration, a path length of about 4-5 miles, and a damage width of about 120 yards.
Another hazard of the warm-season is powerful, straight-line thunderstorm winds that can peak at 75-150 miles per hour (mph).
Every year Wisconsin will get a few storms that generate hurricane-force winds of at least 75-100 mph. Severe Thunderstorm Warnings are issued for these wind events, rather than Tornado Warnings.
The bottom line is - if you don’t feel safe, head for a sturdy shelter, go the lowest level of the building, and get away from windows and exterior walls.
Other warm-season hazards include large hail stones that can result in damage in the millions of dollars, localized flash floods or widespread river and lowland flooding, lightning, and excessive heat. In fact, excessive heat is the biggest weather-killer in Wisconsin over the long haul.
Farmers often take for granted the many aspects of daily life. Water, electricity, fuel and even pickups and deliveries can all be affected by natural disasters. And if caught unprepared – without the ability to feed or milk cows or to have milk picked up, it will affect the farm’s economic bottom line.
BE PREPARED ON FARM
Because tornadoes and storms are so common in Wisconsin, being prepared ahead of time will make it easier to deal with these things if and when they hit.
The first thing is to pay attention to what’s happening, weather-wise. Farms are not always in an area where they can hear the tornado warning sirens.
On the farm, take time to assess generator needs. Make sure that generator capacity is addressed when making additions to the farm that increase electrical needs.
Evaluate water needs for the entire dairy and make sure the generator can supply enough electricity to provide water along with running other electrical motors.
Maintain a manual or DC pumping system to transfer fuel to equipment, vehicles and even generators. Too often, fuel trucks cannot meet the immediate needs of the community in the aftermath of a natural disaster.
Find out if the milk hauler will pay for milk that is produced but cannot be moved off the farm due to a storm.
Plan alternative feeding strategies prior to storm events to minimize milk production losses.
Facilities and equipment for feeding may be at risk in a severe storm. Older buildings may be susceptible to storm damage so parking feeding equipment outside may be better than keeping it indoors.
Since farms have unique equipment, building structures, livestock bio-security measures, power usage, farm chemicals and fuels that require special attention by emergency officials, they should have an emergency plan and share those plans with neighbors and emergency responders.
Plan for family and employee safety. Prior to a storm, find out where the emergency shelters in the community are located, along with the protocols and services provided.
If a farm has employee housing, take responsibility for the employees and their family’s safety. Make sure that they have sufficient food and water and other emergency supplies.
PREPARING THE HOME
During a recent Home and Community Education (HCE) meeting in Juneau Ora Kuckkan, a Red Cross volunteer and disaster director of Jefferson County, provided tips on preparing for an emergency and putting together a home emergency kit.
She is a volunteer with the Red Cross Disaster Team that she says is on call 24/7. If there is a fire, the team is called two hours after the fire when the fire department has determined the needs of the family.
The team responds to any disaster including tornados and floods.
Kuckkan urges families to put together disaster preparedness kits that start with an adequate water supply. She points out, "You can live for a time without food but you cannot live without water."
The emergency kit should also include a five-day supply of non-perishable food; a battery-operated radio with extra batteries; a way to contact to family including a cell phone and batteries for re-charging it; and necessary medications along with a list of prescriptions.
The website, http://ready.wi.gov, provides a complete three-day emergency supply list along with other advice for dealing with an emergency.
Local officials and relief workers will be on the scene after a disaster, but they cannot reach everyone immediately. She says, "You could get help in hours, or it might take days."
Kuckkan points out, "Basic services such as electricity, gas, water, sewage treatment, and telephones may be cut off for days, or even a week or longer. Or, you may have to evacuate at a moment’s notice and take essentials with you. You will not have the opportunity to shop or search for the supplies you need. That’s why it is important to have your own fully-stocked disaster kit ready."
She suggests having an evacuation plan for their family and talking about how they will respond to an emergency, whether it’s a tornado, fire or anything else.
"Carry a list of phone numbers and contacts with you and carry a whistle," Kuckkan says.
Of her work with the Red Cross she says, "Disasters are not fun. We never know what we will face. We need to know CPR and update our training every year."
Red Cross will bring counseling and nurses and provide emergency needs including housing.
Red Cross also operates the local blood bank and Kuckkan says, "Everyone who can give blood should give blood. Red Cross supplies blood for the VA (veteran’s) hospitals and also sends blood to areas where there are disasters and an increased need for it."