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Paynesville Press - July 9, 2003

Siren means "take shelter" during storm

By Bonnie Jo Hanson

When Paynesville's civil defense horn blasts for five minutes, residents should take shelter because a tornado or other severe weather is approaching the area.

Paynesville has two storm sirens, one downtown at city hall and another at the Chladek Addition. These sirens are tested at 1 p.m. on the first Wednesday of each month but have been getting regular use lately to warn residents of severe weather.

The steam whistle at AMPI acts as a back-up civil defense siren in the case of a power outage.

In the event of severe weather, local cable television is also used to alert residents of danger. Warnings can be broadcast on all channels, and viewers can then get more details on Channel 8.

The safest place to be during a tornado is a basement or storm cellar under a piece of heavy furniture, said Dennis Nacey, director of emergency services for the city of Paynesville. If a basement is not available, a small interior room without windows such as a bathroom (in the bath tub), a hallway, or under stairs, can be places to ride out a tornado.

Mobile homes are never safe during a tornado, according to Nacey. If a storm cellar or sturdy building are available, residents should take shelter there. If not, lying in a ditch or low area, away from any debris that can be whipped around by winds, is safest.

If outdoors, look for a sturdy building for shelter, otherwise, lie in a ditch or low area.

On the road, never try to outrun a tornado, said Nacey. Stop the car and lie or crouch in a low area or in a ditch. Nacey added that experts recommend not seeking shelter under a bridge, as wind can suck a person out, and flying debris is still a problem.

During a tornado, it's important to monitor local television or radio to know when the storm is over. Since Paynesville does not sound an all-clear signal, residents must use their own discretion when leaving their shelters, said Nacey.

Tornadoes can develop and move quickly. Winds over 300 miles per hour are possible, and they can leave a devastating trail. June through September are optimal times for tornadoes to develop, said Nacey.

Nacey, who is trained in emergency management and has over 10 years experience as a storm spotter, relies on information from the National Weather Service, local weather forecasts, local spotters, and his own knowledge of tornadoes to know when to alert the community that one of Mother Nature's most violent storms is approaching.

Once a tornado or conditions that are likely to produce a tornado have been sighted, Nacey sounds the sirens and assumes his post at the police station. With the help of the Paynesville Police Department, he alerts the hospital, the schools, area campgrounds, and surrounding cities of approaching danger by phone.

According to Nacey, the most important element in surviving a tornado is time. The recent tornado in Buffalo Lake produced no fatalities, probably because the town was warned 18 minutes beforehand, he said.

Because of its location, the Paynesville area falls between weather service radar coverage and tornadoes may not be predicted in time for residents to seek shelter. "Information from the radio can be 30 minutes old, and television can be one hour old," said Nacey.

This is where spotters come in. Paynesville has eight spotters, most members of the fire or police departments, who look for funnel clouds and actual tornadoes that haven't touched down. Spotters are also trained to recognize any signs that a tornado could develop, including the formation of wall clouds and rotation in storm clouds.

Rotation is typical in storm clouds, but when several areas of rotation merge, a tornado can develop, said Nacey.

Whenever severe weather is a possibility, especially during thunderstorms or when storm watches have been issued, Nacey positions spotters in various locations around the city. Spotters are usually posted west and south of town, around Lake Koronis, and near Hawick and Regal.

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