By RICK HAYES
MT. VERNON — —
Just shy of a year ago, Jefferson County was in the path of an EF2 tornado with winds reaching a peak of 130 mph.
An Opdyke woman, 60-year-old Pat Brown, was killed and two other people were injured. Several pieces of property were damaged by the March 23 storm.
The deadly storm — and more in Southern Illinois since, including the Leap Day 2012 tornado in Harrisburg that claimed eight victims — is reason enough to pause during the observance of Severe Weather Preparedness Month, which continues through March 31.
"As always, we suggest everyone have a weather radio tuned to the transmitter in Salem," suggested Jefferson County EMA Director Steve Lueker. "If they don't want to listen to all the chatter, they can have it set up to just listen to the alerts for Jefferson County."
Lueker said the Harrisburg tornado should serve as a reminder that protecting your loves ones is essential when imminent weather is coming.
"Thinking back to Harrisburg, that was not a pretty sight when we went down there," Lueker said, adding, "And there have been some worse than that like the Tri-State tornado and the one that hit Mt. Vernon several years ago. You never know from year to year."
Lueker, who just took over as the EMA director for Jefferson County last month, said there are no local plans during the observance, although he indicated the American Red Cross is working with local schoolchildren, teaching them how to prepared during violent weather.
Lueker said the Opdyke tornado was "scary" because there were children in a schoolhouse just a few feet from where the tornado made a direct hit.
"We are sorry for the loss of Mrs. Brown, but those children were spared. It could've been devastating," he said.
In an effort to increase public awareness of weather alert radios, state officials have launched a statewide contest. The Illinois Emergency Services Management Association and the Illinois Emergency Management Agency are sponsoring the "Weather Alert Radios Save Lives" contest, in which participants can take an online quiz for a chance to win one of 100 weather alert radios to be awarded. The contest runs through the end of the month. Winners will be announced in April.
For more information on the contest, you may ready the Ready Illinois web site at www.Ready.Illinois.gov.
IESMA purchased the weather alert radios as part of a program to increase emergency preparedness in local schools, hospitals, nursing homes, extended care facilities and government buildings throughout Illinois. During 2013 and 2014, IESMA plans to place 800 weather alert radios in local facilities.
The National Weather Service and state and local emergency management officials encourage people to have a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather radio with battery backup, a tone-alert feature and Specific Area Message Encoding (SAME) technology, with allows the radio to be programmed to receive alerts for specified counties. When an alert is issued for the programmed area, the device will sound a warning alarm tone followed by the broadcast message.
Besides weather information, the NWS also broadcasts warnings and post-event information for all types of hazards, including natural, environmental and public safety hazards, such as earthquakes, chemical spills and AMBER alerts.