116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
May is the height of tornado season, although Iowa already has had several serious tornadoes this year — including the March 5 twisters that killed seven people in Central Iowa.
B.J. Dvorak, new coordinator for the Linn County Emergency Management Agency, agreed to share his advice about what to do before, during and after a tornado.
What is the typical tornado season in Iowa?
March, April, May is typically when we’re seeing storms, but then you can get into the late summer. Anymore it can be anytime.
What precautions should Eastern Iowans take as we enter prime time for tornadoes?
One of the main things is have a weather radio. I keep mine next to my bed, so if there is a tornado warning in the middle of the night and you're sleeping, it will definitely wake you up and give you some time to get to your safe place. Make sure you know where your safe shelter is. Typically, we go to our basement. If you don’t have a basement, you can go a small interior room on the lowest level of the building you’re in. Just stay away from windows, doors and outside walls.
What should you do if a tornado pops up when you’re driving?
If you’re in a vehicle during a tornado and you can’t make it to a building, you can lay flat in location like a ditch. Just lay down and cover up your head with your arms. They say to try to get out of your vehicle if it’s safe to do so. If there’s no way you can get out, cover yourself up if you have a blanket or coat. Try to stay as safe as you can. We may not always have a lot of time to get somewhere safe.
What phone alert do you recommend?
Linn County has Alert Iowa. It’s a free service for anybody. They can get that from our website, Linncounty-ema.org. There’s an Alert Iowa link there. They can sign up to receive weather alerts. They can get tornado warnings, severe thunderstorm warnings. You can also text “LINNIA” to 67283. That’s another way to sign up for Alert Iowa. You can also search for other weather alerts. A lot of the news stations have them.
What are the conditions that trigger the severe weather sirens in Linn County?
If there are 70 mph winds, we will set off the sirens. If there’s hail that’s 1.75 inches in diameter, which is basically golf-ball size hail, (sirens will be sounded). If a trained spotter sees something (tornado or funnel cloud), we could also set off the sirens as well. They are obviously for outdoors only. We get a lot of calls from people saying, ‘I didn’t hear it inside my house.’ That’s not what they are designed for.
How do you know when the risk has passed?
The biggest thing is when we blow the sirens, there is a threat. There is a warning of a tornado coming through. It’s up to the person to listen to the radio or the news. We don’t do an all-clear. If the National Weather Service issues a new warning, we would set the sirens off again.
You’ve worked in emergency management for a number of years and you’re a volunteer firefighter. Where were you during the Aug. 10, 2020, derecho?
We were all here at Linn County EMA. We were watching the radar and listening to what the weather service had to say. That was just a crazy, scary storm. The worst I’ve ever seen.
Ready.gov suggests having the following things on hand to prepare for long-term stay at home or sheltering in place during or after a storm:
• Weather radio
• Cleaning supplies
• Nonperishable food
• First aid kit
• Plastic sheeting and duct tape
• Cellphone with chargers and backup battery
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