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Inside Iowa State, a newspaper for faculty and staff, is published by the Office of University Relations.

April 14, 2006

'Tis the season: Be prepared for storms on campus

by Samantha Beres

No one expected an F-1 tornado to touch down on campus last fall during the noon hour of Sept. 8. Trees were uprooted, a light pole was blown over, debris covered some streets and sidewalks, and one person went to the hospital with minor injuries.

It was not peak season, but tornadoes have happened in every month of the year in Iowa.

A tree in front of Science Hall was yanked
from its root system by a tornado that touched down on campus last fall.

This tree in front of Science Hall was yanked from its root system by a tornado that touched down on campus last fall. Many ISU buildings have severe weather plans; spring is a good time to learn the plan for your building. File photo by Bob Elbert.

"That's the biggest reason to always be prepared for a possible tornado," said Angie Jewett of the Environmental Health and Safety office.

Jewett helped Inside put together some general tornado safety tips for people on campus.

Getting information

A common misconception, Jewett said, is that people might think tornado-warning sirens can be heard inside buildings on campus. Not true. Those are designed to tell people outside to take cover indoors.

Every building on campus has weather coordinators and each has a weather radio. Another way to ensure being forewarned of a possible tornado is to sign up for e-mail or cell phone alerts. KCCI-TV's Web site is one of several that offer email alerts.

Do you know your building?

About half of the buildings on campus have a severe weather notification plan. To find your building's weather coordinator or if there is a building notification plan, go to (select "emergency response," then "building notification plans").

Whether there is a plan or not, or if you're in an unfamiliar building, you can look for signs that say "severe weather shelter area."

Jewett recommends that everyone, particularly faculty who may be teaching in a building for the first time, familiarize themselves with the plan and/or shelter areas.

The basics

Because most buildings on campus are constructed with sturdy materials, a lot of people may feel safe by simply going inside, Jewett said. But this is not enough. Stay away from windows and go to the basement. If that's not possible, go to the first floor and find a small room or hallway that does not have windows.

"The more walls you can put between you and the outside, the better," Jewett said. She added: avoid places with wide span roofs, for example the central area of the Armory or the track at Lied.

Getting under a table isn't such a bad idea either. People are often injured during tornadoes from flying debris.

What about the unforeseen tornado?

The F-1 that touched down last semester was not forecast, but, Jewett said, tornadoes don't come out of a clear sky.

"If there's severe weather, pay extra attention," she said. "Anytime you have a thunderstorm, if conditions are right, it can become tornadic."

Most of the time, tornadoes are small, an F-0 or an F-1. But about one percent are violent, causing about 70 percent of all tornado-related deaths.

"We can't force people to take shelter," Jewett said, "but we encourage faculty and staff to act responsibly because they're setting the example for the students."

If your building needs signs or a notification plan, Jewett recommends having your weather coordinator contact her at 4-8090.