CENTRAL TEXAS (KXAN) — Following a slew of tornadoes that ripped across Central Texas Monday, local officials and weather specialists are stressing the importance of severe weather preparedness, especially as Texas enters peak tornado season.
Here in Austin, many were fortunate to escape the storms virtually unscathed. But further north in the metro, cities like Round Rock, Hutto, Elgin and Granger took the brunt of the devastation, with more than 1,000 homes damaged or destroyed in Williamson County alone.
With the limited presence of outdoor emergency sirens in Central Texas, many communities rely on local media, weather apps and emergency notifications to alert residents of severe thunderstorms, tornado watches and warnings. One tool residents might not have in their toolkit? A weather radio.
Similar to the outdoor sirens, weather radios are a tool designed to supplement local news reports and emergency alerts. In the event of inclement weather that leads to sustained power outages and phone battery drains, these crankable, battery-operated radios can exist as a critical resources, said Paul Yura, weather coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Austin-San Antonio region.
“[Their benefit is] redundancy, plain and simple,” Yura said. “We issue, I think, well over 100 different types of weather watches, warnings and advisories. And that can all be sent to the NOAA weather radio.”
With weather radios, these tools incorporate both severe weather watches, warnings and advisories as well as providing daily weather forecasts, courtesy NWS. This, Yura said, is one way people can increase their weather preparedness.
And those enhanced preparations can be especially resourceful as some scientists anticipate shifts in “tornado alley,” a region running through the central portions of the United States where tornadoes are most prevalent.
While tornadoes in Texas aren’t uncommon, climatologists told KXAN’s Kaitlyn Karmout that a growing human footprint might be contributing to worsening storms.
NWS outlines the following steps people should take to be prepared in the event of an emergency:
- Check in with local media, weather apps or the NOAA weather radio frequently to stay up to date on storm movements
- Sign up for notifications via Warn Central Texas to receive area-specific alerts on inclement weather, as well as alerts from local media or municipalities, if available
- Create a communications plan so your family or household members know where your emergency meeting place is, how you’ll communicate if separated and where the closest low-level structure is if caught outside or a basement/first floor level isn’t available
- Practice your plan for severe thunderstorm, tornado drills regularly
- Prepare your home by having your designated “safe room” — an interior space on a low level away from windows — reinforced for enhanced protection
- Help your neighbors by learning CPR or other life-saving measures in the event of an emergency
“You gotta have a plan,” Yura said. “You have to know within seconds what to do. It’s not the time to start googling, ‘how do I stay safe in a tornado?’ You need to already know these kinds of things.”