By Rep. Kristi Noem
While many across South Dakota still have snow shovels at the ready and are scraping ice off of the sidewalks, it's important to remember that severe weather season is right around the corner. March 3 -9 is Severe Weather Preparedness Week and is a good opportunity to make sure you and your family are prepared for any inclement spring weather headed your way.
As South Dakotans, we know dangerous weather can strike at any moment. From spring blizzards, flash flooding, thunderstorms, damaging winds and even tornadoes, the Great Plains is home to some of nature's most fascinating and dangerous weather events. Because of this, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are continuing to partner together to increase awareness about the hazards of severe weather and common-sense preparedness tips.
In 2012, there were more than 450 weather-related fatalities and nearly 2,600 injuries, despite advance warning, in the United States. However, the better prepared our families and communities are for severe weather, the better we are able to respond to the ever-changing South Dakota weather. One of the first steps we can take is to develop a family emergency plan. It's possible that your family may not be together when a disaster strikes, so it's important to figure out how everyone will get to a safe place and how you will contact one another. Make sure to also figure out emergency plans at work, school and other locations where your family spends time.
Continue to stay abreast of the weather. My family has a NOAA weather radio that is programmed to alert us of watches and warnings not only in Hamlin County, but for the surrounding counties as well so that we have more advanced warning. When a storm is approaching your area, take shelter. Many families spend spring evenings out at the ball field or at track and field events, so it's important to remember that if you hear thunder, you're close enough to be struck by lightning. While our kids may want to finish the baseball game, it's our responsibility as parents to be aware of the surroundings and to put safety first.
I know first-hand just how dangerous severe weather can be. When I was young, I was out checking cows with my mom and due to a fast approaching tornado, we had to seek shelter in a low-lying ditch. Over the years, we have lost livestock, cattle and horses from lightning strikes. These experiences remind me of the importance of seeking shelter during storms. Our basement was often a safe haven for drivers who were passing on the local highway.
There are great resources to help your family prepare for severe weather. The South Dakota State Department of Public Safety provides guidance and tips for severe weather preparedness. I would also encourage you to find out who your local emergency manager is and to attend an area severe weather training session, sponsored by the National Weather Service (NWS). To find a training session nearest you, visit the webpage of the NWS office in your area -- Sioux Falls, Aberdeen, or Rapid City. These sessions are free and open to the public!
I'd love to hear from you and your family about the steps you're taking in your community to be prepared for severe weather. Feel free to tweet me a picture at @RepKristiNoem or contact one of my offices to share your story. Contact information for my offices is listed below:
Sioux Falls: 605-275-2868 / Watertown: 605-878-2868 / Aberdeen: 605-262-2862 / Rapid City: 605-791-4673 / Washington, D.C.: 202-225-2801 / Toll-Free: 1-855-225-2801