Community newsletter: It’s wise to be prepared for severe weather

May 24, 2014 by  
Filed under Wind Energy Tips

I have been speaking to many groups this spring about severe weather and the potential for tornadoes to strike our area. For many years, the prevailing myth in Racine was that Lake Michigan protects us from tornadoes. We know that to be false. In fact, Racine County has seen 25 tornadoes since 1844 and in 2010; we saw three tornadoes in one storm season. In addition, a May 18, 1883, tornado which struck the near north side of the City of Racine, just two blocks off of Lake Michigan, still ranks as one of Wisconsin’s Top Ten Killer Tornadoes.

So why did people think Lake Michigan protects us? And are we alone in thinking we are immune from the impact of these devastating storms? No.

Years ago, I spoke out in Burlington and an elderly woman raised her hand and informed me that a fork in the river prevented tornadoes from hitting their community. As I spoke to my colleagues around the state, I learned that myths ranged from geographic anomalies to patron saints watching over communities.

So where did these myths come from? Why did people feel that they were immune? Wisconsin averages 23 tornadoes annually, but there are more than 2,000 municipalities. Therefore the law of averages says that most areas will not get hit in any given year. However, we cannot become complacent because severe weather does impact all of us and statistically speaking, tornadoes are nature’s most devastating local storm but heat is the number one weather-related killer, followed by flooding, tornadoes and lightning.

May 18, 1883, tornado

131 years ago, a tornado hit the near north side of the City of Racine. 25 people were killed, and more than 100 were injured.

The New York Times reported, “This evening about 7 o’clock Racine was struck by a tornado. The afternoon had been very warm and frequent heavy thunder-storms prevailed. Shortly after 6 o’clock black clouds gathered in the south-west and north-west, and became so threatening that general attention was attracted to them. The black masses gradually closed in, and for half an hour there was not a breath of air stirring and the atmosphere was hot and stifling. When the clouds came together they assumed a funnel shape, and immediately a hissing, rumbling noise was heard and the storm burst upon the city in great fury … It is within bounds to say that at least 100 buildings have been destroyed. From reports already received, it is probable that tomorrow will show a death roll of at least 25, with many more injured. Darkness set in almost immediately after the tornado, and it is impossible to obtain anything like an accurate report of the number of lives lost and the injured.”

If this tornado occurred today, would we have seen the same number of fatalities? I would like to think not. Back then, there was no National Weather Service issuing watches and warnings, nor devices to warn the public of impending danger. For many, the first indication of a tornado may very well of been when they saw it coming towards them.

On July 18, 1996, a powerful F-5 tornado struck the 1,012-person town of Oakfield, injuring 17 people but killing none. Advanced warning, when acted upon, helps save lives.

Listen, act and live

Those words could protect you and your family during severe storm season. Listening to warnings and seeking shelter immediately will save lives. Too often, people ignore initial warnings or wait to hear them from other sources before taking action. However, advanced warning saves lives if people act on those warnings and seek shelter.

Listen: When severe weather is possible (thunderstorm or tornado watch issued), pick a credible source of information and keep in touch with that source until the danger has passed.

For years, people relied on outdoor warning sirens as their primary means of warning. However, there are limitations to outdoor warning sirens:

* They are not designed to be heard indoors, especially in newer, more energy-efficient and better insulated homes with additional electronic noise (like air conditioners, stereos, or television on). Or to wake you up at night, especially if storms (rain and wind) are creating additional noise or you are a heavy sleeper. Instead, they are an outdoor warning device.

* Outside, environmental factors such as the direction and speed of the wind, relative humidity and air stability can affect where sirens are heard on any given day.

* Not every municipality in Racine County has chosen to install outdoor warning sirens. They are very expensive and have limited capabilities.

In recent years, there have been rapid advances in other types of warning technology. For example, most new cellphones are equipped with the ability to receive wireless emergency alerts like tornado warnings. NOAA All Hazard Weather Radios are programmable so you only receive watches and warnings for the areas that you designate and you can sign up for text alerts.

Act: When you hear a tornado warning (tornado seen by spotters or detected on radar) seek the best shelter you can find immediately. Don’t waste time checking multiple sources of information. You may have only seconds to find a safe place. The safest place to shelter is a basement. If you don’t have a basement, go to an interior hallway, closet or room on the lowest floor possible.

Live: Your chances of survival multiply by getting to that shelter right away. Hopefully the storm will pass with no damage. But don’t risk your life on a hope.


If you have not done so, “like” us on Facebook. We regularly post useful information and tips, along with information about severe weather. You can find us at In addition, check out our website at

Until next time, stay safe.

David Maack is the Racine County Emergency Management Coordinator.

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