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Tuesday's statewide weather siren test was a good reminder to be prepared for severe weather or other emergencies.

The first week of March is designated as Severe Weather Preparedness Week, which may seem early for spring storms. But a 2012 Leap Year tornado killed eight people in downstate Harrisburg on Feb. 29. The 2013 EF-4 tornado that leveled parts of Washington occurred in November.

In Illinois, severe storms and tornadoes can hit any time of the year, not just during spring and summer. They can be as destructive at midday as they can at midnight.

That's why early warning sirens and announcements are crucial to keeping the largest number of people safe. Most of us hear monthly sirens, but don't practice drills in basements or interior hallways. We have become dependent on weather apps on our phones to check swirling radar and hope for warning tones; we gravitate to weather channels on our televisions. As much as we are interested in the weather, the now-routine "millions are in the path" warnings may be falling on deaf ears.

That's why, in addition to making sure we have weather radios, weather apps and use common sense, families also should practice emergency plans so they can find shelter in bad weather and find each other after the sky has cleared.

So, our annual list of suggestions:

  • Make sure you have a stash of first aid supplies, water, cash, a blanket and nonperishable food available either in your car, basement, or both.
  • Have a pair of sturdy shoes at hand or in your emergency kit.
  • Take a first aid class and learn CPR.
  • Take a weather-spotter class from the National Weather Service and buy a weather radio. Keep your cellphone fully charged.

Illinois averages 47 tornadoes and hundreds of reports of large hail and wind damage every year: A tornado is a violently rotating column of air that extends from a thunderstorm to the ground. A funnel cloud does not reach the ground. A severe thunderstorm can produce hail 1 inch in diameter or larger, and/or wind gusts of around 60 mph or higher.

A "watch" means tornadoes or severe thunderstorms are a threat. A "warning" means a tornado or severe thunderstorm has been detected by radar, or has been reported by a trained storm spotter.

In McLean County, sirens are sounded when a severe thunderstorm warning is issued by the NWS and winds of 70 mph or greater are forecast or occurring in the area.

Sirens and warnings mean little if you don't pay attention, and then act. When you hear a warning siren, get a cellphone warning or learn about a warning via the media, take cover in a sturdy building and stay away from windows.

Severe weather and tornadoes can, and will hit again. Make sure you are prepared.


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