BLOOMINGTON — In a regular week, the Radio Shack store at Eastland Mall may sell one specialty-weather radio, if any.
This week, it was 15 — and that was before the storm that rolled through Central Illinois Wednesday night, triggering reports of possible tornadoes near Downs, Heyworth and Ellsworth and setting off the sirens in the Twin Cities.
“I’ve definitely seen an increase in the past two weeks,” said employee Maria Nunez, who said several customers specifically said recent coverage of the storms in the South and Midwest prompted their purchase. “Everybody is talking about it.”
Increased awareness also is noticeable at the American Red Cross of the Heartland, where spokesman Scott Vogel is getting more requests for disaster-preparedness presentations. “We can tailor them from 10 minutes to an hour; we’re flexible,” he said.
Vicious storms across the nation’s midsection in recent weeks have killed hundreds of people and left survivors glued to radar screens.
“I do think there is less of an ‘It won’t happen to me’ mentality since the tornadoes in Tuscaloosa (Ala.) and Joplin (Mo.),” Vogel said.
Earlier this spring, a tornado ripped through parts of St. Louis, and storms just this week also damaged parts of Oklahoma, Kansas and Minnesota.
Tornado severity is determined by the National Weather Service chart that ranks the storms on a scale of 0 to 5 based on wind speed and damage. The Joplin tornado was a 5 on the Enhanced Fujita scale; in 2004, an EF-4 tornado struck rural Roanoke and the weather service credited pre-planning with a lack of deaths.
Last June, an EF-2 tornado struck parts of Streator and Dwight, which contributed to the death of a Dwight man.
Shelter from the storm
Most new home construction now includes a basement corner where a three-walled safety zone is constructed while pouring foundation, said Chuck Lansing, Bloomington-Normal Home Builders’ Association president.
“It’s usually about 10 by 10 feet, or 10 by 12 feet,” said the owner of Lansing Construction, who has been in the field more than 25 years.
About 10 percent of people building homes ask for an in-ground storm shelter. The shelters are more often requested for mobile homes or previously built homes that lack a basement.
The sturdy plastic structures are buried underground with a latch-door entrance on top. Granger Plastics, a Middletown, Ohio-based manufacturer that sells its shelters in Illinois through the Safety Guard company, has seen a 400 percent increase in orders this month, said marketing director Alli Cravens.
In a normal year, the company produces about 500 to 600 structures. But this season, orders are closer to 2,500, she said.
That foresight, along with planning, is key to staying safe.
Vogel said a disaster kit should include bottled water, nonperishable food, needed medicine, copies of important papers and other items. The Red Cross sold about 70 weather radios as part of its Evening of the Stars fundraiser earlier this year.
Several of the $80 radios remain for sale at the group’s Westport Court office, he said.
Make a plan
Choose a place to gather to avoid a tornado or severe storm: basement, center hallway, interior bathroom or closet; stay away from windows. Have an after-storm meeting place designated in case you are separated.
Consider buying a NOAA weather radio, which can be programmed to provide instant weather warnings, missing-child alerts and other information for your area from the National Weather Service.
Unplug appliances; avoid using the telephone; do not run water for any purpose.
Turn off the air conditioner; draw blinds and shades over windows.
If you’re in a car, keep windows closed. If you cannot get to a sheltered area, get out of the car and lie in an area lower than the road; cover your head. If you must stay in the car, wear your seatbelt, keep your head below the windows and cover yourself with your hands or a blanket.
If you are caught outdoors, seek shelter in a basement, tornado shelter or sturdy building.
If you are boating or swimming, get to land and find shelter immediately.
After the storm
Watch for fallen power lines and stay out of the damaged area.
Follow official instructions shared through your town’s media.
Use flashlights, never candles.
SOURCE: American Red Cross