Experts: Elkhart County prepared for tornadoes

How prepared is Elkhart County to respond to tornadoes?

Posted on April 23, 2012 at 1:00 a.m.

ELKHART— After a tornado in Woodward, Okla., last Monday left many injured and six dead due to a faulty tornado siren system, many wondered how their cities and towns would fare in such a situation.

Experts agree that Elkhart County is prepared to handle tornadoes.

“I don’t want to say it could never happen, but we are prepared,” said Tod Schmucker, communications supervisor for the Nappanee Police Department.

Jen Tobey, director of Elkhart County’s emergency management agency, agrees.

“We’re prepared,” Tobey said. “As far as the probability of us getting a tornado, it’s high, especially with the light weather this winter, plus weather inversions (this spring).”

Schmucker said the tornado sirens in Nappanee and Elkhart County run on electricity until power stops working, when they switch to back-up battery power.

Experts speculate that the situation in Woodward happened because lightning struck communication towers and knocked out the power to the siren system, which didn’t have backup power.

As far as seeing tornadoes in northern Indiana this month, Alex Sosnowski, an AccuWeather expert senior meteorologist, said that’s not likely to happen.

“It looks like the system that caused the (tornadoes) in the Great Plains has changed character,” Sosnowski said.

Severe weather in the area will be relatively low, he said, and “things should be relatively quiet,” this week.

But come Thursday or Friday, stronger systems are predicted to come in, he said.

“The outlook for spring is we’re going to evolve into cooler weather that’ll last through the end of April, but probably won’t result in tornadoes,” Sosnowski said.

If one does occur, though, families can prepare by coming up with shelter plans for when they’re at home or on the road, buying enough food to be self-sustainable for 75 hours and getting a weather radio, Tobey said.

She said she’s helped hand out more than 300 weather radios to families in Elkhart.

Goshen also is prepared for tornadoes.

Dustin Sailor, Goshen’s utilities engineer, said that Goshen is much more ready to alert people to approaching tornadoes than in the past.

In the last few years, the city has expanded and improved its sirens and siren coverage.

The city has at least 15 tornado sirens that are tested every Thursday at 2 p.m. The sirens are all monitored by a computer system that gives feedback during tests on battery power, rotation of the siren head, any kinds of signal failures and other information, Sailor explained.

The sirens all run on electricity with back-up battery power.

“From where we used to be, we’re much more prepared,” Sailor said.

According to the National Weather Service, the 2007 tornado in Nappanee left only minor injuries. Wind speed reached 165 mph and caused severe damage to many homes and businesses in the area.

Tornado shelter locations for Nappanee include Lutheran Church on South Main, North Main Mennonite Church on North Main Street, Nappanee UMC on East Market Street, Nappanee Church of the Brethren on Mack Drive, First Mennonite Church on West Market Street, and Living Gospel Church at 302 West Walnut Street.

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