SIKESTON - The good news is spring is nearly here. The bad news is the warmer temperatures bring the risk of tornadoes.
Tornadoes can happen any time of the year but April and May are identified by many experts as the peak tornado months while others say mid-March through June. Tornadoes are known to appear as early as February.
To keep citizens safe from natural disasters such as tornadoes and severe weather including spring flooding, Gov. Matt Blunt proclaimed March "Disaster Preparedness Month."
Blunt noted the State Emergency Management Agency and the National Weather Service will conduct the Statewide Severe Weather Tornado Drill at 1:
30 p.m. March 15 during which every school, citizen and business is encouraged to participate by practicing seeking secure, safe shelter.
"It's a drill that takes less than 15 minutes," said Tom Bridger, Sikeston's emergency management coordinator.
When the severe weather announcement is made March 15, citizens are asked to seek shelter in the lowest level interior room away from windows, including the basement if there is one.
"Some sort of safe room is the ideal thing, but most people don't have them," said Joe Burton, Scott County E-911 administrator.
Homeowners should assess their structure and draft an emergency plan in advance, according to Burton.
"They need to have a family plan that fits not just tornadoes and earthquakes, but fits everything so everybody knows where to go, who to contact - a set plan of what to do in certain instances," Burton said. "Schools and counties are required by law to have those plans. Even though it's not required by law, businesses and factories should have them and their employees should be familiar with what their emergency plans are."
In addition practicing getting to shelter, the importance of accounting for everyone in the home, class or office should be highlighted during the drill March 15.
Officials advised residents to be familiar with tornado terminology.
"There's a difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning," Bridger said. "A tornado watch means, basically, watch the sky - the conditions are favorable for one to develop. A tornado warning means seek shelter immediately. It means a tornado has been spotted or is developing. So a watch means watch the sky and a warning means seek shelter."
Bridger said he wanted to clear up the misconception that a car is a safe place during a tornado. "A vehicle is a terrible location to be in," he said. If you are caught in a vehicle, exit and seek a ditch or low-lying depression. "Cover your head with something - a jacket, coat, blanket - just anything to protect your head," he said.
Seeking shelter under an overpass is also a bad idea. "It will create a wind tunnel effect," Bridger said, "and you catch more wind, more debris than if you were in an open, low-lying area."
Bridger said most area residents have common sense when it comes to tornadoes and know to stay away from windows and leave mobile homes immediately if they know a tornado is around.
"Sikeston DPS is committed to being prepared and to making the earliest warning possible to the citizens of Sikeston via our emergency alert system that is located throughout the city," Bridger said. "These would only be activated in a true emergency such as a confirmed tornado."
The city conducts a test monthly on the second Wednesday of the month unless there is inclement weather, Bridger said.
"This month we will still have our drill on the 9th," he said, "and then we will also participate in the statewide drill on the 15th."
NWS offices in St. Louis, Springfield and Pleasant Hill will send out the severe weather drill code for the statewide drill.
In the event of real statewide severe conditions March 15, the NWS will hold the drill on the backup date, March 17.