Mother Nature has already taken the opportunity to remind area residents of the perils of severe weather, just in time for Severe Weather Awareness Week, taking place March 12 through March 16.
On Monday, citizens are asked to develop a preparedness plan by identifying the weather hazards in the area. In Missouri, those include severe thunderstorms, tornadoes, damaging winds, large hail and heavy rains that can produce flash flooding.
"Residents have to prepare for their individual situations and consider their available resources," said Chet Hunter, Lawrence County director of Emergency management. "Individuals and businesses should have an emergency plan in place to address many hazards, including severe weather."
Hunter recommends having more than one source of information, whether it is the Internet, local media or text alerts on a cell phone.
"In the event of a severe weather incident, people have to have a way to not only get the word out but have an established shelter area in the home or workplace," Hunter said. "Families should have a plan on what to do, where to meet and how to contact other family members."
Hunter urges residents to put together emergency kits for home, office and car. Each kit should contain bottled water, a battery-operated radio and extra batteries, a flashlight and prescription medications and first aid supplies.
Hunter also suggested residents purchase generators for their homes or businesses.
"A generator can provide for basic electrical needs until commercial power returns," he said. "It can also keep health equipment functioning, such as ventilators, oxygen systems and monitors.
"Never set up a generator inside a home or garage," Hunter continued. "Generators emit carbon monoxide and can prove fatal in an enclosed space. Always keep the generator outside."
Families should choose a meeting place in the event severe weather should strike when children are at school or parents are at work.
"Parents need to know how to contact their daycare providers or schools and know where to pick their children up after a disaster," Hunter said. "Plan for a designated person to pick the children up after a severe weather event in case the parent is not available."
In case of a flood, tornado or earthquake, area residents should know how to turn off their gas, electric and water supply lines.
"People should always keep a small amount of cash on hand," Hunter said. "If the power is out, automatic teller machines will not operate."
Gas pumps will not work if the power is out, so Hunter recommends keeping the gas tank in the family car half full at all times.
Tuesday is Tornado Safety Awareness Day.
"Missouri had 80 tornadoes in 2011," Hunter said. "The largest was the Joplin tornado that resulted in the deaths of 168 people."
The National Weather Service (NWS) has established a tornado watch and warning program to alert the public of hazardous weather conditions.
A tornado watch means conditions are favorable for tornado development. This is the time area residents should prepare to evacuate to a designated tornado shelter if necessary.
A tornado warning means a tornado has been sighted or the NWS is seeing indicators on radar that a thunderstorm may be capable of producing a tornado at any minute. People in the path of the storm should seek immediate shelter.
"People in schools, hospitals, shopping centers and factories should move to a shelter area," Hunter said. "Interior hallways on the lowest level are the best places to shelter. People should stay away from windows, auditoriums and gymnasiums or structures with large free-span roofs."
Citizens should never try to outrun a storm in a vehicle. In the event of a tornado, Hunter advises residents to abandon the vehicle and shelter in a nearby ditch or land depression and cover their heads.
"Those living in mobile homes are advised to abandon the house and seek a more substantial structure or storm shelter," Hunter said. "Mobile homes are not made to withstand the strong winds that come from severe thunderstorms or tornadoes."
Wednesday has been designated Flash Flood Awareness Day.
"Flash floods have been a major weather killer in Missouri for years," Hunter said. "Many people don't understand the powerful force of running water. Just six inches of rapidly moving water can knock a person over. Two feet of water can make most vehicles float."
The rural Missouri landscape is dotted with low water crossings and during flash flood events, cars can be swept downstream and often overturn, trapping the passengers inside.
"Low water crossings can be death traps," Hunter said. "People can't see a road when it is under water. What was once a solid roadway may have become dangerous due to the washing out of gravel beds, whistles or asphalt."
Thursday has been designated Severe Thunderstorm Awareness Day.
"Thunderstorms are dangerous, because they include lightning, high winds and heavy rains that can cause flash floods," Hunter said. "Severe thunderstorms contain large hail, usually one inch in diameter or larger, and damaging straight one winds of 58 miles per hour or more.
"A downburst is a sudden rush of wind produced by rain-cooled air descending at a speed of 100 miler per hour or more from severe thunderstorms," Hunter said. "Strong downbursts can cause as much damage as a small tornado."
Friday is designated as National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio Day.
NOAA is known as "the voice of the National Weather Service." It provides continuous broadcasts of the latest weather information from the local NWS office. Weather messages are repeated every four to six minutes and updated every one to three hours, or more frequently in rapidly changing local weather.
Local broadcasts are tailored to the weather information needs of a specific region. Typical coverage is within a 30- to 40-mile radius of the transmitter.
"During severe weather, meteorologists can interrupt routine broadcast and advise listeners of warnings and imminent threats to life and property," Hunter said. "The NOAA weather radio, when set to alert mode, will automatically turn on when it receives a warning from the National Weather Service."
Weather radios may be purchased locally at major retailers.
This year's severe weather drill will take place at 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 13 and will provide families and businesses the opportunity to practice their severe weather plans.