If a tornado, lightning or hail storm were coming, would everyone know what to do?

It’s that time of year again as this week, April 12-16, is Severe Weather Awareness Week.

Minnesota counties including Aitkin, Cass, Crow Wing County, Morrison, Todd and Wadena will participate in Minnesota’s Severe Weather Awareness Weekwith different topics each day:

  • Monday: Alerts and warnings;

  • Tuesday: Severe weather, lightning and hail;

  • Wednesday: Floods;

  • Thursday: Tornadoes (with statewide tornado drills); and

  • Friday: Extreme heat.

County emergency management officials throughout Minnesota will set off outdoor warning sirens at 1:45 p.m. and 6:45 p.m. Thursday, Tornado Drill Day. Outdoor warning sirens will sound in a simulated tornado warning. The tornado drills allow everyone in the community to practice their emergency plans for tornadoes. The first drill is intended for institutions and businesses. The second drill is intended for second shift workers and families.

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Prior to the state drill, the National Weather Service will send information to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration about the test tornado watch.

“We want people to know the importance of Severe Weather Awareness Week,” said John Bowen, Crow Wing County emergency management director John Bowen. “We’re going on that time of the year when we do get severe weather. We want to make sure that our families, our businesses and residents are prepared for when severe weather does hit the Brainerd lakes area or Crow Wing County area. From years past, we've had plenty of experience with severe weather.

“Tornado Drill Day is Thursday and we’ve sent out reminders to businesses and the schools. You don't necessarily have to physically (carry out your safety plan at the time of the drill), but you’ll want to remind your students or staff or talk to your families about what your plan is and where you’d go when the outdoor warning sirens go off.”

Storm clouds passed over the area July 18, 2020, in Baxter. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
Storm clouds passed over the area July 18, 2020, in Baxter. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

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Bowen said with COVID-19 numbers continuing to rise, the county urges safe social distancing practices as much as possible until more people are vaccinated. Bowen said residents should review their emergency plans without putting additional people at risk of COVID-19.

The Brainerd lakes area’s population increases each summer as people are vacationing. Bowen said it’s important for tourists to be educated about what the emergency plans are at the resort or campground they are visiting, as shelters could be limited.

“Make sure you know where you're going to go, if severe weather comes in,” Bowen said. “A lot of the campgrounds and places around here have a procedure in place like the Corps of Engineers in Crosslake and on Gull Lake. They have a plan in place and have a shelter where people can go if they need to.

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“So when you go somewhere, talk to the park rangers, or the campground hosts and know what the plan is for severe weather so you’re not caught off guard.”

If driving, motorists are not supposed to seek shelter under a bridge, as it creates a wind tunnel, Bowen said. He said the National Weather Service reports the safest plan during a tornado when driving — if there are no buildings nearby — is to get out of the vehicle, get to a low-lying area and lay flat on the ground. And if a home doesn’t have a basement or an interior room without windows, people should check with neighbors to see if they can seek shelter at their residence.

Crow Wing County will be posting severe weather education on its Facebook page throughout the week.

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If actual severe weather is a significant threat on or before the drill day, any of the National Weather Service offices that serve Minnesota may postpone the simulated watch and warning to Friday. If the weather threat continues, the drills may be canceled. Any postponement or cancellation will be announced.

The National Weather Service of Duluth is offering free virtual SKYWARN Spotter Classes through April 29 to recruit weather spotters. Weather Spotters are always needed across the Northland, especially in the Crow Wing County area, the weather service reports. Volunteers who can commit to attending a class serve a vital need for the National Weather Service to be the eyes and ears, providing critical on-the-ground reporting of severe weather, according to the service.

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Reports from weather spotters help the weather service deliver accurate and timely warnings. Classes will cover thunderstorm safety, the science of thunderstorms, different types of cloud formations and what they mean and how spotters can get their reports to the National Weather Service.

To sign up for the class go to weather.gov/dlh/skywarn.

For more information about severe weather safety and preparedness or on Severe Weather Awareness week, contact the county the household resides in, such as the Crow Wing County Emergency Management at 218-829-4749; or visit the Minnesota Homeland Security and Emergency Management website at https://bit.ly/3wPBar6.

JENNIFER KRAUS may be reached at jennifer.kraus@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5851. Follow me at www.twitter.com/jennewsgirl on Twitter.