The time to prepare for severe weather is now Published March 27, 2017 55th Wing Public Affairs OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. -- March 20th marked the first day of spring, welcoming warmer weather, rain, flowers and the return of green grass. However, it also brings an increased risk of thunderstorms and tornadoes to the Midwest region. If you are new to the area, or even a lifelong resident, Offutt’s emergency management office says it is a good idea to take some time to prepare for these types of threats. “Making a plan and practicing that plan with your family can mean the difference between life and death in the event of a tornado or other natural disaster,” said Trip Spiller, Offutt’s emergency manager. “The time to figure out where you will seek shelter is not when you hear the sirens.” As part of Nebraska Severe Weather Awareness Week, Sarpy County and Offutt will sound tornado sirens between 10-11 a.m. on March 29. Many organizations, to include Offutt, will practice sheltering drills at this time. According to the National Weather Service, Nebraska averaged 52 tornadoes per year from 1982 to 2012. Spawned from powerful thunderstorms, they can devastate a neighborhood in seconds with wind speeds up to 300 miles per hour. They can occur in almost any month, but most commonly occur in Nebraska from April to August. With advanced technology, tornadoes are typically detected in advance. In most cases, there is time for you and your family to seek shelter. One of the most frequently asked questions is “What is the difference between a tornado watch and warning?” A tornado watch is issued when the conditions are favorable for the development of severe weather. If a watch is issued, you should monitor radio and television channels for updates and prepare to seek shelter. If a tornado warning is issued, a tornado has been confirmed by spotters or indicated by radar. If you are in the warning area, you should seek shelter immediately. The best place to take shelter is normally right where you are. If you attempt to drive to a different location, you may be placing yourself at greater risk. Ideally, a basement or a below-ground location offers the best protection. If stranded outside, lying face down in a ditch or ravine with your hands folded behind your head may provide some protection. If you are working on base and a tornado warning is issued, you should seek shelter in the nearest building’s designated tornado protective area. Contact your unit emergency management representative if you are unsure of where your building’s tornado protective area is located. Spiller provided some other useful tips to help families prepare for tornados and other natural disasters. “Know the weather hazards associated with the area and build a plan based on those hazards,” Spiller said. “Ensure you have a disaster kit on hand - building a basic kit will ensure you have supplies available to sustain you and your family until an emergency passes. “Disaster kits do not need to be large, expensive kits - simple first aid supplies, medicine, food and water, and a hand-crank flashlight/weather radio combo in a back pack will usually be enough for a basic kit. A good rule of thumb it to ensure you have enough supplies to last for three days. Ensure you have enough non-perishable food that does not need to be cooked and at least one gallon of water per person, per day. Also, do not forget your pets. It is a good idea to have food and water in your kit for your four-legged friends.” Offutt personnel are also encouraged to update their contact information in the AtHoc Emergency Mass Notification System and the Air Force Personnel Accountability and Assessment System for inclement weather notifications and natural disaster accountability. Additional severe weather information, to include Offutt sheltering locations, can be found by visiting www.Offutt.af.mil and selecting the “Inclement Weather” page under the “Offutt Information” tab. Other resources include www.beready.af.mil and the emergency management office, which can be reached at 294-3642 or email@example.com.