A lesson from 2008: Be prepared for anything

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Perhaps the best word to describe the weather in Indiana during 2008 was volatile. By the second week of January, five inches of rain melted the snow on top of frozen ground and created record flooding in the Tippecanoe River.

Jan. 29 brought a tornado to the west side of Indianapolis and two people died in a tornado that ripped through Posey County that same night.

Within a month, more flooding occurred in the Tippecanoe River and the Wabash River began overflowing.

The short period of time between May 30 and June 10 brought numerous tornadoes, severe thunderstorms and heavy rain all leading to record flooding in the White River and the East Fork of the White River. Five tornadoes struck central Indiana on June 3 including an F3 tornado.

Next heavy rain, up to 11 inches in places, across south central Indiana led to incredible area flooding in communities of Columbus, Spencer, Seymour and many others.

Over the summer, the weather calmed down until September, when Hurricane Ike dumped its remnants over the region. Wind gusts up to 80 mph caused damage and widespread power outages that lasted for weeks in some areas.

A cold December set the stage for several rounds of freezing rain and drizzle leading up to a traffic nightmare on Dec. 23 as extremely cold ground temperatures led to rapid ice accumulations on roads.

Already in 2009, the state has seen flooding and tornadoes. In early March, Columbia City was struck by a tornado and major flooding was reported along the Illinois, Kankakee and Tippecanoe Rivers. A 40-foot private agricultural levee broke along the Kankakee River in Kouts early last week. Folks in Starke County are seeing rivers, lakes and creeks rising right now.

"Floods claim nearly 100 lives and cost billions in property damage in the United States annually," said Jack Hayes, director of NOAA's National Weather Service.

"Spring is peak flood season in many parts of the country, but floods can happen anywhere, at any time of the year. Many lives could be saved by following some simple and essential flood safety tips," he said.

Here's what you can do to stay safe during a flood:

* If flooding occurs, go to higher ground and avoid areas subject to flooding.

* Do not attempt to walk across flowing streams or drive through flooded roadways.

* If water rises in your home before you evacuate, go to the top floor, attic, or roof.

* Listen to a battery-operated radio for the latest storm information.

* Turn off all utilities at the main power switch and close the main gas valve if advised to do so.

* If you've come in contact with floodwaters, wash your hands with soap and disinfected water.

Putnam County is prepared for weather emergencies with a new Emergency Notification System that is up and running at the Emergency Operations Center.

This system is used to notify the public, county officials, law enforcement and emergency responders through a conventional phone line, email or cell phone text messaging of important information such as weather alerts.

The system can also be used to notify a particular area of a missing child, fugitive, sexual predators, road closings, school closings and emergency declarations like a tornado or flood.

Any message can be sent, including pre-planned ones. This system notifies 10,000 dial tone lines in 15 minutes and will do email and text messaging instantly.

"It costs about $1,500 every time we do the whole county. We would like to have people add their text and email address to be notified. Those don't cost anything," said Dave Costin, Emergency Management Director.

To add an email address or mobile phone number for texting go to the co.putnam.in.us/911/ and click on "Emergency Notification System." The page will give instructions how to enter required information.

For information on preparing for flooding check out www.floodsmart.gov

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