Be prepared: Weather service gears up for mock tornado warning

HARLINGEN — The National Weather Service in Brownsville is planning a practice session for hazardous weather.

A mock tornado drill is designed to “give citizens of the Rio Grande Valley a chance to determine if they can receive a warning (and) what to do when a warning is received or a tornado is occurring.”

The weather service says the warning will come sometime this month but did not specify a date. It will occur from 11 a.m. to 11:15 a.m.

“It’s always important for people to be prepared for severe weather at all times of the year,” Jason Straub, a meteorologist with the Brownsville NWS, said.

“We do this to help people test out their preparedness drill, to make sure they know where to go in the event of a tornado so when an actual tornado happens they’re already prepared for evacuation.”

Weather service officials are encouraging schools and the general public to participate to test preparedness plans.

“If your school does not have a severe weather preparedness plan, contact your county’s director of emergency management or the National Weather Service in Brownsville,” forecasters said.

For the general public, the weather service urges families and businesses to develop an emergency plan and do frequent tornado drills.

For better protection and early warning, the weather service advises people to buy a NOAA Weather Radio with a warning alarm and battery backup. Such a radio is automatically activated when a warning is issued.

Weather service forecasters also say people should learn to look for signs of a tornado, such as rapidly darkening skies, strong winds and the sound of a freight train.

Also look for rotation in clouds or a “wall cloud,” a distinct lowering from the back of a thunderstorm.

“In the Rio Grande Valley, hazy skies, smoke stacks and farm silos can make sighting tornadoes difficult,” the weather service officials said. “Also, tornadoes are often obscured by rain or can occur at night.”

Plans for the drill

1. At approximately 11 a.m. on drill day, a mock Tornado Warning will be issued by the Brownsville/Rio Grande Valley National Weather Service. The mock warning will be in effect for all 15 counties and will only be issued through broadcast on the NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards.

They will use the code for the Routine Weekly Test (RWT) to issue this mock Tornado Warning. They will not activate the Emergency Alert System (EAS). The mock warning will be in effect for 15 minutes.

2. At approximately 11:15 a.m., a Public Information Statement will be issued to cancel the mock Tornado Warning. This will signify the end of the drill. Schools that participate with a tornado drill should activate their emergency procedures when they receive the mock Tornado Warning. Once all of the preparedness actions have been taken and the students have been moved to their prearranged shelter locations, they can consider the drill is over for their school.

Source: National Weather Service/Brownsville