(WWJ) - With spring just days away, state officials have declared the upcoming week of March 19 through the 22 as Michigan's Severe Weather Awareness Week and urged residents to start planning now for strong storms.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer along with the Michigan State Police and the Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division (MSP/EMHS) have planned a voluntary statewide tornado drill at 1 p.m. on Wednesday, March 22 as part of the weeklong event.
“We are approaching the anniversary of the deadly EF3 tornado that devastated the city of Gaylord last year,” said Capt. Kevin Sweeney, deputy state director of Emergency Management and commander of the MSP/EMHSD. “It serves as an important reminder to take steps now to prepare and create a plan to protect your home, your family, and your pets.”
On May 20, 2022, a A large, destructive tornado touched down in Northern Michigan, leaving behind near total devastation. Two people were killed and over 40 others were injured as the EF-3 tornado tore homes from their foundations and ripped apart businesses.
The Gaylord tornado sustained peak winds estimated at 140 mph, the National Weather Service said — the last tornado to hit Michigan with a rating of EF-3 touched down in Dexter in 2012.
According to meteorologists, the state sees an average of 15 tornadoes each year. Tornadoes take about less than 15 minutes to form, leaving very little time for people to react.
Gaylord resident Frank McClellan told WWJ last year that he and other guests at a local fast food restaurant were caught by surprise when he watched from his table as the twister ripped through a shopping center, as well as an RV dealership.
"I was sitting in the Taco Bell, right there on (M-32), and the funnel cloud came right down 32 and for some reason took a turn in the Taco Bell parking lot and hit all the buildings behind us and leveled a bunch of them," McClellan told WWJ's Sandra McNeill.
McClellan said that's when people in Taco Bell started running, taking cover in the restrooms.
It is stories like McClellan's that highlight the importance of having a plan and knowing what to do when severe weather breaks out, officials stated -- whether you're at home or your local Taco Bell.
“This drill gives people a chance to make a plan and put it to the test, so we are all better prepared when a disaster strikes,” Sweeney said.
Businesses, organizations, families, and individuals are encouraged to partake in the statewide preparedness activity, but it is not required.
"During the drill, residents will observe or hear alerts on TV and radio stations, as well as outdoor sirens in their community if the local emergency management agency is participating," authorities continued. "Contact your local emergency management agency to learn how local alerts are administrated in your community and if your community is participating."
To be better prepared for tornadoes, MSP/EMHSD offered the following preparedness tips:
• Know the difference: tornado watch means conditions exist for a tornado to develop; tornado warning means a tornado has been sighted or indicated by weather radar.
• Know the signs of an approaching tornado: dark, often greenish sky; large hail; a large, dark low-lying cloud; and a loud roar, like a freight train.
• Stay tuned to commercial radio or television broadcasts for news on changing weather conditions or approaching storms.
• Develop an emergency preparedness kit with essential items such as a three-day water and food supply, a NOAA Weather Radio, important family documents, and items that satisfy unique family needs.
• Identify a safe place in your home for household members and pets to gather during a tornado.
• Make sure everyone understands the tornado warning system in your area.
• Engage with your local emergency manager to find out if they are participating.
For more information about being safe before, during, and after a tornado, follow the MSP/EMHSD on Twitter at @MichEMHS or go to www.michigan.gov/miready.