Do you know what a weather radio is? Experts explain why you need it for Texas tornadoes

CENTRAL TEXAS (KXAN) — Following a series of tornadoes that devastated central Texas on Monday, local officials and weather experts are stressing the importance of weather preparation, especially as Texas enters the peak tornado season.

Here in Austin, many were lucky enough to escape the storms virtually unscathed. But further north in the metro, towns like Round Rock, Hutto, Elgin and Granger suffered the brunt of the devastation, with more than 1,000 homes damaged or destroyed in Williamson County alone.

With the limited presence of outdoor emergency sirens in Central Texas, many communities rely on local media, weather apps and emergency notifications to alert residents of severe thunderstorms, tornado watches and warnings. A tool that residents may not have in their toolbox? A weather radio.

Similar to outdoor sirens, weather radios are a tool designed to supplement local news bulletins and emergency alerts. In the event of adverse weather conditions leading to prolonged power outages and phone battery drains, these battery-operated crank radios can exist as essential resources, said Paul Yura, meteorologist in charge of weather coordination in the region. Austin-San Antonio from the National Weather Service.

“[Their benefit is] redundancy, plain and simple,” Yura said. “We issue, I think, well over 100 different types of weather watches, warnings and advisories. And all of this can be sent to NOAA Weather Radio.

Along with weather radios, these tools incorporate both severe weather watches, warnings and advisories, as well as daily weather forecasts, courtesy of the NWS. This, Yura said, is one way people can improve their weather preparedness.

And these improved preparations may be particularly ingenious, as some scientists anticipate changes in “tornado alley,” a region running through the central parts of the United States where tornadoes are most prevalent.

Although tornadoes in Texas are not uncommon, climatologists told Kaitlyn Karmout of KXAN that a growing human footprint could contribute to worsening storms.

NWS describes the next steps people should take to prepare for an emergency:

  • Check frequently with local media, weather apps, or NOAA Weather Radio to stay up to date on storm movements
  • Sign up for notifications via Notify Central Texas to receive area-specific bad weather alerts, as well as local media or municipal alerts, if available
  • Create a communication plan so your family or household members know where your emergency meeting place is, how you will communicate if you are separated, and where the nearest low-level structure is if taken outside or if a basement/ground floor is not available
  • Practice your plan for severe thunderstorms, tornado drills regularly
  • Prepare your home by having your designated “safe room” — an interior space at a low level away from windows — reinforced for better protection
  • Help your neighbors by learning CPR or other emergency lifesaving measures

“You must have a plan,” Yura said. “You need to know in seconds what to do. Now is not the time to start googling, “how do I stay safe in a tornado?” You must already know this stuff.

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