Kent State plans for upcoming tornado season

Kiera Manion-Fischer

Awareness promoted after storms stike in Tenn., Ky.

Tornadoes are relatively rare, but as severe storms two weeks ago in Tennessee and Kentucky demonstrated, they can strike college campuses.

No one was killed when a tornado destroyed 70 percent of the housing at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., because of the planning ahead of time, said Tim Ellsworth, director of news and media relations at the school.

“You just attribute it to the providence of God,” he said.

John Peach, chief of Kent State police, said the state’s Department of Public Safety recommends a tornado drill at about the same time every year. It has occurred at Kent State during spring break for the past several years. This year it may be during the semester because spring break is earlier.

This doesn’t necessarily help students, but it helps staff, Peach said.

Each building on campus has a designated tornado shelter, he said, usually on the first floor.

For example, students can take shelter in the ground floor hallways of Centennial Court, according to a list of tornado shelters on the Residence Services’ Web site.

Kent State’s outdoor tornado warning sirens are tested on the first and third Wednesday of every month. Three sirens, one at the old steam heating plant, another at the Ice Arena and a third at the Allerton ball fields, sound for nine minutes when a tornado warning is issued.

A tornado warning means a tornado has been sighted in the area; a tornado watch means weather conditions are right for a tornado to develop. These are issued by the National Weather Service.

Thomas Schmidlin, professor of geography at Kent State, has studied tornado hazards in Oklahoma.

He said in an e-mail that tornadoes are rare overall; however, they do occur in Ohio at a rate of about 14 per year. One appears in Northeast Ohio each year. Schmidlin is now teaching in Geneva for Kent State’s study abroad program there.

He said tornadoes in Ohio are most common March through July but can occur at any time. Eleven have been reported in Portage County since 1950 by the National Climatic Data Center, an association of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

“The key is to be prepared at all times,” Schmidlin said.

If a tornado were to strike Kent State, students should stay away from windows and go to an interior room on the lowest floor of a building, he said.

Sophomore psychology major Carolyn Govea said she knows what to do in a tornado because she had tornado drills at her high school in Cleveland. She said she’s seen tornado warnings but has never actually been in immediate danger.

Danielle Saunier, junior business management major, works in the Student Center. She said there was a tornado warning in August and she had to bring everyone down to the Cyber Café on the lower level until it ended.

She said that she doesn’t know where to go in her residence hall if there were a tornado.

Contact safety reporter Kiera Manion-Fischer at [email protected].