Granville student: Beware, tornadoes can happen at night
DEKALB — After 15 years of working at Northern Illinois University, meteorology professor Walker Ashley said he has first-hand experience of seeing what tornadoes can do. His parents’ house was hit by a tornado when he was a child living in Georgia, and it wouldn’t be the last time he bore witness to the damage a tornado can inflict.
Ashley went on to track the tornadoes that formed and then struck the DeKalb County town of Fairdale on April 9, 2015. When the “major” tornado hit Fairdale, it ended up killing two elderly people.
“I’ve seen some of the most violent tornadoes on Earth,” Ashley said. “I know what they can do.”
Although DeKalb County residents might be eager for winter to end so spring can begin, Ashley said they also should anticipate storms by preparing for them.
“At the [storm] warning stage, we ask people to have a weather radio, which will alert [those people] in the overnight hours,” Ashley said. “Make sure they have the wireless alert on their cellphones. We ask for the radio because they silence their phones.”
Ashley said weather radios can be bought at most retailers as well as at Amazon.com, for about $30. He said the radios take only about five minutes to set up.
“They’re easier than IKEA instructions,” Ashley said.
NIU junior Billy Faletti from Granville is studying meteorology under Ashley as well. He said tornadoes also can occur at night.
“The main thing to drive home is tornadoes don’t care what time of day it is. They don’t care what time of year it is,” Faletti said. “If the conditions are there, they can happen — at any time. There’s no rule.”
Ashley said that when a tornado warning sounds, it is time for residents to take action and get into their respective tornado shelters.
“The way I think is, you wouldn’t go into a car without putting on your seatbelt,” he said. “The chance of getting in an accident is small, but you still put it on.”
Ashley said he and his wife view their family’s safety plan the same way. “We get underneath the stairwell in the basement,” Ashley said. “Usually I’ll be out storm-chasing and calling my wife to prepare to get down in the basement. Practice what you preach. I want my family safe just as everybody else.”
He advised residents without a basement to find the sturdiest place in their home and to take shelter away from windows.
Concerning residents who take for granted the fact they might have heard several tornado warnings without witnessing or being affected by one, Ashley said they should take the same precautions to protect themselves because it’s never certain when a tornado might strike.
“I’ve seen too much injury and death and experienced way too many of these [storm] events to not take them seriously,” Ashley said.
He said people should not depend on the area warning sirens. He called warning sirens an “antiquated” system. Ashley said it’s not the tornado that kills people, but the wind.
“It seems really silly, but make sure you have your shoes on in the [tornado] shelter,” he said. “Put on your bicycle helmet [too.] It’s surprising how many people have injuries or are deceased from debris.”
Ashley said the shoes protect people from stepping on glass and nails from debris that might have been blown about by the wind.
Ashley also stressed that people who aren’t trained tornado spotters should not chase tornadoes because they do not behave the way they are depicted in the movies.
“Many tornadoes are not like the Wizard of Oz,” he said, adding that many tornadoes are “rain-wrapped,” meaning rain surrounds the tornado and blocks any view of the tornado.
“They’re not very visible or picturesque. Most tornadoes are hard to identify. Even very highly educated spotters with decades of experience have found themselves in dangerous situations. It is not the time to put on your meteorologist hat and go find storms.”
Faletti said the green hue that the sky and clouds can turn is an indication of strong storms approaching the area.
“When you get the green core, there’s really dense precipitation,” he said. “Generally stronger storms are going to have dense precipitation, which could mean really heavy rain ... or it could mean, in a lot of cases, a lot of hail up there.”
Ashley said residents should keep informed and up to date on weather on a daily basis through local news and the National Weather Service’s website.
“If you do the right things and take shelter, your chance of survival is very high,” Ashley said. “Most people in the path of a tornado ... do the right thing: survive.”