National Weather Service is encouraging residents in Ohio, W.Va. to participate in statewide tornado drills

WHEELING — The National Weather Service is encouraging Ohio Valley families, schools and businesses to participate in statewide tornado drills occurring this week in Ohio and West Virginia.

West Virginia’s statewide tornado drill is set for 10:30 a.m. today, while Ohio’s will occur at 9:50 a.m. Wednesday. The drills are part of the National Weather Service’s Severe Weather Awareness Week.

“The weather service is going to issue warnings like it’s a real event and use all aspects of their communications,” said Lou Vargo, director of the Wheeling-Ohio County Emergency Management Agency.

During the drill, television and radio stations will broadcast the alert and weather alert radios will activate, according to a release from the West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

However, the drills won’t involve outdoor warning sirens going off in either Ohio or Belmont counties, according to local officials.

The goal is for families, businesses, schools and other entities to individually practice what to do during a tornado, Vargo said.

“For schools and businesses, this is a good time to talk with your students or employees,” Vargo said. “If this was real life, what’s the emergency plan?”

Kim Miller, superintendent of Ohio County Schools, said the district will participate in today’s drill.

“We’ll be passing the information along to all of our schools, and each school will follow the directions,” she said Monday.

If they don’t already have one, residents should try to create an emergency plan for what to do if a tornado occurs near their home, said Shannon Heffren, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Pittsburgh.

During a tornado, people should remain in their homes, avoid rooms with windows and go into their basement if they have one, Heffren said. Mobile homes, however, are not safe and people should seek out neighbors or storm shelters for safety.

“Always look for watches and warnings,” Heffren said. “If you’re in a car, we say abandon that car and go somewhere with a sturdy building. Don’t drive around tornadoes, especially at night.”

Heffren added that common beliefs that tornadoes won’t hit the same place twice and won’t go near cities are false.

“Don’t think that you are immune based on your area,” she said. “Anybody can experience a tornado.”

West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management spokeswoman Lora Lipscomb said the drills are intended to raise people’s awareness that tornadoes and other severe weather events can occur in West Virginia.

“Even though tornadoes are not a common occurrence in West Virginia, we are taking this opportunity to ask people to practice their weather safety plan along with the tornado warning drill,” Lipscomb said.

Both West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice and Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine signed proclamations declaring this week Severe Weather Awareness Week and announcing the drills. In West Virginia, the drills will be conducted in conjunction with the emergency management division, the West Virginia Weather Preparedness Committee and the West Virginia Broadcasters Association.

“Testing your emergency plan during Severe Weather Awareness Week, whether with family members or co-workers, helps ensure we all will be ready for the next severe weather event in the state,” Michael Todorovic, director of the division, said in a press release.

The release also noted the difference between tornado watches and warnings: watches mean conditions exist for a tornado to develop, while warnings mean a tornado has been sighted or indicated by weather radar.

“A good rule of thumb is to put as many walls between you and the tornado as possible,” the release reads.