SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. -In the wake of the devastating spring tornadoes that have repeatedly hit Oklahoma, Slippery Rock University's Office of Environmental Health and Safety is reminding the campus community to "be prepared."
"Severe weather can produce thunderstorms, ground-to-air lightning and damaging winds. With this severe weather comes the possibility of tornadoes developing. Although tornado 'season' is generally considered to be March through July; peak times for local tornado activity has been documented during the months of May and June. Tornadoes can occur anytime and can do so very quickly with little or no warning," said Paul Novak, SRU environmental health and safety director.
"The Slippery Rock University community should be aware that tornadoes can develop very quickly either independently or as part of severe thunderstorms, and should be aware of weather conditions around them. Keeping tuned to local weather reports and watching the sky for marked changes is weather patterns will help everyone stay prepared to help them be ready to take action if necessary. The use of on-line sources of information including weather apps are extremely helpful in keeping people informed of impending severe weather," he said.
Tornado watches are issued when weather conditions are conducive to the development of tornadoes in and near the watch area. A "Tornado Warning" is issued when weather spotters have sighted an actual tornado or rotation has been indicated by radar and is occurring or imminent in the watch area. Hail is often a seen during tornadoes.
"If a "Tornado Warning" is issued, those on the SRU campus should go to the basement or lowest level possible in the building they are in, or a steel framed or reinforced concrete building when possible. If there is no basement, those affected should go to a small center room - a bathroom or other interior room without windows or under a stairwell. They should cover themselves by getting under furniture or use a mattress or furniture cushion for protection," Novak said.
"Anyone caught outside should take cover in the nearest ground depression - a ditch or ravine - and lie flat covering their head with their hands," he said.
"Slippery Rock University Police are notified of a tornado warning by the county 911 dispatch. Communications would be initiated to the campus community using the e2Campus mass notification system, the Metis Emergency Warning System, and held-held radios carried by University employees," he said.
SRU residence halls will soon have signage identifying areas as "Severe Weather Shelter" areas. Tornado safety is part of training provided to the residence hall staff members and is included in generalized hazard communication training to the campus.
Information on steps to take in the event of tornadoes was published in the SRU Personal Emergency Guidebook, which was distributed to the campus.
"Our office urges everyone on campus to enroll in the e2Campus emergency alert system," Novak said.
Butler County has reported 17 tornadoes between June 1954 and July 2008, including four in 1990. In total, nine people in the county have been killed by tornadoes, according to the TornadoHistoryProject.com. The longest tornado path in the county was reported at 39 miles and the widest, 300 yards.
A check with the Slippery Rock Volunteer Fire Department found its tornado siren alert system for the community has been down for repairs for several weeks, but was expected to be return to service before month's end.
"We want everyone, faculty, staff, students and those responsible for visitors to always be aware of the weather, especially during tornado season. Sports teams or camps on our practice fields, or in our buildings, as well as those mowing or working on other outdoor projects need to know where the nearest shelter is located and be able to quickly get there in the event of bad weather," Novak said.
He said those off campus in apartments or homes in the region should follow similar advice - always monitor weather and get to the lowest level and into a strong structure, such as a basement, or a bathroom if no basement is available, when bad weather hits. Hallways, away from windows, also offer stronger structures than open areas during tornadoes.
Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania's premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.