By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — The National Weather Service and Diocese of Davenport are partnering to “build a nation that is ready, responsive and resilient to the impacts of extreme weather and water events.” The Davenport Diocese is the first diocese in the U.S. to join the Weather-Ready National Ambassador initiative.
Diocesan volunteer Glenn Leach met Jan. 18 with Ray Wolf, science and operations officer with the Davenport National Weather Service, and Donna Dubberke, warning coordinator meteorologist, to discuss what the diocese, parishes and parishioners can do as part of this initiative.
Dubberke said preparedness is a key emphasis. Parishes need to have emergency plans for severe weather, such as tornadoes or high winds. She pointed to a photograph on the wall in the National Weather Service office that showed the tornado that caused destruction when it struck St. Patrick Church in Iowa City on Holy Thursday 2006.
Churches, parish halls, schools, diocesan offices or any business should look for areas of shelter in the event of severe weather. Not everyone has to be in the same room; they should take shelter in several rooms. Keep in mind individuals who use wheelchairs or walkers or need assistance. Go to an enclosed room, interior restroom or hallway on the main level if necessary. Use a classroom, restroom, bridal room, or small office — any area without a window or glass. It should be as close as possible to the middle of the building, Dubberke said.
Not all emergency plans are good, which is why the National Weather Service is willing to work with the diocese, deaneries and parishes to help make a plan. This assistance could range from providing informational materials to possible on-site visits.
“We can provide suggestions and a template. We can help you prioritize and point out what to avoid,” she said. Emergency plans should be made known and practiced. Signs pointing to shelter spaces should be marked. Placing information in parish bulletins and on parish websites to help parishioners think about safety plans in their own homes is also a good idea. “Be prepared,” Dubberke said. Wolf, a parishioner at St. Ann Parish in Long Grove, noted an increase in weather extremes. Climate change is what you base your plans on, but weather is what your respond to, he added.
The National Weather Service offers spotter training in late winter and early spring. “Why do we do it? Because preparedness is driven by climate action in response to weather,” Wolf said. Although 70 percent of tornadoes are “weak” (under 110 mph), Dubberke said, people still need to seek shelter. It is cost prohibitive to build a shelter that could withstand an EF5 tornado. “But you need to identify shelter space at your church, home or school.”
What if a building has multiple floors but no basement and few areas without windows? Move down a floor or two, Dubberke advised. “If it’s a three-story building, get off the third floor.” If a strong wind event or tornado were to rip off a roof, the building’s occupants would have some protection if they sought shelter at a lower level.
Following the 2006 Iowa City tornado and the 2008 extreme floods in Iowa, the diocese held a diocesan-wide emergency preparedness meeting, Leach said. Now that the Diocese of Davenport has partnered with the National Weather Service, it is time for parishes and parishioners to review and update their emergency plans. “Weather is the most likely source of disasters in Iowa, and while we cannot change the weather, we can prepare for its effects,” Leach said.