Northwest Herald

Oliver: Recent tornado in Harvard a good reminder to be prepared for severe weather

The recent tornado that destroyed a barn and killed several farm animals in Harvard was a stark reminder that we’ve officially entered the time of year when I find myself terrified on a regular basis.

I’m a bit of a weather wimp, and I’m not ashamed to say that I’m not a fan of thunderstorms and most definitely not one of tornadoes, straight-line winds, derechos or any of that. If it leaves a path of destruction, please count me out.

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems that we managed to dodge most of this during March and April. In fact, I usually start worrying in March, but here it is May.

Still, that Harvard tornado, an EF-0 though it was, was still too close for comfort.

In fact, I was stalking the National Weather Service radar during that entire storm. Just when I thought we were in the clear, I noticed that I had missed a message from a dear friend.

When I heard the voicemail, she was begging me to go to the basement with my husband, Tony. Instead of being terrified, though, I was a bit confused.

I listened for any sirens. I did not hear any. I checked to see if any warnings had been issued for McHenry, but I didn’t see any.

Then it dawned on me that my friend probably had seen the alert for McHenry County, the one that mentioned Harvard, which was indeed in that tornado’s path.

She might also have been confused between a tornado watch, which is issued for a large area and means that conditions are present for the formation of a tornado, and a tornado warning, when either a cloud with rotation has been spotted or when radar indicates that a tornado has formed.

Even though in my case it was a false alarm, it sent me looking for information on what I should be doing in the event of an actual emergency.

The National Weather Service ( also offers these helpful tips:

* At home, practice a family tornado drill at least once a year.

* Store protective coverings (mattress, sleeping bags, heavy blankets, etc.) in or next to your shelter space.

* Avoid windows.

* Get in the basement or under some kind of sturdy protection (heavy table or work bench) or cover yourself with a mattress or sleeping bag.

* Know where very heavy objects (pianos, refrigerators, waterbeds, etc.) rest on the floor above and do not go under them.

* If you do not have a basement, go to the lowest floor and into an interior room. A closet or a bathroom is recommended.

* If you’re in a vehicle, remember that they are easily tossed and destroyed by tornadoes. Take shelter in a sturdy building. If that’s not possible, lie flat in a low spot or ditch as far from the road as possible to avoid flying vehicles. Do not park under a bridge or underpass.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency suggests that families have enough food, water and supplies on hand to go for at least 72 hours.

Several websites provide useful information about how to build a “go kit”:


* American Red Cross:

* National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:

Historically, most of the tornadoes in Illinois occur from March to June. However, we all know they can happen at any time. These days, with an increase in severe weather just about everywhere, the likelihood of something happening here becomes more of a real possibility. Our weather has been so crazy this spring that I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised anymore when violent storms develop.

In any event it’s always better to be ready … just in case.

Joan Oliver is the former Northwest Herald assistant news editor. She has been associated with the Northwest Herald since 1990. She can be reached at

Joan Oliver

Joan Oliver

A 30-year newspaper veteran who has been a copy editor, front-page editor, presentation editor, assistant news editor and publication editor, as well as a columnist and host of an online newspaper newscast.