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Get ready for tornados
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Two are dead in the Twin Cities; 125 are dead in Joplin, Mo., and 15 more people died when tornados hit three Southern states Tuesday.

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And not soon will we forget what happened last summer just down the road in Wadena.

Tornados are a twist of fate few see coming, and with an already destructive tornado season upon us, local authorities are urging residents to ready themselves for a worst-case scenario.

"This really is a no-brainer for people to do," said Detroit Lakes Police Chief Kel Keena.

Keena is talking about signing up for the free instant alert notification service offered by the city.

"As soon as I hit the send button, phones start ringing all over ... it sends the notifications out just like that," Keena said, snapping his fingers. "We can send a message to just about any electronic device where people can receive messages -- cell phones, home phones, pagers or email."

Although the city has not had to use the instant alert for tornados yet, Keena says they already have pre-made tornado messages ready for a quick push of the button.

"We have messages that say there is a tornado within 20 miles of Detroit Lakes, 10 miles, five miles, and then we have the ability to custom create a message that you can't anticipate."

The alert system is not for weather watches, but rather for emergencies such as a tornado sighting.

The free subscription is open to all Detroit Lakes residents, as well as Lake Park, Audubon, Frazee, and surrounding contiguous townships.

"Detroit Township declined the service, but those living in Lakeview, Burlington, and Erie can sign up for it," said Keena.

The city began the Instant Alert Plus system in March of 2009, paying $16,500 a year for the Honeywell service, and then dividing the cost among townships according to population.

Right now there are 2,321 people enrolled, including some local businesses.

"I'd like to see Becker County take it over so that everybody county-wide has access to it," said Keena, "but they haven't been interested in taking it over."

So, right now when an emergency such as a tornado pops up, Chief Keena is one of several people trained on county and city levels to send out mass messages.

"Depending on what they sign up for ... email, phone call, text, it can go up to 10 different locations for each person," Keena said.

The instant alert, similar to what the Detroit Lakes School District uses, is intended to not only replace tornado sirens (which Detroit Lakes does not have), but to do even better.

"They (sirens) are very costly, and they only tell you one thing -- that there's a tornado," explained Keena, "but what do we do when there are other types of emergencies? This system is so much more advanced and flexible, we can get real messages out."

The flip side is, so far only 2,321 people locally will hear that message.

To sign up, either log on to https://iaplus.honeywell.com/DLALERTS or either call or stop in to the police department, city hall, or the library to sign up.

Tornado outlook in MN

Looking at the statistics of tornados in Minnesota could "blow you away," as the number of twisters recorded has more than doubled in the past three decades.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Minnesota saw 199 tornados from 1980 to 1989.

From 1990 to 1999 there were 379 tornados in Minnesota.

That number then jumped up to 426 recorded tornados from 2000-2009.

Global warming is a popular theory, but Meteorologist Vince Godon of the National Weather Service in Grand Forks says the reason for the increase is more likely an increase in detection technology and participation from the public.

"We have more people reporting tornados to us now, and we count them in our statistics; plus, just modernization in the Weather Service has allowed us to do much better archive data," Godon said.

Although technology has drastically improved, Godon says tornados are incredibly difficult to predict until the conditions actually form.

He says he cannot predict for sure whether or not this will be an active summer for tornados, but does say they are predicting it to be a cool, wet Minnesota summer, which in turn could decrease severe weather.

"You typically need heat in order for those severe conditions to form, but it is hard to say for sure," Godon said.

Myths versus facts

Old wives tales continue to fly around tornados like debris in an F4.

NOAA experts dispel these on their website:

Myth: The safest place to take cover is in the southwest corner of basement, based on the fact that tornados often come from the southwest, causing debris to fall into the northwest side of the basement.

Fact: It doesn't matter. Tornados cannot only come from any direction, but they do not produce straight-line winds, so the strongest wind could be blowing from any direction.

Anywhere in a basement is best or an interior room where there is a lot of strong, sturdy structure.

Myth: You should open the windows in your house because low pressure with a tornado can cause a building to explode as it passes over, and opening the windows will equalize the pressure.

Fact: Opening the windows is absolutely useless, a waste of precious time, and can be very dangerous. Don't do it. You may be injured by flying glass trying to do it. If the tornado hits your home, it will blast the windows open anyway.

Myth: People should take cover under overpasses or bridges.

Fact: That's more dangerous than standing in an open field while a tornado is approaching.

When a tornado passes over an underpass, winds are funneled under the bridge, thereby increasing the velocity.

Lying flat in a ditch is best, while being aware of possible debris and flash flooding.

Myth: Large lakes protect nearby areas from tornados.

Fact: Cold water and air is a stabilizing force, but is rarely a match for the power behind a tornado. They can and do skip lakes and rivers.

Myth: A tornado does not hit the same place twice.

Fact: A tornado can strike twice, anytime of the year, and any elevation.

So what are the odds a tornado will strike your house?

The National Weather Service also has this fact:

"The frequency that a tornado can hit any particular square mile of land is about every thousand years on average, but varies around the country."

To find out more on tornado myths and facts, log on to www.nssl.noaa.gov/

edu/safety/tornado

guide.html.

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