ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: Tornado Season Spins Around Again

Elizabeth Helmkamp—Staff Writer

Tornado season is soon to arrive in the Midwest.

There is a tornado siren north of campus, part of Sioux county’s warning system for tornadoes. Howard Wilson, Vice President & Chief Administrative Officer here at Dordt said that when the alarm goes off that means a “tornado has been sighted on the ground within a reasonable distance of Sioux center.”

“Our plan would be for people to go to the nearest shelter,” Wilson said.

Tornado shelters are marked around campus. The recreation center is one spot that contains numerous shelters. The locker rooms and other rooms without outside exposure are suitable protection against a tornado. Covenant’s shelter is in the basement.

There is an emergency manual in almost every public place and classroom across campus. One of the sections within the manual explains what to do in case a tornado hits.

The tornado shelters at Dordt are built into the buildings themselves, which is visible at the construction site of the new Agriculture Stewardship Center.

“Right now, it’s got one story and it looks like a concrete box,” Wilson said. “In the middle of it, they built the tornado shelter for that space. Architecturally, we design them [tornado shelters] in.”

The big risk in a built-up area like Dordt would be flying glass.

“Buildings tend to either implode or explode from the differential pressure from the tornado,” Wilson said. “So there’s a massive difference in air pressure as it passes through, and that tends to make glass blow in or out. That’s why you don’t want to be in a place with a lot of windows.”

People are often eager to watch the storms roll in.

“We had one last summer, and my challenge was that people didn’t want to go into the shelter – they want to go watch it,” Wilson said. “I would say that’s not prudent. Sometimes you can see them coming but that doesn’t always happen, and in the meantime the storm can move very fast. It’s not a romantic thing to get caught up in a real tornado.”

Wilson has been at Dordt for five years and the siren has only sounded two or three times. In 2014, a tornado touched down east of town

Tornadoes tend to occur when it gets hot and humid, and as a result most tornadoes near here happen during the summer, but there is still a risk in the spring and fall; however, the weather is not always an indicator.

“The good thing about tornadoes I would say, compared to being in Miami or somewhere like that where you have hurricanes is that, tornadoes tend to pass through pretty quickly. It’s not like the hurricane where you might have to shelter for hours,” Wilson said. “But we do need to practice, because the worst-case scenario would be that one came right down the center of campus, and it’s good for us to think about, what do we do? Lord willing, nothing bad happens, but there’s always an opportunity.”

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