Given the increasing intensity and frequency with which storms occur, the possibility of severe weather on campus is something that every student should be aware of. But how many students know what to do if such weather strikes?
Ellen McKinstry ’14, a Northfield resident, recalls her experience with a tornado a few years ago – “In town it wasn’t very bad. This tornado seemed to just jump around, two farms situated next to each other could be in any shape, one could be destroyed and the other pristine. Tornado behavior is hard to predict.”
Tornadoes are undoubtedly the most intimidating and frightening form of weather in the Midwest. In Minnesota, tornadoes occur from March through November. The last serious tornado within 50 miles of Northfield was on May 22, 2011. It killed one person and injured 48 others.
Carleton’s official “Tornado and Severe Weather Safety” page online lays out the steps Carleton community members should take in the event of severe storms. There are severe weather shelters located in most buildings on campus (on the lowest floor). Security Services also runs CarlAlert, an emergency notification program that sends campus-wide emails as well as text messages to the mobile phones of whoever signs up.
It may seem like severe weather does not really affect Carleton but rather the surrounding areas. History Professor Clifford Clark, however, recalls storms on and very near the Carleton campus. “There was a bad blizzard with winds of 40 to 50 miles per hour and negative 35 degrees…there was also a rainstorm a couple of years ago and ten inches fell in the space of a couple hours. Water went up over the banks of the Cannon.”
Other than the fields next to West Gym and parts of the Arb, the Cannon River luckily has not had much of a direct effect on campus when flash floods or heavy rainstorms have occurred.
Sometimes, it is easy to spot severe weather. “In Northfield you can sense the weather coming or see it in the clouds…the weather can be predicted if you are paying attention” McKinstry explained.
Other times, violent storms can often seem at a distance like harmless precipitation. Complacency has no place on campus, though. Professor Clark observed that, “People sometimes think, ‘Oh, it’s just a rainstorm or snowstorm. I’m used to those.’ What’s hard to see is how much damage a storm can actually do. There are things out there you cannot control.”
Even if severe storms do not materialize all that often directly on campus, students should know how to act just in case. McKinstry says that “I think that hypothetically they do…I don’t think we experience that much severe weather during the months when students are here so I’m not entirely sure that they would actually know what to do in a crisis - I’m not even really sure I would know what to do.”
Professor Clark offered a different sentiment. “There are announcements that go out and we go through rehearsals…we have a sense of what to do.”
The first step students should take, depending on the type of severe weather, is to seek shelter in the lowest level of campus buildings.”
Reflecting on Carleton’s weather preparedness, Professor Clark referenced the importance of technology in dealing with storms. “With cell phones and things like that, the notification system has gotten even better. Computers have also made weather communication much better.”
Clark also had high praise for the college’s alarm system. “The other thing is that the College has wired the buildings – alarms go off everywhere. They’re very good about testing the systems periodically.”
Though severe weather does not seem like it occurs that often, when it does it wreaks havoc. The CarlAlert notification system and an awareness of severe weather shelter locations will help keep Carleton community members safe should powerful weather hit campus.