Every year we print information alerting people to the dangers of severe weather as spring approaches.

Today, we’re issuing that warning earlier than usual.

On Wednesday, a severe storm packing strong winds hit the Courierarea damaging property on both sides of the Ohio River. Thankfully, no serious injuries were reported.

The storm came with some warning — we were told to expect heavy rain early in the day — but the dangerous part of the weather event happened quickly. So quickly, in fact, that some school buses were already on the road picking up children. They were forced to turn around, and when the severity of the storm became apparent, schools closed.

The National Weather Service advises that vigilance and quick response to severe weather watches and warnings is critical, since they can strike virtually anywhere at any time.

Over the years, we’ve learned that a storm doesn’t need to be classified as a tornado to do extensive damage.

Most storms — especially tornadoes — are abrupt at onset, short-lived and often obscured by rain or darkness. That’s why it is so important to plan ahead. Every individual, family and business should have an emergency plan for their homes or places of work, and should learn how to protect themselves in cars, open country, and other situations that may arise.

The most important step you can take to prepare is to have a shelter plan in place. Where will you go when a warning has been issued for your county or city? Is it a basement or a storm cellar? Is there an interior room on the ground floor that you can use as a storm shelter? Have a plan, and make sure everyone in your family or workplace knows it.

There is confusion about the difference between a watch and a warning.

A tornado watch means conditions are right for tornadoes, and tornadoes are possible.

A tornado warning means a tornado has been spotted by the human eye or radar, and is moving toward you in the warning area. Take shelter immediately.

If a warning has been issued, it is smart of head to a pre-designated shelter area. This could be a basement, storm cellar, or the lowest building level. If you are home and you don’t have a basement, go to the most interior room of the ground floor. Often a bathroom or laundry room makes a suitable shelter area because the water pipes reenforce the walls, providing a more sturdy structure. Stay away from corners, windows, doors, and exterior walls. Put as many walls as possible between you and the outside. Get down on your knees and use your hands to protect your head and neck. Do not open windows.

If you are outside with no nearby shelter, lie flat in a nearby ditch or depression and cover your head and neck with your hands. Be aware of the potential for flooding in the ditch you are occupying. Do not get under and overpass or bridge. You are safer in a low, flat location. 

Now is the time for families to discuss an emergency weather plan. The tornado season is quickly approaching, but as we learned this week, storms can strike any time of the year.