Gimme Shelter: How to Weather a Tornado at Hendrix

Hendrix’s campus was put under a tornado warning, as was most of Conway, during the early morning hours of March 7th. This came after a previous tornado warning was declared for campus on February 28th. Hendrix students, those that were awake, were left to scramble for cover in their residence halls and apartments as a precaution in case a storm really did hit campus.

According to Faulkner County’s Office of Emergency Management, a “tornado watch” is declared when conditions are favorable for a tornado to develop. A “tornado warning,” on the other hand, comes when radar indicates a tornado has landed or when a funnel cloud has been sighted. Both are very serious situations, and require people in the areas under the watch or warning to pay close attention and take precautions.

Hendrix found itself in and out, and then back in, the warning zone for a tornado in the (very) early hours of March 7th.

“The last round of storms was unique because instead of just heading over us and traveling to the southeast, we were just in that line and kept getting hit,” Michael LeBlanc, Director of Public Safety, said.

Hendrix sent out H-Alerts, and some students were able to hear the tornado sirens the city of Conway set off during the warning. The closest tornado siren to campus is over by Wal-Mart, according to Dean of Students Jim Wiltgen. Hendrix and Conway are not always on the same page, in terms of H-Alerts and the tornado sirens both being present to warn students at the same time. During the tornado threat on February 28th, for example, students in the SLTC were urged to seek shelter in Worsham before the sirens even sounded.

Dean Wiltgen recommends that all students download the National Weather Service’s Red Alert app for their phones, or at least sign up for their mobile alerts.

“We’ll always do an H-Alert when we have tornado warnings and you have to have that, but you have to remember the way tornados work,” Dean Wiltgen explained, “It’s a very limited time to do that in. We encourage folks to get CodeRed so they don’t have to wait on the H-Alert, that’s where we get our information so they don’t have to wait for us to repost it.”

Dean Wiltgen also recommended the Storm Tracker app, where can see where the National Weather Service has plotted out the path for the major storm warnings they issue.

There are some simple tornado safety tips to keep in mind in case Hendrix finds itself under another storm warning. “

You need to know a couple of things: shelter yourself in the lowest point in the building, away from windows, ideally in the center of the building,” Dean Wiltgen said.

Officer LeBlanc offered advice to students that find themselves on the road when the warning hits.

“Find a low-lying area like a ditch or get under a bypass,” LeBlanc said. “Get to an area where you’re not stuck out in the open, as the biggest danger in a tornado is flying debris. The best thing to do is to try to have a plan, and be cognizant of that before you go out.”

Tornado warnings may not always seem worth taking seriously since campus is not in the direct path of tornados, but  Officer LeBlanc attempted to put those concerns in context.

“Is it an inconvenience to have to take shelter? It is,” LeBlanc said. “But is that inconvenience worth getting it wrong and being in the wrong place at the wrong time?”

How did Hendrix students spend the tornado warnings?

Kathleen Mowery ‘18, Raney RA:

       What’d you do/how’d you respond?

I actually didn’t wake up for the first one. I didn’t hear my phone buzzing or wake up at all. I did wake up sometime around 3 or 3:30 to the sirens and my phone and that time I got up. I went downstairs, knocked on another RAs door to wake them up, and then we went upstairs to knock on residents doors to let them know there was a tornado warning. Residents aren’t required to go to the safe place but making sure they were awake to make that choice was important. Then we just guided people to the guest bathrooms (our stairwells have windows for some reason so they aren’t safe). I also had to unlock the hall council closet because there wasn’t enough room in both the guest bathrooms for everyone even though the guest bathroom in the lobby is huge. It wasn’t all that exciting but no one yelled at us for waking them up so that’s a plus!

Got any tips for your residents (or any students) about what to do in these situations?

Not really. I’m a huge fan of choosing what you want to do and all so stay in your room if you want by all means. but if an RA bangs on your door about a tornado, they aren’t doing it for fun. Or at least I’m not?

Lexi Adams, ‘17:

So, I’m from Kansas where we get tornadoes all the time so warnings like that don’t freak me out, they actually feel pretty adventurous. Right before the first warning at like 2 a.m. my pals and I had decided to go out to the nice gazebo have a poetry night. We read poetry for like an hour before we heard the sirens and then sprinted back to my apartment at Front in the rain while listening to the warning. It felt quite adventurous.

Faizan Khan, ‘17:

Literally slept right through it, it was some of the best sleep I’d gotten in a while.

Nikola Hoyt, ‘20:

I literally slept through every single one of the tornado alarms. I debated going to the stairwell but I was too tired and comfortable.

Abigail Augusta Lee, ‘17:

Per the manager’s request, I was sequestered away in the Highway 65/Bryant Starbucks’ (the one closest to Hendrix) bathroom for half an hour. Any of the baristas I wasn’t already friends with, are now friends. Someone tried to come through the drive thru while the warning was in full effect and they were really put out when one of the baristas had to explain that the store was currently following emergency procedures and they could not, in fact, make them a drink at the moment.

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