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Severe weather ushers in March in Portage County

FROM STAFF REPORTS Published: March 8, 2017 1:00 AM
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March came in roaring like a lion with severe thunderstorms and emergency tornado sirens that shook many people from their sleep early March 1 in Portage County.

The National Weather Service issued a tornado warning around 6 a.m. that was in effect for about 30 minutes in Portage and other areas of Northeast Ohio. High winds gusted over 45 mph, knocking down tree limbs. Strong winds continued through March 2.

Sirens sounded in parts of Portage, while Brimfield residents received emergency text and call alerts through CodeRED, a free weather alert system issued by the National Weather Service.

Portage County Emergency Management Agency reported several tree limbs down in the county.

One resident on the east side of Aurora reported that power was out in that area from about 11 p.m. March 1 to 6:15 a.m. March 2. Mayor Ann Womer Benjamin reported there were other scattered outages.

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She noted a short power outage at the Westerly wastewater plant occurred the morning of March 1, "but backup generators kicked in during the power loss with the quick thinking of wastewater manager Andrew Krispinsky. The power was restored by 10 a.m.

"Otherwise, Aurora fared well," the mayor said, "although a number of residents inquired as to why our tornado siren was not activated. Our police department monitors the weather and radar 24/7, and Aurora was never in the warning zone."

Assistant Fire Chief John Schmader reported the department had one weather-related call about a downed tree limb causing wires to arc on Maple Lane.

"We've had a few reports as far as trees down [in other parts of Portage County]," EMA Director Ryan Shackelford said. "No power outages were reported.

"It's just evidence you always have to be prepared. The storm didn't look as aggressive, but come the first of March we could have had a tornado. We've now had two incidents where we could have had tornados and we haven't approached tornado season."

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Kent State University took to Twitter, warning students at 6 a.m. to take shelter. Kent schools experienced 10- to 15- minute bus delays because of the tornado warning.

"The timing of the storm hit just as buses were going to pick up kids," said Kent Superintendent George Joseph. "We did delay buses 15 minutes just because of the possibility of a tornado touchdown and we sent out a notification for parents."

Aurora Superintendent Pat Ciccantelli said there were no bus delays, and no wind or water damage on school property.

Rootstown Superintendent Andrew Hawkins said school buses were delayed five minutes and a fallen tree shut down a township road.

"EMA contacted the fire department and the fire chief contacted us," Hawkins said. "I appreciate all the communication that was done from the agencies to make sure our kids are safe. It was the first time we had something like a tornado warning. It was unique, but we're glad we got everyone here safe."

Patti Harjung, administrator at the Brimfield Police Department, received three call alerts starting at 4 a.m. from CodeRED about the harsh weather conditions. Brimfield Township does not have an alarm system like Kent.

"It's like Reverse 911," Harjung said. "The National Weather Service sends out the messages automatically. At the police department, if there is an emergency we can notify the neighbors."

The EMA said residents should always be prepared and have a plan if a tornado were to hit Portage. Local residents can go to their township's website to register for CodeRED Weather Warnings.

"It just goes to show you have to be prepared," Shackelford said. "Do you have flashlights, blankets. What are you going to do with your pets? It's looking to be aggressive weather this year."


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