UH advises shelter in place after tornado warnings
Valentine’s Day was briefly interrupted for some members of the UH community who spent the morning indoors after the National Weather Service released tornado warnings for Harris County.
On Tuesday, UH’s ALERT Emergency Notification System relayed the NWS reports at 8:44 and 9:12 a.m., prompting shelter-in-place protocol on campus until UH’s alert was cleared at 9:57 a.m.
“I felt like it was a little over cautious, which I mean I guess is good, because I was right here in the lobby (of Student Center North),” said petroleum engineering senior Megan Mobbs. “They actually came in and were like, ‘Hey y’all, it’s a shelter in place and everyone needs to head out, that’s our suggestion.’”
Students in Student Center North were told to move to the basement of Student Center South until the warning was lifted.
NWS issued its initial report for the southwest Harris County area at 7:55 a.m. Radar spotted a thunderstorm near Wharton that showed signs of rotation that could have led to tornado formation moving east at 30 miles per hour.
“Flying debris will be dangerous to those caught without shelter,” NWS in League City reported on the NWS National Headquarters’ website. “Damage to roofs, windows, and vehicles will occur. Tree damage is likely. Valentine’s day tents may be upended.”
A tornado did not touch campus, and the warning was cleared before 11 a.m.
If a tornado were to reach UH, the Office of Emergency Management would coordinate with University leadership to ensure the safety of the campus community. OEM informs University leadership on emergency weather situations before action is taken by the UH president.
“The university follows a comprehensive all-hazard plan that includes the federal government’s framework for responding to emergencies and ensures close coordination with city, county and state partners as well as the National Weather Service,” said Executive Director of Media Relations Mike Rosen.
Shelter-in-place protocol, the type of order issued at UH Tuesday, includes taking shelter in a nearby location, and closing any windows, doors and vents. UHPD’s website provides more details on shelter-in-place.
Other cases of severe weather—flooding, storms and hurricanes—trigger various actions by UH officials.
“Depending on a number of criteria, including storm predictability, advance warning, and conditions on campus and throughout Houston including major thoroughfares, the University can take a variety of actions including issue a warning to shelter in place, issue a notice of late start, or to cancel classes altogether,” Rosen said.
In the past five years, UH has been under a tornado warning twice, both occurring in January 2012. Hazards from icing, flooding and storms have more frequently warranted action from UH leadership, ranging from campus closures to advising the campus community to travel with caution.
While some professors cancelled their classes, the University did not issue a cancellation or delay on Tuesday morning.
.@UHAlert has issued a severe weather/shelter in place warning until 10am. Classes are in session, but please prioritize your safety. ?
— UniversityofHouston (@UHouston) February 14, 2017
Some students, like media production sophomore Mia Benavides, were not on campus when the alerts were issued.
“Actually I was about five minutes down the road, and it began to pour, and I couldn’t see the road; it was grey, green-dark skies, and I was like, ‘I’m just going to turn around, there’s no point in me trying to travel to school when I can’t see and it’s not safe,” Benavides said.
Students can register their phones to receive UH’s weather alerts at AccessUH in the “myUH Self-Service” section. Information on how to register is available on the UH ALERT website.
“Emergency alerts provide immediate notification of public safety threats and information that will allow you to make timely decisions about your personal safety,” Rosen said. “Always prioritize your safety.”
Jasmine Davis contributed to the reporting of this story.