With freezing temperatures and inches of snow on the ground, now might seem like an odd time to start thinking about preparing for tornadoes and severe thunderstorms.

However, tornado season isnít as far away as you might think. Last year, the state of Kansasí first tornado came on Feb. 28 in Jewell County, and a total of eight tornadoes were recorded that month.

The National Weather Service encourages community members to be prepared for severe weather to strike and is sponsoring a "Storm Fury on the Plains" weather identification and safety class for the public.

The annual training session is slated for 6:30 p.m. Feb. 28 at the Santa Fe 5/6 Center in Lindley Hall (Gym). The session lasts one and a half to two hours and includes information on severe thunderstorms and tornadoes, and storm structure; tips on identifying storms; and weather videos.

"It covers the basics," said meteorologist Vanessa Pearce with the National Weather Service office in Wichita.

She said the training also teaches people how to properly report severe weather events to the National Weather Service, so the office can get out the correct information as quickly and accurately as possible.

"We can make sure whatís going on with storms so we can better warn the public," Pearce said.

Newton also will be promoting weather safety during the 2013 "Severe Weather Awareness Week" March 3 through March 9. The annual statewide tornado drill will take place and the sirens will be sounded at 1:30 p.m. March 5, weather permitting (backup date in case of bad weather is 1:30 p.m. March 7).

Lon Buller with Harvey County Emergency Management encourages schools, retirement centers, businesses, cities and hospitals to participate in a tornado safety drill to evaluate their readiness.

"Everyone should become better prepared for all weather hazards," he said in a news release. "Kansas is known to have some of our nationís most powerful tornadoes. In 2012, Kansas had 94 tornadoes; the yearly average is about 61. We need to be ready to protect our employees, students, family, etc., as much as we can."

Storm safety tips

The National Weather Service recommends people remember the acronym "DUCK" for tornado safety. It stands for "Down to the lowest level, Under something sturdy, Cover your head, and Keep in the shelter until the storm has passed." If you canít get to a building, lie flat in the nearest ditch or depression and cover your head, or buckle your seatbelt and get below the window level of your vehicle.

Buller advises people to keep in mind other severe weather events ó such as flash flooding, large hail and damaging winds. Another weather factor that often is overlooked is lightning.

"These events almost always cause more damage, injuries and deaths than tornadoes," Buller said.

It doesnít take much water for a flash flood to become dangerous. According to the National Weather Service, as little as six inches can sweep a person off his or her feet, and 18 to 24 inches can float a car and carry it away. If a road appears to be flooded, itís better to turn around and go a different way.

Lightning is another serious weather danger. It can strike up to 10 miles away from where itís raining ó about the distance you can hear thunder. Stay inside for about 30 minutes after the last burst of thunder.

For more weather safety tips, visit www.crh.noaa.gov/ict/?n=wxedu.