Late spring and early summer are generally the high seasons for tornado activity, and this year has certainly been no exception. An unprecedented incidence of tornadoes across the South and Midwest has devastated communities and left unimaginable damage. The severe storms began in late April, when an estimated 211 tornadoes barreled across the southern U.S., leveling entire blocks and killing at least 344 people. At the time of this writing, the deadliest tornado in over 60 years just barreled through the small city of Joplin, Mo. – at least 122 people were killed and over 1,500 are still unaccounted for. Tornadoes are difficult to predict, but if the month of May is an indicator, there may be many more dangerous storms in the coming months. On average, around 1,200 tornadoes touch down in the U.S. every year – as of mid-May, we’d already seen approximately 1,080 storms this year.

The damage sustained by so many communities already this year is overwhelming. Two days after a tornado struck north Minneapolis, officials estimated that 7,000 customers were without power, over 200 power poles had been damaged, more than 2,000 park and street trees were damaged and at least 500 buildings sustained significant damage – putting the city’s damage estimate at $166 million.

Also this week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released its hurricane outlook for 2011. For the Atlantic hurricane season (June 1-November 30), meteorologists are predicting above-average activity: 12 to 18 named storms, of which, six to 10 could be come hurricanes, including three to six major hurricanes (winds of 111 mph or higher).

In the midst of this incredibly active storm season, it is critical that you are ready to respond at a moment’s notice. Following a storm, communications and infrastructure can be compromised, so preparation and organization are key components to working safely and successfully in the chaos and destruction that is left in the wake of a severe storm. This month, we spoke to some industry veterans for their tips on storm response and cleanup – see page 7 to learn more about their stories.