Education is the key

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 18, 2001

to safety in severe weather


Staff Writer

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Feb. 17, 2001 10 PM

Hot, humid weather in February has moved aside for cooler temperatures, but the clash of warm and cold are critical reminders of why Alabama Severe Weather Awareness Week is Feb. 19-23.

Pike County Emergency Management Agency Director Larry Davis said he plans to have a countywide tornado drill in the schools and sound the outdoor warning sirens during the week. Troy State University officials have also told Davis they would like to have a campus-wide drill during the week. A statewide drill has been planned as well.

Davis encourages people to seek appropriate shelter should they hear the warning sirens that are in place in some areas of the county.

He especially urges residents of mobile homes to find a safe place in severe weather.

"When you hear a warning, it’s time to get out," Davis said referring to those who reside in mobile homes. "If you get in a ditch, you’re still better off."

Between 1950 and 2000, officials with the National Weather Service recorded 23 tornadoes touching down Pike County.

Neighboring counties, like Bullock and Barbour had fewer reported. Bullock had nine and Barbour had 10, while Dale recorded 22, Coffee had 26, Crenshaw had 14 and Montgomery had a recorded number of 29 tornadoes during those 50 years.

Davis said he has seen the devastation tornadoes have inflicted on mobile homes and, as EMA director, wants to prevent the loss of life.

"You’ve got to know to get out of those things," he said of mobile homes.

But, tornadoes are not the only threat residents here face.

"A lot of time, downwind or straight-line wind will do as much damage as a tornado," Davis said.

As EMA director, Davis is also working to inform residents they should take all forms of severe weather seriously.

"Thunderstorms, we take a little too lightly around here; they’re very dangerous, too," Davis said.

According to information from the NWS office in Calera, thunderstorm winds reached damaging force at least 416 times last year in Alabama and caused millions of dollars worth of damage. Those storms killed three and injured 12.

Since thunderstorms are more common than twisters in Alabama, the state is likely to have 10 to 20 times as many wind storms during the typcial year.

A severe thunderstorm can strike any time of year, but, like tornadoes, are more frequent in March, April and May. The second most common severe weather season in Alabama is November and December.

Often these storms have lightning attached.

Lightning – what the NWS calls "the underrated killer" – injured 11 people in Alabama last year. Since 1990, lightning has been responsible for 16 deaths and 197 injuries across the state.

It is that danger that caused the NWS and Alabama EMA to encourge the "30/30" rule. The first "30" means to take cover if thunder is heard within 30 seconds of a lightning flash. Individuals should then wait 30 minutes to resume normal actvity.

When severe weather is in the area, a person’s eyes and ears are the best indicator of when it’s time to take cover, Davis said.