Weather officials are calling 2011 “a year for the record books.” From extreme drought, heat waves and flood to unprecedented tornado outbreaks, hurricanes, wildfires and winter storms, a record 14 weather and climate disasters in 2011 caused $1 billion or more in damages – and most regrettably, loss of human lives and property.
The Southeast was hit hard on April 27 and 28 when 15 long-tracked tornadoes, including two EF-5 tornadoes with wind speeds higher than 200 mph, raked across northern and central Georgia. These tornadoes caused the death of 23 people, injured countless others and caused extensive damage.
In total, 61 watches and warnings for tornadoes, flooding, severe thunderstorms, winter storms and extreme heat were issued for Columbia County in 2011. Our county was under a tornado watch for seven hours during the April tornado outbreak. We were fortunate.
Max Mayfield, former director of the National Hurricane Center, said it best: “Preparation through education is less costly than learning through tragedy.”
To help our citizens “prepare through education,” Gov. Nathan Deal has proclaimed the week of Feb. 6-11 as Severe Weather Awareness Week in Georgia.
We will feature special topics each day, including family preparedness, NOAA alert radios, thunderstorm safety, tornado safety, lightning safety and flooding.
Tornadoes are known as “nature’s most violent storm.” To help you prepare for tornadoes, a statewide tornado drill will be conducted on Wednesday at 9 a.m.
We encourage all citizens, schools, businesses, government offices, day care centers, nursing homes, hospitals, etc., to take this opportunity to test and refine your preparedness actions by participating in the drill.
For drill purposes, a tornado watch will be simulated during the early morning hours. At 9 a.m., the National Weather Service will issue a routine weekly test on NOAA Alert Radio. This will serve as the tornado warning to let you know that it is time to proceed to your “safe area” for shelter. Once you are certain that everyone is in the safe area, you can give the “all clear” and resume normal activities.
A special highlight of the week will be the inaugural “News 12 StormTeam and Columbia County EMA Weatherfest” Saturday in the Evans Government Center Auditorium from 9 a.m. to noon.
Weatherfest will feature a 45-minute storm spotter training session by the National Weather Service, followed by special presentations every 15 minutes that include demonstrations by Home Depot on equipment that will help you “ride out the storm,” Georgia Power Company’s role when the power goes out, Comcast Cable’s storm prep and how they handle outages, things you need to be prepared for severe weather, StormTeam 12’s forecast demonstration, and much more.
When disaster strikes, the time to prepare has passed. Below are some ways you can start preparing now.
1. Locate the safest room in your home for your family to seek shelter during severe thunderstorm and tornado warnings. A basement is the best place to seek safety, but lacking that, a small, windowless room or closet on the lowest level is recommended.
2. Purchase a NOAA Alert Radio so that you can be alerted to severe weather warnings night or day, even if you lose power and phones.
3. If someone in your family relies on electrical medical equipment, be sure to have enough backup battery support for three days without power.
4. Keep enough food and water in your home to last your family for at least three days. Store at least one gallon of water per person, per day, for a three-day period.
5. Have a battery-operated radio and flashlights with extra batteries on hand at all times.
6. Pick two meeting places for your family: a spot right outside your home for an emergency such as a fire, and a place away from your neighborhood in case you cannot return home.
7. Check your homeowner’s insurance policy and make sure you have property loss or damage coverage for all types of natural disasters.
8. Learn disaster safety rules.
9. Sign up with us for Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) and Storm Spotter courses. This free training will provide invaluable information on keeping your family safe.
For more information on disaster preparedness and how to keep your family safe, contact the Columbia County Emergency and Operations Division at (706) 868-3303, or you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Pam Tucker is director of the Columbia County Emergency and Operations Division.)