Early predictions for the 2005 hurricane season were dismal, but nobody imagined just how unforgiving it would be.
After all, the 2004 season had been one of the worst on record, with more than $42 billion in property damages and more than 3,000 deaths all across the Atlantic, most of them occurring in Haiti.
It was hard to imagine things could get any worse. But they did.
From early June through December of 2005, a series of powerful storms relentlessly formed, one after the other, battering the U.S. coastline and inland areas.
By the time the season finally ended, 26 named storms had formed in the Atlantic, numerous new records had been set, and hundreds of billions of dollars in damages left communities in ruin.
There were more than 1,400 hurricane-related deaths in the U.S., most of them caused by Hurricane Katrina.
In just nine hours on Aug. 29, 2005, a total of 20 tornadoes spawned by the remnants of Hurricane Katrina slammed into Georgia, causing four deaths and $14 million in damages.
Experts told us to get used to an increase in hurricane activity, as we are in a cycle of "warmer than normal" sea surface temperatures that could last for several decades.
But it's not just hurricane season that threatens us.
Between January and December of 2005, a total of 43 tornadoes touched down across Georgia, taking five lives, injuring at least 36 others, and causing $100 million in property damages.
Columbia County citizens have seen in recent years how severe weather events can affect our own families and property.
On Feb. 22, 2003, an F-2 tornado ripped down Clanton Road, destroying barns, campers and other property before it crossed over Windmill Plantation, causing property damage to 40 homes.
And for the past two years, January has produced severe winter storms that left tens of thousands without power for several days, downed hundreds of trees and closed schools and businesses.
Then, just last May, a severe thunderstorm spawned microburst winds that caused damages equal to that of a tornado, downing dozens of trees, damaging homes and businesses, causing power outages to thousands and moving boat docks.
This should be our "call to action" to get ourselves informed and prepared year round for all types of severe weather events " including floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, tropical storms, severe thunderstorms and severe winter storms.
Gov. Sonny Perdue has proclaimed the week of Feb. 19-25, 2006 as Severe Weather Awareness Week in Georgia. This effort is designed to educate Georgians about safety, preparedness and response procedures for all types of severe weather events.
A major activity during Severe Weather Awareness Week will be a Statewide Tornado Drill, which will be conducted by the Georgia Emergency Management Agency and the National Weather Service on Wednesday.
All government offices, public and private schools, day care centers, businesses, industries, medical facilities and citizens are requested to participate by practicing your tornado safety plans when the National Weather Service initiates the drill as a tornado warning " via broadcast media and NOAA alert radio " during the morning hours.
Here are some basic tips on how you and your family can be prepared for severe weather emergencies:
1. Locate a small, windowless room or closet on the lowest level in your home for your family to seek shelter during tornado warnings.
2. Purchase a NOAA Alert Radio so that you can be alerted to severe weather warnings night or day.
3. If someone in your family relies on electrical medical equipment, be sure to have enough back-up battery support for three days without power. Also, have a secondary heating source that does not require electricity, such as a portable kerosene heater.
4. When building a new home, consider adding a protected safe room or retrofitting a room in your existing home that will withstand wind speeds up to 250 mph. Plans for either of these options can be downloaded at http://www.fema.gov/fima/tsfs02.shtm.
5. Keep enough food and water in your home to last your family for at least three days. You need one gallon of water per person, per day. Store plenty of non-perishable food.
6. Have a battery operated radio and flashlights with extra batteries on hand at all times.
7. 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.
8. Learn disaster safety rules for all type of hazards. You can visit the Columbia County Website at www.columbiacountyga.gov or www.fema.gov/areyouready/ for detailed preparedness information.
Being prepared will give you and your family peace of mind when severe weather strikes.
Are you ready?
(Pam Tucker is director of Columbia County Emergency Services.)
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