"The trouble with weather forecasting is that it's right too often for us to ignore it and wrong too often for us to rely on it."
- Patrick Young
We hope that you won't ignore Severe Weather Awareness Week, which will be held during the week of Feb. 19 - 23 to educate Georgians about safety, preparedness and response procedures for all types of severe weather events, including floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, tropical storms and severe thunderstorms.
The 2006 hurricane season fizzled by comparison with the 2005 record-breaking season. What will happen this year? Will a tropical system come our way, causing floods, spawning tornadoes, causing damaging winds and power outages or impassable roadways?
The only answer is to be ready, just in case the worst does happen.
Every state in the lower 48 has been hit by nature's most violent storm - tornadoes - and all but two Georgia counties have been hit.
Columbia County has had four documented tornado touchdowns, along with many downburst wind events, that caused massive destruction. In fact, Appling was nearly wiped off the map by a tornado on March 20, 1875.
The powerful winds lifted up homes and dropped them into the street, ripped off the gables and roof of the Appling Courthouse, and destroyed numerous schools and buildings. There were deaths and injuries throughout Hancock, Warren, McDuffie and Columbia counties on that day when two tornadoes ravaged the area.
Our most recent tornado occurred on Feb. 23, 2003 when an F-2 tornado ripped down Clanton Road destroying barns, campers, and other property before it crossed over Windmill Plantation, where it damaged 40 homes.
You never know when a severe thunderstorm will spawn a tornado - and it takes very little time and effort to get your family or workplace ready.
Even with the excellent severe weather forecasting technology available today, if you are not prepared, a tornado warning will do you little good.
To help you get prepared, we will highlight all types of severe weather safety information each day this week during Severe Weather Awareness Week.
Monday is Family Protection Day. Everyone is urged to take a little time on this day to plan and practice what they would do in the first 72-hours after an emergency or disaster.
On Tuesday the Columbia County Emergency Services office will hold open house" from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. for citizens to tour the Emergency Operations Center and the Mobile Operations Center. Preparedness information will also be available.
A major activity during the week will be a Statewide Tornado Drill, which will be held 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.
(Pam Tucker is Columbia County Emergency Services Division director.)
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