From freezing temperatures during the Masters Tournament to record-breaking heat in December, last year's weather was an enigma.
Two tornado watches started the year in early January, not typically when tornado weather is expected. And in spite of forecasts of a "very active" hurricane season, we didn't have a single threat in our area.
In early March, the same super-cells that produced 57 tornadoes from Kansas to Alabama to Georgia killing 20 people - eight of them students at a school in Enterprise, Ala., and nine Georgians - roared all the way to McDuffie County, causing massive destruction.
That funnel was heading for Columbia County, but it dissipated less than a mile from the county line. We had several trees blown down and some minor flooding around the county from the storm's remnants, but we knew we had dodged a huge bullet.
In mid-April a dead tree fell on a power line near Waycross, sparking a wildfire of historic proportions that charred nearly 600,000 acres of land in Georgia and Florida and destroyed more than $60 million worth of privately owned timber.
Severe thunderstorms caused downed trees and power lines at various times from March to July, but it was a micro-burst from a severe thunderstorm in Evans on June 18 that caused the most damage. Huge trees were uprooted, causing severe damage to homes and other property. Heavy objects blew across several yards and streets like they were paper - all in less than a minute. It was the kind of storm that could have caused fatalities, but thankfully there were no injuries.
Soon after, a drought that began to develop in the spring of 2006 got worse, triggering tough water conservation measures across Georgia.
We have to be ready for all types of severe weather year 'round and listen when the National Weather Service issues watches and warnings.
That is the purpose of Severe Weather Awareness Week, which will be held across Georgia during the week of Feb. 3-9. A highlight of the week will be the Statewide Tornado Drill, which will be held during the morning hours on Wednesday. We encourage all schools, businesses, hospitals, government offices, day care centers, nursing homes, and citizens to practice your tornado plan during this drill.
Here are some things to be ready before severe weather threatens:
- 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.
- 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.
- If someone in your family relies on electrical medical equipment, be sure to have enough back-up battery support for three days without power.
- 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. And remember your pets. Remember to replace water every six months if you bottle it yourself. Water purchased at the store will have an expiration date.
- Have a battery-operated radio and flashlights with extra batteries on hand at all times.
- 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.
- Check your homeowner's insurance policy and make sure you have property loss or damage coverage for all types of natural disasters.
- Learn disaster safety rules.
The weather might keep us guessing, but one thing is sure: Severe weather events will happen and we need to be prepared.
For more information on disaster preparedness and how to keep your family safe, visit the Columbia County Web site at www.columbiacountyga.gov.
Pam Tucker is director of Columbia County's Emergency Services Division.
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