Each year, Georgians face the threat of severe weather events such as lightning, thunderstorms, damaging wind, hailstorms, floods, flash floods, tornadoes and hurricanes - all potentially dangerous to life, health and property.
Columbia County had its share of severe weather in 2008. We were under six tornado watches and one tornado warning during the year, and numerous severe thunderstorm watches and warnings. Three of those thunderstorms caused wind damage, large hail, downed trees and power outages. Heavy downpours in mid-November resulted in 3 to 5 inches of rain across the county, causing minor flooding.
The turbulent tornado season started in Georgia on March 14 when a violent EF-2 tornado tore across downtown Atlanta. Tornado warnings were issued for numerous Georgia counties that night and into the next day.
One of those warnings resulted in a tornado touching down in northern Columbia County on March 15. Two mobile homes were destroyed and approximately 1,000 trees were blown down. Fortunately, we did not have any injuries or deaths.
Statewide, four of those tornadoes left three people dead and caused more than $13.5 million in uninsured damages to public buildings and infrastructure.
Nearby Jefferson County was hit hard by the tornadoes. All power and communication systems were knocked out. Officials called for help and the Emergency and Operations Division dispatched our Mobile Operations Center (MOC) to Wrens to set up communications for their 9-1-1 Center and emergency responders.
On Mother's Day, another round of tornadoes hit Georgia. In all, 20 tornadoes would be confirmed by the National Weather Service that day. Four people died and uninsured damages topped $10 million.
Preparedness is empowerment.
There's no denying that we are vulnerable to severe weather, but we can reduce the risk of injury or death by getting prepared.
To help with this effort, Gov. Sonny Perdue has proclaimed the week of Feb. 1-7 as "Severe Weather Awareness Week" in Georgia.
Preparedness information will be disseminated each day and 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 you can do 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 backup 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.
• Sign up 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 visit our Web site at www.columbiacountyga.gov .
(Pam Tucker is director of the Columbia County Emergency and Operations Division.)
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