Though Severe Weather Awareness Week in Tennessee has passed, the threat of severe weather is just beginning.
Spring and fall are the prime times of the year for severe weather to strike, said meteorologist Jonathan Powell of the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Memphis. Powell traveled to Dresden Tuesday night to hold a training class for local officials and citizens who wished to become trained storm spotters. More than 20 people attended the class, including two UTM Public Safety officers.
Few are likely to forget May 2003, when one of the biggest tornado outbreaks ever recorded in the United States occurred. The tornado sirens first sounded in Martin on May 1, just before a scheduled final exam period at UTM, and at least two tornadoes were reported in Weakley County the night of May 4, when tornadoes also wreaked havoc in Jackson, Dyersburg, Paris and other West Tennessee communities.
However, as members of the campus community embrace warmer weather and travel plans for spring break, they should remember that tornadoes are not the biggest threat - flooding is the No. 1 weather killer and lightning, present in every thunderstorm, is the No. 2 killer, according to the NWS.
“We’ve got to keep people from driving into flooded areas,” Powell said. “The flood toll is rising, while the toll from tornadoes and hurricanes is dropping.”
Moving water that’s only 6 inches deep can knock over a 200-pound person, Powell said, adding that the NWS has come up with a publicity slogan to help educate the public about the dangers of floods - “Turn Around, Don’t Drown.” Flash floods are most prevalent in the eastern half of Tennessee, with its mountainous terrain, while river flooding is more common in the western section, according to the NWS.
Severe thunderstorms, even when they don’t produce tornadoes, also are a major threat to people’s lives and property. According to the NWS, damaging winds from severe thunderstorms are much more frequent than tornadoes in the Southeast United States. These “straight-line” winds can reach well over 100 miles an hour and can be devastating, usually over a much wider area than the damage path resulting from tornadoes, Powell said, citing the July 2003 storm that hit the Memphis area.
“I think severe thunderstorm warnings don’t get the respect they deserve,” Powell said. “You need to pay attention to those warnings, too.”
Stay safeKnowing what to do when severe weather occurs can help save your life.
*If a watch is issued, understand that weather conditions are favorable for an event to occur. Stay alert and be prepared to seek shelter quickly.
*If a warning is issued, take action immediately because the weather event is either imminent or already occurring. If you are in a vehicle, get out of it and find a ditch. If you are in a mobile home, leave it and find a sturdy shelter or a ditch. If you are in an office building, go to the lowest floor and into an interior room or hallway, away from windows. Put as many walls as possible between you and the severe weather.
*Don’t ignore severe thunderstorm warnings. Take the same action you would take if it were a tornado warning. Remember that lightning, hail and straight-line winds can be equally dangerous.
*Never drive into a flooded area.
*If you’re caught outside when lightning strikes, try to make yourself as small a target as possible. Stay away from tall trees and other tall objects.
For more information, go to www.weather.gov, www.fema.gov or www.redcross.org.