As North Carolinians eagerly await springtime, Gov. Bev Perdue cautioned residents to be on the lookout for severe weather that may include tornadoes and thunderstorms. Perdue declared Feb. 27 through March 5 Severe Weather Awareness Week in North Carolina and recommends that families have safety plans for home, work or school so they can respond quickly when tornados or severe storms threaten.
“Last year, North Carolina ranked fourth in the nation with the total number of severe weather storms reported,” Perdue said. “We know that these storms can strike very quickly, and you may only have a few minutes warning. That is why it is so critical to have emergency plans in place.”
In 2010, the National Weather Service issued approximately 90 tornado warnings for North Carolina and recorded 26 tornadoes. Twelve of those tornadoes had winds around 100 miles per hour or greater. Combined, they caused at least $24 million in damages. In addition, the NWS issued more than 700 severe thunderstorm warnings, and recorded nearly 900 incidents of severe thunderstorms with winds of 58 mph, some with large hail. Only Kansas, Texas and Nebraska reported more severe weather activity.
Perdue urged all North Carolinians to take time now to discuss and rehearse family emergency plans so that when the National Weather Service issues a storm warning in their area, everyone can act quickly and take shelter calmly. Schools and government buildings statewide will hold tornado drills Wednesday, March 2, at 9:30 a.m. to rehearse emergency plans.
North Carolinians have experienced more tornadoes in the past three years than in the previous decade. March, May and November are the deadliest months for tornadoes in the state. However, residents should be equally prepared for other forms of severe weather, too, such as lightning, floods or hail.
Tornadoes usually form during heavy thunderstorms when warm, moist air collides with cold air. These storms can also produce large hail and strong winds. Damaging winds are equally as dangerous.
When severe weather is likely, people should listen to local radio, television, a weather channel or a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration radio for information. If a tornado watch is issued, the conditions are favorable and a tornado is possible. However, if a warning is issued, a tornado has actually been spotted or appeared on radar. This is the time when people should go to a safe shelter immediately.
The North Carolina Division of Emergency Management recommends the safest place during a tornado is underground in a basement. If there is no basement, people who are at home should go to the lowest floor of the house and to an interior room such as a hallway, pantry or closet. School children should go to inner hallways, but stay out of gymnasiums, auditoriums or cafeterias where there is a large roof span. Office workers should take shelter under something sturdy like a desk or a table to protect from flying debris or a collapsed roof. Everyone should stay away from windows.
Mobile home residents are especially vulnerable to damage from high winds and should go to a prearranged shelter when severe weather is predicted.
Every family’s emergency plan should include information on what to do if severe weather happens while traveling to work or school. Drivers who see a tornado forming or approaching should leave the car immediately and take shelter in a low lying area. A tornado can easily blow a car off a road and many people have been killed while trying to outrun a tornado. Those who are on foot or a bicycle could encounter falling trees, downed power lines or lightning, and they should go to a safe place immediately. The basement of a sturdy building is best. Lying flat in a ditch or low area may also offer protection, but beware of possible flash flooding and flying debris.
In 2010 the National Weather Service redefined its definition of a severe thunderstorm for the first time in more than 50 years and began issuing hail warnings only if the storm was expected to produce hail of one inch or larger, roughly the size of a quarter.
Preparation for any type of severe weather also means having a family disaster plan and an emergency supply kit assembled and in a location that is easy to access during an emergency. More information on tornadoes and overall emergency preparedness is available at www.ReadyNC.org.