By Roger Dickey
Houston County Office of Emergency Management & Fire Marshal
On Sunday, April 2, Houston County received a severe weather event that brought flash flooding, severe lightning, hail, and some straight line wind damage in isolated areas. There was a tornado warning issued based on spotter reports, but none were confirmed.
Public safety and public works agencies throughout the county responded to many incidents during the storm. In addition to the isolated areas suffering wind damage, the most frequent responses were for areas where flash flooding was occurring. Numerous locations had water over roadways and personnel were working as fast as possible to get the areas marked or blocked.
The most serious concern during this incident were motorists driving through flooded areas. Several stalled vehicles had to be towed from the rising waters. There was at least one incident where the occupants of a vehicle had to retreat to the top of the vehicle and await rescue from emergency personnel.
The spring thunderstorm season has the potential for producing these type storms frequently. There are some serious safety considerations you must remember in order to stay safe, or maybe even save your life.
First of all, stay abreast of the weather forecast and, unless absolutely necessary, refrain from driving in these severe storms.
If you must drive however, don’t forget the slogan, “Turn Around – Don’t Drown”. This is more than just a catchy phrase. It is a basic life safety principle. If you ignore this rule, you will be causing emergency personnel to risk their life to save you.
Avoid areas that are known to flood, and if you do encounter a flooded roadway, DO NOT drive through it. You have no way of knowing if the roadway is still intact and flowing water WILL wash your vehicle off the roadway.
Purchase a device to cut seat belts and break windows in case you become trapped. If your electrical system fails you will not be able to lower your windows and they are harder to break than you think.
Another concern during these storms is the possibility of tornadoes. They are violently rotating columns of air that extend from thunderstorms to the ground and are often – although no always – visible as a funnel cloud. Tornadoes can strike in any season, but they most often occur during the spring and summer months. They can occur at any time of day or night, but statistics show a higher occurrence from 3pm to 9pm.
There are about 1,200 tornadoes that hit the United States each year and every state is at risk. The destruction and injuries caused by tornadoes depend on the size, intensity, path, time of day and the amount of time they are on the ground. Wind speeds can reach 200 mile per hour. Damage can range from light to catastrophic. Most injuries and fatalities are caused by falling or flying debris, therefore getting into a secure structure is very important.
Know the difference between a tornado watch and a warning. A watch means conditions are favorable for the development while a warning means a tornado has been sighted or indicated by radar. On average, warnings are issued 13 minutes prior to an event, but that time can vary greatly and you may have little or no warning.
Know how to stay informed and know where to go quickly where you have the highest level of protection available. Practice tornado drills with your family regularly. Keep first aid supplies on hand, along with battery powered or crank operated flashlights and radios. Consider keeping a few days supply water and non perishable food items in case of extended power outages.
These tips are not all inclusive, but should give you an idea of the preparations you should make BEFORE the storm. Stay aware, avoid the danger when possible, and most of all, stay safe.