March Madness

Published 8:46 am Tuesday, March 3, 2015

JACKSON – Coming off one of the coldest Februarys on record, most all local residents are counting down the days until Spring arrives later this month.

However, the month of March also brings its fair share of weather-related issues.

Spring is a typically a time for renewal, but in Northampton County it can also be a time for unpredictable storms that strike quickly and leave devastating effects.

“So far this year, Northampton County has not had severe storms, but that can change very fast,” said Ronald P. Storey Jr. who serves the county as its Director of Emergency Management.

“While spring and late fall are typically peak tornado season, severe storms and tornadoes can pop up any time of the year,” Storey added. “It’s critical for residents to know what to do and where to go when severe storms and tornadoes threaten. Having a plan in place and listening for weather alerts is the first step in being ready any weather-related emergency.”

In 2014, the National Weather Service (NWS) issued 81 tornado warnings for North Carolina and recorded 36 tornadoes that combined to kill one and injured 34 people. Combined, the tornadoes caused more than $22 million in damages. In addition, the NWS issued more than 632 severe thunderstorm warnings, and recorded more than 686 incidents of severe thunderstorms with damaging winds and/or large hail. The severe storms killed three people, injured seven others, and caused $3.5 million in damages.

Northampton County Emergency Management urges residents to practice tornado safety by participating in a statewide drill this week. March 1-7 is Severe Weather Preparedness Week in North Carolina, and Northampton County officials want residents to prepare and be alert to potentially damaging thunderstorms and possible tornadoes.

Northampton County schools and government buildings will participate in the statewide tornado drill at 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, March 4. Test messages will be broadcast on National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather radio and the Emergency Alert system.

To protect the lives and property of Northampton County residents, Storey offered these tips:

Warning Signs

Severe storms can occur quickly without warning. Dangers linked with severe storms include lightning, tornadoes, strong winds, hail and flash flooding.

“Lightning strikes are one of the top three storm-related killers in the United States,” said Nicholas Petro, warning coordinator meteorologist for the National Weather Service’s Raleigh Office. “Most lightning victims survive, but those who have been struck by lightning often report a variety of long-term symptoms. Over the past 30 years, flash flooding has been responsible for more deaths than any other thunderstorm-associated hazard.”

Lightning can strike as far as 10 miles away from the rain area in a thunderstorm. That’s about the distance you can hear thunder. If the sky looks threatening, people should take shelter even before they hear thunder.

Tornadoes, nature’s most violent storms, are formed from powerful thunderstorms. They appear as spinning, funnel-shaped clouds that reach from a thunderstorm to the ground with whirling winds that can reach 300 miles per hour. Damage paths can be in excess of one mile wide and 50 miles long.

Look for the warning signs, especially in the case of tornadoes, which are known by a large dark, low-lying cloud (particularly if rotating) and a loud roar, much like a freight train.

Safety Tips

Northampton County Emergency Management officials recommend having a weather radio that broadcasts NWS alerts when severe weather threatens. Many North Carolina tornado fatalities have occurred at night when people are asleep and less likely to receive a warning without a weather radio.

Emergency officials recommend people use the following safety tips:

Know the terms: WATCH means a tornado is possible. WARNING means a tornado has been spotted; take shelter immediately.

Know where the nearest safe room is, such as a basement or interior room and away from windows, and go there immediately if you hear or see a tornado.

If driving, you should leave your vehicle immediately to seek safety in an adequate structure. Do not try to outrun a tornado in your vehicle, and do not stop under an overpass or a bridge.

If you are outdoors, and there is no shelter available, take cover in a low-lying flat area. Watch out for flying debris.

Following a storm, wear sturdy shoes, long sleeves and gloves when walking on or near debris, and be aware of exposed nails and broken glass.

Be aware of damaged power or gas lines and electrical systems that may cause fires, electrocution or explosions.

Knowing where to go when severe weather threatens can save lives. There are different places that you need to go to depending on the weather emergency and your location.

“It’s good to not only have an emergency plan in place, but also to practice it annually so that you know where to go during severe weather,” said Storey.

At Home – Go to the basement. Under the stairs or in a bathroom or closet also are good spots.

At Work – Go to the basement if there is one. Stairwells, bathrooms and closets are good spots. As a last resort, crawl under your desk.

At School – Seek shelter in inside hallways, small closets and bathrooms. Get out of mobile classrooms, gymnasiums, auditoriums and other rooms with a large expanse of roof. Bus drivers should be alert for bad weather on their routes.

In Stores – Seek shelter against an inside wall. An enclosed hallway or fire exit leading away from the main mall concourse is a good spot. Stay away from skylights and large open areas.

Outside – Find the nearest sturdy shelter or seek shelter in a ditch or low-lying area, and cover your head with your hands. DO NOT get under an overpass or bridge. You are safer in a low, flat location. Watch out for flying debris.

In a car – Never try to outrun a tornado in a car. Pull over, and seek shelter in a building.

North Carolina Emergency Management also has a free ReadyNC mobile app that provides real-time traffic and weather information. The website also provides information to help you prepare for winter storms.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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