It’s more than just twisters

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Severe weather is something we have to deal with in Alabama from time to time, but usually we don’t have to deal with major weather troubles. Even then, we still must be prepared for the possibility of it happening.

For that reason, the state has dubbed this week “Severe Weather Awareness Week.” Gov. Bob Riley signed a proclamation to that effect yesterday.

When you think of severe weather, you usually imagine tornadoes, but that is only the beginning. In Alabama, we experience a lot of straight-line wind damage and hail. That comes from severe thunderstorms.

Thunderstorms are a common occurrence in Alabama during any time of the day, month or year. There are about 2,000 thunderstorms in progress around the world at any given moment. However, less than one percent of these thunderstorms are classified as severe. Severe thunderstorms are defined as thunderstorms that produce hail three quarters of an inch or larger and or strong wind gusts of 58 miles per hour or greater. Severe hail that is three quarters of an inch in diameter is roughly the size of a penny.

It also important to remember that all thunderstorms generate potentially deadly lightning. Lightning in a thunderstorm does not necessarily mean that the thunderstorm is severe. Occasionally, a small percentage of severe thunderstorms produce tornadoes with little or no lightning at all.

The best defense against thunderstorms is to stay inside a sturdy, substantial building that can protect you. Fortunately, thunderstorms typically do not last very long and will most often pass by your location in less than one hour.

If caught outside, find shelter immediately. Once in a shelter, stay away from windows and avoid electrical equipment. Be sure to secure loose objects outside as these objects often become dangerous flying debris in high winds.

During this week, it is a good idea to review your safety plans for home, work and anywhere you’re going to be. Churches also need to have a safety plan for their congregations. Severe weather can happen anytime with or without warning. When it happens, there is no time to prepare. Thus, we need to be ready whether we’re expecting it or not.