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Severe weather focus of week

Gov. Bob Riley has proclaimed this week as Severe Weather Awareness Week in Alabama, so residents might want to take note of safety tips handed out during that time.

The National Weather Service office in Calera, Alabama Emergency Management Agency, the American Red Cross and other supporting organizations are joining forces to inform the state on measures to take in the case of any severe weather.

Their message with this initiative emphasizes that advance planning and increased awareness will help residents of Alabama survive these deadly storms.

NWS meteorologist Mary Keiser said preparedness is the central focus of the campaign. The more equipped and informed people are during storm seasons, the safer they and their families will be.

“It’s very important for us to practice and prepare ahead of time so that we have a plan,” Keiser said. “Families must try and make a severe weather plan ahead of time because if there is a watch or warning, what will they do?”

NWS Warning Coordination Meteorologist John De Block said the timing of the initiative matters because of the arrival of March, which sees the highest amount of tornados.

“Alabama has all sorts of challenging and threatening weather throughout the whole year,” De Block said. “These are the months when the weather is transitioning. It’s like the time when you want to check the batteries in your smoke detector. It’s now time for everybody to review what the threat is and be prepared for it.”

The NWS Web site offers a free booklet containing materials on severe weather and ways to prepare for it. I

t stresses lightning, wind, hail, tornadoes and floods as significant dangers to Alabama and offers safety procedures that could help save lives.

Throughout the week, the NWS will conduct several educational actiivties throughout the state, including tornado drills in schools to teach children the steps to staying safe in an emergency.

Keiser said the book is a great reference guide for people to read as they pursue survival tips for severe storms.

“It’s important to know where your safe-room in your house is,” she said. “If you don’t have one, you need to know where to go. Schools practice this stuff so they know where their safe places are. Businesses need to know where to put people in their buildings. If you’re outside, what do you do then? That’s what this booklet tells you.”

The booklet is available for free online, and Keiser said paper copies are being distributed across the state through different county agencies.

The week will cover severe thunderstorms on Monday, lightning on Tuesday, tornadoes on Wednesday, floods and flash floods on Thursday and the NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards and Emergency Alert System on Friday.

Alabama Emergency Management Agency PIO director Laurie Ashcom said the week provides an opportunity to remind residents and business owners in the state how important it is that they know their risks and be prepared.

“A higher preparedness level results in lower casualty rates,” Ashcom said. “People have a plan for evacuation or sheltering in a safe place and have practiced that plan. They know not to drive or walk through floodwaters. Business owners protect their property and their employees through planning and mitigation of risks to their business.”

A tornado safety drill will be conducted on Feb. 24.

The drill will be accomplished in conjunction with the weekly NOAA All-Hazards Radio Test that will be run between 9-9:30 a.m.

The Web site says an actual tornado warning will not sound, but the drill is an excellent opportunity for schools, civic organizations and businesses around central Alabama to practice what they would do in the event of a tornado warning.

The National Weather Service will also hold an open house on March 13 at 10 a.m., which gives residents an opportunity to visit the office, meet the staff and meet others involved in emergency management.

For more information, visit the National Weather Service Web site at www.srh.weather.gov/bmx.