Published on 02/19/09

Prepare now for bad weather

By Sharon Dowdy
University of Georgia

A rash of tornadoes and severe weather made a trek across Georgia Feb. 18, putting residents on high alert. Schools and offices normally have plans in place for weather emergencies. Families should also have prepared emergency weather plans, says a University of Georgia meteorologist.

“Families should practice their emergency plan well before the impending threat of a tornado or other weather emergency,” said Pam Knox, Georgia’s assistant state climatologist and a researcher with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

Emergency plan of action

To develop a home emergency plan, Knox offers some guidance.

During a tornado or severe thunderstorm warning, the basement is the safest place to go if you live in a traditional frame home, Knox said. If you don’t have a basement, seek shelter in an interior room on the lowest level of the home. The room shouldn’t have windows and should be the smallest interior room.

“Typically, this will be either a bathroom or a closet,” Knox said. “A bathroom is best because the plumbing will provide extra structural integrity should the tornado hit.”

If time allows, Knox recommends bringing a mattress and pillows into the room to use as protection from flying debris.

Alternative shelter

If you live in a mobile home or trailer, seek alternative shelter, she said. “Some mobile home parks have storm shelters available for severe weather conditions,” she said. “If not, have an alternate plan in place before severe weather occurs.”

Seeking shelter outdoors should be a last resort.

“People should not be out in the open during a tornado,” she said. “If a tornado can blow a board into a tree, just imagine what it can do to a human.”

If you are in your car, resist the urge to drive away. You are much safer in one spot than you are on the road. If you have time, get out of the car and into a reinforced structure.

“And don’t try to seek shelter under an overpass like the people you see in videotapes,” Knox said. “The wind can be stronger under these structures due to the wind tunnel effect. And if the bridge falls, your risk of injury is significantly higher.”

Otherwise, the National Weather Service recommends that you get out of the car and into the lowest possible site. The strong winds can pick up your car and fling it long distances.

If your safe haven is a ravine or ditch, however, Knox warns to be aware of possible flooding.

“Buy a battery operated weather radio and keep it with you,” she said. “Most tornadoes only last about 15 minutes, but it will seem much longer if you aren’t aware of what to expect.”

Sharon Dowdy is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.