Alabama Spring time brings severe weather season

Published 9:21 am Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Are you ready? It’s that time again.

As Spring severe weather season begins, families need to review their tornado safety techniques. March starts the season and goes through April, May and even June.

In 2008, there were 93 tornadoes in Alabama. The tornadoes ranged from EF-0 through EF-4. This string of tornadoes killed 5 people and injured approximately 70. However, there were hundreds of reports of significant damage to trees, homes and other buildings that were caused by straight-line winds. Many people are surprised to learn that significant and life threatening damage can occur from non-tornadic winds. That’s why it’s important to take severe thunderstorm warnings just as serious as tornado warnings.

People should always be prepared for severe weathers. You never know when you might be faced with this danger.

What is a tornado

A tornado is defined as a violently rotating column of air extending from a thunderstorm to the ground. The most violent tornadoes are capable of tremendous destruction with wind speeds of 250 miles per hour or more. Damage paths can be in excess of one mile wide and 50 miles long. A severe thunderstorm is defined as winds at or above 58 miles per hour and hail at least the size of a penny. However, severe thunderstorms can produce baseball or larger hail and winds in excess of 100 miles per hour, mimicking strong tornadoes.

Thunderstorms develop in warm, moist air in advance of eastward-moving cold fronts. These thunderstorms often produce large hail, strong winds, and tornadoes. Most thunderstorms and tornadoes occur in the spring months of March, April, May and June. The secondary season is in November. Most occur between the hours of 12 – 7 pm, keeping in mind that no hour is immune. Severe weather can strike at any time of day.

As far are receiving warnings, you should not depend solely on outdoor warning sirens. Sirens are meant for people outdoors. You need an indoor warning siren, and this is a weather radio that has an alarm feature for watches and warnings. Many of the radios can be programmed to just get alarms for the county in which you live, and are available at most electronic stores and even in some supermarkets.

Tornado danger signs

Approaching cloud of debris can show the location of a tornado. The funnel is not always visible. Before the tornado hits, the wind may die down and the air may become still. The sky may also change colors or become dark. Tornadoes often occur near the trailing end of a thunderstorm, so it is not uncommon to see clear, sunny skies behind the storm.

Safety tips

-Look and listen for large hail, heavy rain, strong winds, frequent intense lightning …bulge with a rotary motion at the base of the thunderstorm cloud …loud roar like the sound of a jet or train.

-Seek Safe Shelter- A basement is best. Otherwise choose ground-floor center rooms surrounded by other rooms. Never choose upstairs locations because tornadic wind speeds increase with height above the ground. Choose rooms on the north and east sides of your shelter if no interior rooms are available. Stay near the innermost walls. Avoid rooms on the south and west, because tornados usually travel from southwest to northeast. Choose a small closet or bathroom, because small rooms are less susceptible to collapse. Take shelter within the bathtub if there are no glass tub enclosures or large mirrors nearby.

-Stay calm.

-Seek shelter IMMEDIATELY!

-Keep a portable TV/radio and flashlight in your shelter.

-Wear shoes to protect your feet from broken glass and other debris left by the storm.

-Protect head and chest- crouch, face to floor, hands behind head.

-Cover yourself with blankets, pillows or coats.

-Hide under sturdy furniture.

-Avoid candles, gas lanterns and oil lamps.

-In schools and offices: seek designated shelter in interior rooms or hallway’s on ground floor, or lowest floor possible. Avoid auditoriums and gymnasiums.

-In shopping malls, seek the smaller interior shops on the ground floor.

-In shopping centers, avoid large open rooms as well as the south and west walls.

-Evacuate mobile homes and vehicles! Seek shelter in substantial structure, ditch or culvert.

Difference between a watch and a warning

The National Weather Service issues a tornado watch when conditions are favorable for a tornado.

TORNADO WATCH: Tornadoes are possible in your area. Remain alert for approaching storms.

TORNADO WARNING: A tornado has been sighted or indicated by weather radar. If a tornado warning is issued for your area and the sky becomes threatening, move to your pre-designated place of safety.

Remember, tornadoes occasionally develop in areas in which a severe thunderstorm watch or warning is in effect. Remain alert to signs of an approaching tornado and seek shelter if threatening conditions exist.

Tornado Myths

MYTH: Areas near rivers, lakes, and mountains are safe from tornadoes.

FACT: No place is safe from tornadoes. In the late 1980’s, a tornado swept through Yellowstone National Park leaving a path of destruction up and down a 10,000 ft. mountain.

MYTH: The low pressure with a tornado causes buildings to “explode” as the tornado passes overhead.

FACT: Violent winds and debris slamming into buildings cause most structural damage.

MYTH: Windows should be opened before a tornado approaches to equalize pressure and minimize damage.

FACT: Opening windows allow damaging winds to enter the structure. Leave the windows alone; instead, immediately go to a safe place.

Disaster supply kits

-A 3-day supply of water (one gallon per person per day) and food that won’t spoil

-One change of clothing and footwear per person

-One blanket or sleeping bag per person

-A first-aid kit, including prescription medicines

-Emergency tools, including a battery-powered NOAA Weather Radio and a portable radio, flashlight, and plenty of extra batteries

-An extra set of car keys and a credit card or cash

-Special items for infant, elderly, or disabled family members.


When you hear the sirens going off within Shelby County, tune to your local TV station to find out what is happening in your area. When told by the media to go to your “safe place” that means to go to the lowest floor or a center room in your home or a friend or relatives home that is more secure. Activate your safety plan before an emergency arises. Know your “safe place” before hand and don’t wait until the last minute to go there.

Jefferson County Emergency Management Agency activates the sirens for Jefferson County, including those areas of Shelby County within their jurisdiction. Shelby County 9-1-1 or local municipalities activate the weather sirens for Shelby County. According to Don Greene, Shelby County EMA Director,”80 to 85% of the population of Shelby County has outdoor warning sirens. With over 100 weather sirens throughout the county.”

Community Storm Shelters

The locations for the shelters are West Shelby Fire Department, Columbiana City Hall, and in Vincent on Highway 61 and River Loop Road. The Red Cross will not open a shelter until after a disaster occurs. A shelter is a designated place that serves as protection from the weather. For a listing of open shelters, you can contact the Shelby County Emergency Management Agency at 669-3999.

If you have any questions or need additional information, please feel free to contact the Shelby County Emergency Management Agency at 205-669-3999 or look at our website at