The Alabama Climate Report

Brought to you by the Office of the Alabama

Volume 6, Number 6 March 2016

Later this month will be the fifth anniversary of the terrible outbreak of tornadoes that swept across the southern U.S., including Alabama, in late April 2011.

Some people want to know, what have we learned from those deadly days?

Scientists here at UAH and elsewhere around the country continue to learn from the data gathered those days, as we sift, sort and analyze the vast quantities of information collected during that outbreak.

We learned that too few people take advantage of warnings when they are available. We learned that because our forecast system isn't perfect, people can be overwhelmed by false alarms or by alarms for storms that hit nearby or in other parts of a county.

We've learned that some people have ideas about weather safety that aren't 100 percent accurate, and that some times these beliefs cause people not to act appropriately during severe weather.

In addition to what we have and are learning from those events, however, we also are reminded of many things. We are reminded that such horrific systems as those that hit Alabama on April 27, 2011, are fortunately uncommon.

We are also reminded, however, that in this part of the country severe storms and tornadoes are not rare, and that there isn't one month of the year when we can relax our weather awareness.

It's a bummer, but it's true.

Photos and video from the days and weeks after April 2011 remind us that in the event of a major tornado, a proper shelter is the only truly safe place to take cover. We are reminded that mobile homes and other manufactured housing can be less safe than taking shelter in a ditch or culvert.

We are reminded that having a weather radio or other alert system can be invaluable, especially for people who don't live under a warning siren.

For anyone who remembers the powerless days that followed the storms, we are reminded that being prepared for such events with the tools and supplies recommended by state and local EMAs can be invaluable, even if your home isn't damaged by a storm.

We are reminded of the outpouring of support and assistance and supplies that flowed into our communities as neighbors and strangers offered aid for those whose lives had been devastated.

And, for those of us who devote our careers to studying and probing the weather, and to teaching the next generations of meteorologists and atmospheric scientists, we are reminded that what we do is important to people far beyond our circles of academia, and that every fresh bit of understanding and insight we can wrest from our research is a worthwhile thing, even when we don't see or understand today how it all fits together.

April is our busiest month for tornadoes and severe weather, so let's all be alert and prepared.

-- John Christy