Volume 4, Number 5, February 2014
Welcome to national Severe Weather Preparedness Week.
Unfortunately, Alabama had its first 2014 brush of destructive weather on Feb. 20, just one week after our most recent round of snow. As many as five tornadoes dropped onto the state that night, causing widespread damage to buildings, property and trees in Lauderdale, Limestone and DeKalb counties.
The storm system also dumped up to five inches on rain across its front, while straight-line wind gusts of more than 50 mph were widespread. A gust of 71 mph was reported at the Huntsville International Airport.
It would not have seemed a likely time for a weather system of that kind to sweep the state, coming as it did so soon on the heels of a major winter weather event. Widespread snow from Feb. 11 to 13 led to accumulations over 10 inches in some areas, although much of that snow scarcely lasted through the morning of Feb. 14.
Statewide, the southeastern quarter of Alabama was slightly warmer than average in February while the rest of the state was cooler than normal, especially in the most northern tier of counties. For the winter as a whole, all major stations reported a colder than average season, with the western and northern sections experiencing the largest departures from average.
from seasonal norms
Muscle Shoals -1.9°
Winter 2013-14 (Dec.-Feb.)
from seasonal norms
Muscle Shoals -2,2°
But cold or snow or not, we live in an area prone to frequent outbreaks of thunderous weather. While most storms generate nothing more noteworthy than a little rain and thunder, we should be prepared for those storms that do much worse.
This March 27 is the 20th anniversary of the Palm Sunday outbreak of tornadoes that killed 42 people and injured 320 others between Alabama and the Carolinas, including the 20 people who died and 90 who were injured when an EF-3 tornado hit the Goshen United Methodist Church in Cherokee County, Ala.
Next month will be the 40th anniversary of the April 3, 1974, tornado super outbreak that generated ten tornadoes in Alabama, including three EF-5 tornadoes. Seventy-seven people in the state were killed and hundreds were injured. Much of downtown Guin was quite literally swept off the map, down to the foundations.
Of course, we don't have to go back that far to make the point that while Alabama gets tornadoes during ever month of the year, March is the real beginning of the peak tornado season. That includes March 2013, when ten people were injured by two tornadoes on March 18.
Alabamian’s first line of defense in tornado awareness is provided by our National Weather Service offices. When it comes to severe weather, it is good to know that a NOAA weather forecaster has his or her eyeballs on all of the weather information, 24/7, in your county. Four NWS offices serve the state (see map) as they keep track of everything in their “County Warning Areas” or CWAs. Each works closely with adjacent NWS offices to issue watches and warnings because severe storms don’t stop at county lines.
Alabama is also served well by a multitude of broadcast meteorologists, who provide real-time explanations and updates of unfolding events to keep us informed. Serving many of these on-air weather warners are private companies, such as Huntsville's Baron Services, who develop state-of-the-art products to give broadcasters high-value visuals of unfolding situations.
With severe weather season upon us, that's why this is a good time to take a few moments to review your own severe weather plans. Identify your safest shelter. Put together an emergency kit, with supplies to last at least three days. Some good information about how to be weather prepared is available online at ready.gov.
- John Christy