Carter County observes Severe Weather Awareness Week

By Megan R. Harrell
Star Staff

   Gov. Don Sundquist has proclaimed Feb. 17-23, 2002 "Severe Weather Awareness Week." The National Weather Service (NWS), Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) and other supporting organizations are sponsoring the effort to increase Tennesseans' awareness of deadly storms.
   Today, Feb. 18, kicks off Severe Weather Awareness Week with a look at severe thunderstorms. Damaging winds from severe thunderstorms are much more frequent than tornadoes in the Mid-South. The winds from severe thunderstorms can reach devastating speeds well over 100 miles an hour. Hail has been known to be extremely dangerous in East Tennessee. Hail the size of baseballs and even softballs have been recorded in the region.
   The National Weather Service defines a severe thunderstorm as having wind speeds of 58 mph (50 kts) or stronger mixed with hailstones measuring 3/4 inch or larger. Winds in a severe thunderstorm often exceed 58 mph and are capable of overturning trailers, taking roofs off homes and toppling trees and power lines. Some severe thunderstorm winds can exceed those of a weak tornado and can turn into tornados with little or no warning.
   Severe thunderstorms are a very large concern for citizens of Eastern Tennessee. Damaging thunderstorm winds are much more common in Tennessee than tornados. Severe thunderstorms can strike any time of the year, however are much more common in the spring. Tennessee has a secondary severe weather season in November and December. Severe thunderstorms may strike communities during all times of the day and night.
   Tuesday, Feb. 19, will concentrate on lightning. Lightning is a part of all thunderstorms and can be underrated and deceptively deadly. The state of Tennessee ranks fourth among all other states nationally in the number of casualties resulting from lightning.
   Lightning is defined as the action of rising and descending air within a thunderstorm that separates into positive and negative electrical charges. The build up that results from the discharge of electrical energy between the charges forms lightning. Lightning charges can reach voltages as high as 100 million and strike the tallest objects in the area. Trees, light poles and telephone lines are among the most commonly objects that are struck.
   Whether lightning is part of a large springtime severe storm or part of a more common storm, it always carries the potential of death. In an average year lightning will claim more victims than tornados and hurricanes.
   The entire state of Tennessee averages about 12 tornados each year that result in an average of three fatalities. East Tennessee averages three tornados each year.
   Wednesday, Feb. 20, will be Tornado Safety Day. Statistics show that people survive tornados by knowing weather safety rules and taking appropriate and timely actions.
   A statewide tornado drill will be conducted on this day. Local schools, state, county and other agencies are encouraged to participate to help everyone learn life saving rules.
   Elizabethton and Carter County Schools will be conducting a tornado drill from 9-9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 20.
   The National Weather Service office will issue a drill message in order to initiate the practice. The message will be broadcast on all NOAA Weather Radio Transmitters in Tennessee. Local television and radio stations will also be relaying the drill message to the public.
   Tornado watches ask the public to look at the sky for thunderstorms and to listen to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio and TV for additional warnings. A watch can span over several thousand square miles, and can cover more than one state.
   A Tornado Warning indicates that a tornado has been sighted, or has been found, on the weather radar. Persons in the path of a tornado should seek shelter immediately.
   Thursday, Feb. 21, will bring attention to flooding and flash floods. Flooding is the number one weather related killer in the United States, and flash floods are most prevalent in the eastern portion of Tennessee.
   The National Weather Service issues Flood or Flash Flood Watches when conditions have the potential to cause a flood, but the watch does not mean a flood is certain.
   A Flood Warning, however, is issued when a flood is imminent. It concentrates on specific communities, streams, or areas where flooding is occurring, and persons are advised to take necessary precautions.
   Friday, Feb. 22, will be the NOAA Weather Radio and Emergency Alert System Day. The NOAA is the quickest way for the public to receive warnings from the National Weather Service.
   All weather warnings are now completely automated and placed on appropriate transmitters.
   The National Weather Service broadcasts updated weather information continuously. The Tri-Cities Cities regional NOAA weather radio frequency is 162.55.
   Saturday, Feb. 23, is slated to recognize weather information services. SKYWARN, which is made up of amateur radio volunteers, and Emergency Managers Weather Information System (EMWIN) are two of the weather information agencies that will be highlighted.
   Local Emergency Management Agencies and the National Weather Service are responsible for the organization of spotters and the distribution of warning information.
   According to Jim Burrough, Elizabethton/Carter County Emergency Management Agency Director, there are currently about 40 weather spotters in the area. The spotters call the weather center in Morristown to report any potential storms.
   Jerry McDuffy and Howard Waldron with the NWS in Morristown then contact Burrough in Carter County to let him know if any further action needs to be taken.
   The Elizabethton/Carter County EMS holds one storm spotters class per year. "Anybody can be a weather spotter. All they have to do is attend the class," Burrough said.
   Burrough stated that storm spotters, occasionally, call his office to report suspicious weather and he checks out the report on his personal computer.
   The National Weather Service Web site is www.srh.noaa.gov/mrx.