State, County to focus on dangerous weather as part of Severe Weather Awareness Week

By Abby Morris

Star Staff

   Beginning tomorrow, a statewide education project about severe weather will begin as part of an effort to help make the public aware of the risks of severe weather and what they should do in the event of such weather activity.
   Severe Weather Awareness Week has been a tradition in the state for several years. "This has been going on since I've been in the weather business," said Howard Waldron, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service's office in Morristown. Waldron has been a meteorologist for approximately 30 years, he said.
   The purpose of the week-long effort is "to let people know that this is a risk, it is a hazard and what you can do to stay out of danger," Waldron said. "Being informed is the best way to avoid becoming a weather statistic."
   Locally, activities such as tornado drills have been planned, according to Jim Burrough, director of the Elizabethton/Carter County Emergency Management Agency.
   "We really try to stress tornado drills around the county at least once a year," he said, adding that tornado drills are important in schools.
   According to Burrough, the local Emergency Management Agency selects a day for the drills and informs the NWS who then issues the drill by use of the emergency radio system.
   Carter County has been struck by three tornadoes, according to Burrough. One occurred in the late 1970s, another in 1998 and the third in 2001, he said, adding that all three occurred in the Stoney Creek community within a one-mile radius.
   While tornadoes are a threat for Carter County, other types of severe weather also occur in the area, Waldron said. "The biggest hazard in East Tennessee is the thunderstorm outburst," he said. As part of that, he added, lightning and flash flooding pose dangers to the counties in the area.
   According to the NWS, in an average year, lightning will claim more victims than tornadoes or hurricanes. Lightning is caused by the buildup and discharge of electrical energy in the air and lightning charges may reach as high as 100 million volts.
   In the event that lightning is occurring, people are advised to seek shelter inside and if that is not possible, to seek shelter in a low area and crouch down and cover their head with their hands. People are advised that when seeking shelter from lightning to avoid large trees, hilltops, chain link or other metal fences, pools, motorcycles, tractors and other farm equipment.
   According to the NWS, the group of people most likely to get struck by lightning is farmers, followed by golfers.
   Flooding and flash flooding are also deadly, proving to be the number one weather related cause for loss of life, according to the NWS. Because flash floods happen in a short period of time, generally less than six hours, they are more life threatening than general floods or river floods.
   In the event of flooding, people are advised to stay away from areas which are subject to flooding, such as low lying areas and stream beds. If a person is in such an area when flooding begins, they are urged to seek shelter in higher ground and to be especially cautious at night when it is harder to recognize flood conditions. People are also advised not to drive through flooded areas because as little as a foot of water can wash a car away.
   Severe Weather Awareness Week kicks off Monday with a focus on severe thunderstorms. Tuesday's focus will be lightning. Wednesday will emphasize tornado safety. Flash flooding and floods will be the focus on Thursday. Friday will pay attention to the NOAA Weather Radio and Emergency Alert System. Saturday will recognize volunteer weather watchers for the role they play in keeping the public informed.