Severe Weather Awareness Week underway, safety tips offered

Posted March 1, 2023 at 1:34 pm

The 2022-23 winter season in Clinton County, the state of Kentucky and many other areas was much milder than many had predicted last fall, and in fact, has felt more like a continuous spring season.

Now that the winter season is just weeks from ending, actual springtime is quickly approaching, and although it is many people’s favorite season, it can also be one of the most dangerous in many areas of the nation, including here in Kentucky and surrounding region.

That is why Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear and the Kentucky Emergency Service organizations have declared the first week of March as Severe Storm Awareness Week in the state of Kentucky.

The approach of spring also brings the increased threat of severe weather in the form of thunderstorms, flash flooding, dangerous lightning and most of all, devastating tornados.

Annually, Outdoor Warning Sirens across each county in the state are tested, including here in Clinton County.

The test was conducted at 9:07 a.m. local time on Wednesday, March 1, according to local Director of Emergency Services Lucas Abner.

Along with the testing of outdoor sirens, many hospitals, schools, nursing home facilities and others also conduct their own tornado safety drills across the state on the same day.

Severe weather of any nature can be deadly, and residents are always reminded to take extra precautions, especially when watches or warnings of any type are issued by the National Weather Service.

People should also be aware of the difference between a tornado “watch” and “warning.”

A “watch” means tornadoes are possible in and near the watch area and people need to be ready to take action if a warning is actually issued.

A tornado “warning” alert means a tornado has been sighted or indicated by weather radar. There is imminent danger to life and property. Move to an interior room on the lowest floor of a sturdy shelter and avoid windows.

If you are in a mobile home, a vehicle, or outdoors, move to the closest substantial shelter and cover your head to avoid flying debris.

Warnings typically encompass a much smaller area, around the size of a city or small county. Warnings are issued when a tornado is spotted on the ground or identified by a forecaster on radar.

Before a tornado, check the forecast often to see if a tornado is coming. Listen to local news or a NOAA Weather Radio to stay informed.

Citizens should also sign up for weather notifications via the internet with such services as Code Red. Also, create and practice a plan in the event of a tornado and consider preparing your home with a “safe room.”

During a tornado, continue to listen to local news or NOAA radio. If you are in a tornado warning area, go to your basement, safe room or an interior room, away from windows, and don’t forget pets if time allows.

The following are some tornado safety rules:

* The safest place to be is an underground shelter, basement, or safe room.

* If no underground shelter or safe room is available, a small, windowless interior room or hallway on the lowest level of a sturdy building is the safest alternative.

Mobile homes are not safe during a tornado. Abandon mobile homes and go to the nearest sturdy building or shelter immediately.

* If you are caught outdoors, seek shelter in a basement, shelter or sturdy building. If you cannot quickly walk to a shelter:

— Immediately get into a vehicle, buckle your seat belt and try to drive to the closest sturdy shelter.

— Stay in your vehicle with the seat belt on. Put your head down below the windows, covering with your hands and a blanket if possible.

— If you can safely get noticeably lower than the level of the roadway, exit your car, and lie in that area, covering your head with your hands.

People should consider stocking up with an emergency supply kit at home, the office, at school, or your vehicle.

Items should include:

Water; food (three-day supply); battery powered radio; items for infants and seniors or people with disabilities or medical needs, etc.; kitchen accessories; one complete change of clothing; sanitation and hygiene items; flashlights and batteries; first-aid kit; blankets; cash; cell phone; family and emergency medical information, and if applicable, pet supplies.

Some facts about tornadoes:

Weak tornadoes represent 88% of all tornadoes, with less than 5% deaths; strong tornadoes are about 11% reported, resulting in about 30% of all deaths and contain winds of up to 111-165 mph; and, violent tornadoes, which include less than one percent, causes 70% of all tornado deaths and are classified as F4 or F5 damage range with winds in excess of 166 miles per hour.

Straight-line winds:

Straight-line winds are any winds not associated with the rotation of a tornado, but are responsible for most thunderstorm damage.

Such winds can exceed 125 mph and a down burst can cause damage equivalent to a strong tornado. A “dry microburst” is a downburst that occurs with little or no rain, and occurs mostly in the western United States.

Flash floods and flooding:

* A flash flood occurs within a few hours (usually less than six hours) of heavy or excessive rainfall. Floods develop more slowly than flash floods, usually more than six hours.

Flash floods are the number one cause of death associated with thunderstorms, causing more than 90 fatalities each year.

Remember, “turn around–don’t drown.”

Many flash floods are at night. Six inches of fast-moving water can knock you off your feet and two feet of rushing water can carry away most vehicles, including SUVs and pickup trucks.

Drivers and passengers should abandon vehicles rather than driving through high water.

Lightning facts:

* There is no safe place outdoors when a thunderstorm is nearby.

The vast majority of lightning victims were going to a safe place but waited too long before seeking safe shelter.

More than 80% of lightning fatality victims are male, typically between the ages of 15 and 40.

* Lightning fatalities are most common during summer afternoons and evenings.

* The energy from one lightning flash could light a 100 watt light bulb for more than three months.

The channel of air through which lightning passes can be heated to 50,000 degrees F–hotter than the sun! The rapid heating and cooling of the air near the lightning channel causes a shock wave that results in the sound we know as “thunder.”

How far away is the lightning?

* Count the number of seconds between a flash of lightning and the sound of the resulting thunder.

* Divide the number by five to get an estimate of the distance in miles to the lightning strike.

* Remember, if you are outdoors and can hear thunder, you are in danger of being struck by lightning.

Almost all lightning deaths have occurred outdoors. In recent years, fatalities have included: boating; riding horses; riding on a lawn mower; golfing; walking; mountain climbing; camping; standing under a tree; swimming; playing sports; watching the storm; loading a truck; fishing; running to shelter.

Local Emergency Management officials would like to see all residents stay safe and take precautions during the severe storm season that is now upon us.

At latest report, 12 of the 13 outdoor warning sirens in Clinton County were working properly, with four new sirens recently being approved by the Clinton Fiscal Court.

DES Director Abner would also like to remind and encourage residents to sign up for the emergency alert system than can be installed on all phones, known as Code Red.

People on the service receive instant alerts when severe storms, i.e. thunderstorm or tornado watches or warnings are issued.

Anyone currently not on the system but who would like to be placed on it can contact Abner or call the Clinton County Emergency Services office. They will need your name, phone number and your phone service provider when you sign up. The service is free.