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May 4, 2013

Lessons learned: Are we prepared?

VALDOSTA — Tornadoes seem to be a common theme across the United States, causing severe damage and fatal outcomes to numerous homes and families located in the central part of the country.

Tornadoes have a well-known reputation and appear more frequently in states such as Oklahoma, Nebraska, Kansas, parts of South Dakota and Texas, Alabama and Montana. However, when it comes to the state of Georgia, we usually do not think twice about this particular type of disaster.

“Now is the peak for tornado season,” said Lowndes County Emergency Management Director, Ashley Tye. “We are in a tornado prone area. Here, they just kind of pop up.”

According to the National Weather Service, tornadoes are considered one of nature’s most violent storms. Born from powerful thunderstorms and strong winds reaching up to 300 miles per hour, they form when temperatures and humidity combine.

As we learned in grade school, warm air rises, so what happens when warm air comes in contact with cold air? The beginning stages of a tornado occur when warm air gets trapped beneath the cold. As this happens, it is almost impossible for the warm air to escape and rise upward, so it begins to spin.

Funnels begin to form as the sun continues to increase the temperature of the ground. The large mass continues to gain strength and pushes through the cold air barrier, continuing to pick up speed and spin out of control, according to the weather service.

Lowndes and Lanier County fell victim to this devastation during March of last year. A tornado came roaring through, damaging outbuildings at Louis Smith hospital in Lakeland and leaving a number of people with moderate to severe damage to their homes. The tornado was speculated to have touched down near Moody Air Force Base before moving through Lanier County and Lakeland.

“This tornado was a prime example of how they can come at a moment’s notice,” Tye said. “It began as an F2 tornado in Lowndes County and escalated to an F3 tornado in Lanier County.”

The majority of the damage caused by the tornado was done buildings and homes, and thankfully, no one was hurt. However, the devastation of the aftermath was difficult to overcome.

“A lot of homes weren’t insured in Lowndes County. It hit just under 25 homes, and some were damaged worse than others,” Tye said. “Recovery was left on the home owners.”

As residents sorted through the wreckage and looked over what used to be their homes, the cleanup process began. According to Tye, it took a crew from six to eight weeks to clean up the debris.

A year has come and gone since this disaster struck, so what have citizens learned from this experience in the past 14 months since the tragedy occurred?

“It is always a good idea to check with your insurance company to see if you have the right coverage,” Tye said. “That is why we encourage people to sign up for Code Red.”

Code Red is a free program available to all citizens who work or live in Lowndes County. When the National Weather Service lists a tornado warning within the area, Code Red notifies you to take cover by calling your phone.

“It’s good for in the middle of the night,” Tye said. “You are more likely to hear a phone call if you are asleep.”

Tye encourages citizens to sign up for this program by visiting the Code Red logo on www.lowndescounty.com.

“Code Red is not just for weather warnings, it covers all types of alerts,” Tye said. “It is good to have an emergency plan and an emergency supply kit just in case.”

The proper precautions to take during the event of a tornado is to make sure you have a plan, find a safe room away from windows and enclose yourself in an area with plenty of wall barriers. Retro-fitting a closet is also a possibility to ensure your safety and the safety of others.

Listening for warnings over the radio, through Code Red or television newscasts, is encouraged in order to stay alert on the changing weather conditions. The danger signs of tornadoes include a dark or greenish sky, large hail, low-lying dark clouds large in size and loud roaring sounds similar to a train.

Questions or concerns about the weather in your area can be addressed through the National Weather Service website.

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