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Preparation is the key to safety during Spring storms

By Lacy Hilliard
Through a long and perilous mountain winter, it can begin to seem as though spring will never come. But for those with a case of the winter blues, perhaps knowing that the Spring Equinox is on March 20 is enough to bring a bit of warmth to even the frostiest of outlooks. Subtle hints of the most vibrant green mixed with the pastels of early spring flowers will soon make their appearances in Johnson County. Cows and ewes tending to their newborn young will fill the lush pastures and the occasional foal can be seen taking its first wobbly steps. All are relics of an Appalachian Spring. However, the ferocity of winter weather can often pale in comparison to what spring may bring.
March 2-8 marks National Severe Weather Preparedness Week, during which the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) work to raise safety awareness about severe weather events and how to prepare for them.
Johnson County is no stranger to tumultuous spring weather. Threats seen in this area range from flooding to tornadoes and preparing for such events can mean the difference between life and death. On April 27, 2011 an EF2 tornado ripped through Doe Valley, claiming two lives and causing widespread damage. Various reports of flash flooding, severe thunderstorms, and hailstorms can be found in Johnson County’s weather archives and the general unpredictably of discontented mountain weather places even more importance on making advance safety preparations.
Flash floods strike unexpectedly and can occur even when it seems a relatively small amount of rain or snow has fallen. Flooded roadways can be one of the most dangerous threats experienced during stormy conditions and FEMA reports that more people drown in their cars during a flood than anywhere else. FEMA and NOAA caution drivers to never attempt to pass through a flooded roadway. Only six inches of water can cause mechanical failure in cars and just two feet of water is enough to sweep away the largest of passenger vehicles. In the event a vehicle becomes caught in floodwaters, there are several steps drivers can take to ensure their survival. Both NOAA and FEMA advise drivers to immediately abandon cars caught in a flood. It is impossible to regain control once a car is floating and therefore a drivers only concern should be evacuation. Most electric windows will function unless a vehicle is completely submerged, however doors will only open once they’re completely submerged and the pressure has equalized. Once the driver and passengers have evacuated the vehicle, they are advised to get to higher ground immediately and to make no attempts to salvage the vehicle.
Tornadoes are perhaps one of the more daunting aspects of severe weather, however, through technological advances in both predictability and National warning systems, citizens are armed with more knowledge than ever before. When the National Weather Service issues a “Tornado Watch” it means that tornadoes are possible whereas the more severe “Tornado Warning” indicates that a tornado has been sighted or indicated on weather radar. When a warning is issued, residents in the affected areas are advised to take shelter immediately. Signs that a tornado could be approaching can include a dark, often greenish sky, large hail, a large, dark, low-lying cloud (particularly if rotating) and a loud roar, similar to a freight train. If these signs are observed, emergency precautions should be taken immediately. If caught in a tornado inside a structure that has foundation, it is advised that residents go to a pre-designated shelter area such as a safe room, basement, storm cellar, or the lowest building level. If there is no basement, go to the center of an interior room on the lowest level such as a closet or interior hallway, away from corners, windows, doors, and outside walls. Put as many walls as possible between you and the outside. Get under a sturdy table and use your arms to protect your head and neck. Put on sturdy shoes. Do not open windows. Mobile homes are at extreme risk during a tornado and those who reside in them are advised to evacuate even when a tornado watch is in place. If caught in a tornado in a vehicle, drivers are advised by NOAA to “buckle your seat belt and try to drive to the closest sturdy shelter. If your vehicle is hit by flying debris while you are driving, pull over and park. Stay in the car with the seat belt on. Put your head down below the windows; cover your head with your hands and a blanket, coat or other cushion if possible. If you can safely get noticeably lower than the level of the roadway, leave your car and lie in that area, covering your head with your hands. Do not get under an overpass or bridge. You are safer in a low, flat location. Watch out for flying debris. Flying debris from tornadoes causes most fatalities and injuries.”
For more information about preparing for severe weather events, visit www.ready.gov. Mother nature may be unpredictable, but education and preparedness may save a life.