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Earth Sense: Best defense against twister is information

POSTED: April 21, 2013 12:54 a.m.

The all-American storm is in season again. No other country in the world has common outbreaks of tornadoes the way the United States does.

On April 11, severe weather once again struck Lumpkin and Hall counties with an F1 twister. Its path spanned a total length of just over 4 miles.

Even though winds were nowhere near the horrendous speeds observed in Barnesville and Ringgold a couple of years ago, they topped at a respectable 105 mph and tore a path 250 yards wide. Two houses were destroyed, three more suffered major damage. Luckily, there were no reported fatalities or injuries.

As with all calamities of this type, the question always comes up: What can be done to prevent this from happening in the future? The answer is: nothing at all, really.

Tornadoes will be with us every spring, due to the energy-charged nature of hot, moist air invading from the Gulf. In theory, houses could be made tornado-proof but the cost of building such a fortress would be beyond the means of home owners. And the risk of a particular home being struck is very minor, considering that hundreds of thousands are potential targets and tornado paths are short and narrow.

The best preventer of tornado injuries and deaths is information. During a tornado watch, twisters are a good possibility but not certain. When a tornado warning is called by means of sirens, announcements on TV and on weather radio, it’s time to seek shelter in a basement or solid inside space.

For decades, NOAA Weatheradio has been the most dependable tool to get warnings quickly and automatically. The device is available at most department stores and online for $50 and less, depending on its features.

If you live in the Murrayville area, you have just witnessed the destructive power of a tornado, even when it’s just an F1 on a scale that goes up to F5. Keep the battery in the Weatheradio fresh so it can keep operating during the inevitable power outage, set it to “automatic” and keep it in a place where it has good reception. When watches and warnings are issued, the radio turns itself on and relays the information.

In a night of severe weather like we had recently, it’s a good idea to take it along into the bedroom so its alert sound won’t get drowned out by the noise of the thunderstorm.

Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor of physical science and director of sustainability at Brenau University. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com.


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