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Earth Sense: North Georgia shines as a quiet and safe place, geographically speaking
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Complaining about nature’s quirks, and the disasters that come with them, is a popular pastime. But in spite of some of the troubles North Georgia has experienced in the past, it’s realistic to say that we live in a very sheltered part of the world.

Our region is located near the center of a tectonic plate. This means we can forget about the hazards of living near the edge of one. The devastating earthquakes that haunt large portions of California are unknown in Georgia.

Volcanic eruptions of the Mount St. Helens type, inundating cities with suffocating ash, aren’t possible here because we have no volcanoes. Ice-dam floods, dreaded in Fargo, N.D., are highly unlikely because our rivers rarely freeze, and not to the extent you see in the northern Great Plains and Upper Midwest.

Tornadoes, nature’s most violent windstorm, are rare on other continents but frequent visitors in Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas. By the time a severe frontal system makes it to North Georgia on its journey through Mississippi and Alabama, it has already expended much of its energy.

There are exceptions. Helen experienced a tornado while the remnants of Hurricane Katrina passed through the area in 2005. Ringgold was struck by a severe thunderstorm outbreak in April 2011, and suffered damage again in October 2014 from a smaller tornado.

But when you take a wide-angle look at our region, we’re safer than many places in the U.S. and the rest of the world.

Snowstorms have in the past snarled traffic in Greater Atlanta. They don’t compare to the snowdrifts, though, that can reach heights ranging in the dozens of feet in upstate New York and western Pennsylvania.

Even the summer heat is tolerable for the most part. Gainesville is at the same geographic latitude as Northern Africa, together with places like Tripoli, Libya, and Beirut, Lebanon.

At an elevation of 1,250 feet, our town enjoys a moderation of climate that you don’t get in Savannah (49 feet) or Valdosta (220 feet). In addition, the Blue Ridge Mountains provide a shielding effect from storm fronts that travel across the Appalachian chain.

In 1985, an ice storm paralyzed parts of Tennessee and Northern Alabama, but was stopped from entering Georgia by the mountain range.

All things considered, North Georgia shines as a quiet, safe area on a continent known for nature’s wild outbursts.

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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