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History center spotlights weather
Kids made windchimes and weather vanes
Families visiting the Northeast Georgia History Center take part in making their own weather vane during Family Day Sunday afternoon. Other activities included the history of the 1936 tornado, hands on science experiments and an emergency preparedness lecture by William Wright, deputy director of Hall County Emergency Management Agency.

Remembering the tornado of ’36

Exhibit featuring the events of April 6
When: Through April 30
Where: Northeast Georgia History Center, 322 Academy St., Gainesville

Documentary and forum with tornado survivors
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Northeast Georgia History Center
How much: $3 for nonmembers


Click here to watch our 22-minute documentary on the Tornado of '36

Jonathan Mixon is a storm-chaser in the making.

Using a point-and-shoot digital camera, the 8-year-old spent several minutes Sunday capturing photos and video of the 5-foot-high airy funnel produced by the tornado simulator at the Northeast Georgia History Center in Gainesville.

Jonathan's mother Lauren, 49, said he and his twin brother Patrick had been looking forward to the "Wild Weather and the Tornado of '36" Family Day all month.

"They're fascinated," said Mixon, whose family lives in Oakwood. "It's a really great thing to have for families."

With this month marking the 75th anniversary of the deadly tornado that decimated Gainesville, the history center's Family Day allowed visitors to not only remember the historic event but learn how weather works.

Kids built wind chimes out of bamboo and string and created weather vanes from paper plates and pencils.

Sisters Caroline and Meredith Nawrocki, ages 7 and 4, of Buford, watched volunteer Rita Clifton demonstrate how rain works using a large glass jar filled with water. Clifton filled a metal pie pan with ice cubes, and covered the opening of the jar.

Water condensed on the inside of the glass.

"I think weather is cool," Caroline said, "because there's a lot of (types of) weather, like tornadoes."

On display at the event were several poster boards about tornadoes, prepared by students at Gainesville Middle School. The topics addressed included myths about twisters, the paths of debris and safety tips for when a tornado strikes.

William Wright, emergency management coordinator for Hall County, spoke to families about how to prepare for not just tornadoes like the one that hit Gainesville in 1936, but all kinds of possible disasters.

"It's our responsibility to take care of ourselves," Wright said. "The more we can do for us, the more emergency personnel can focus on real life-threatening emergencies."

Families should have an emergency kit and a plan of action, he said. Unfortunately, about 79 percent of Georgians are not prepared for any form of a disaster.

But Michelle Davis and her daughter Ana, 8, do not fall into that percentage. Davis, 38, is the leader of Girl Scouts Troop 10943 in Dahlonega, and her girls have earned their emergency preparedness badges.

"We've been through quite a few tornadoes where we live," she said, "We're always prepared. We have a plan."

After hearing about it from Wright's presentation, Davis plans to seek out and join her local Community Emergency Response Team. CERT equips residents with the knowledge (and a few tools) to respond to emergencies in their neighborhoods and communities.

If visitors wanted a first-hand account of what it's like to respond to a disaster, they had the opportunity to talk with several survivors of the 1936 tornado who were in attendance.

The Mixon boys listened as Doris Herrin, 80, recounted her experience with the tornado. Herrin was just 5 years old when a black cloud fell over the city and her mother told her to come inside from her playhouse.

As the twister tore through the town and she and her mother hid under a mattress, Herrin held onto the tiny toy iron and beads she'd been playing with outside.

"I didn't turn them loose," she said, "I guess I was going to take them to heaven with me."

Today the miniature iron is part of the permanent "Tornado of 1936" exhibit in the history center. A smaller temporary exhibit about the tornado, "A City Laid Waste," will remain on display until May 7.

A panel featuring the survivors of the tornado, including Herrin, will take place Tuesday at the history center.

"I think the interest in the tornado has been incredible," said Julie Carson, the center's developer of educational programs.

The next Family Day will take place on May 15 at Wilshire Trails Park in Gainesville, rather than at the history center location. The event will coincide with the park's 15th annual Butterfly Release.