Storm damage from Bessemer, March 1, 2016

Meteorologist’s Biggest Concerns with Severe Weather and Public Safety

By Jim Stefkovich, Meteorologist, Alabama Emergency Management Agency

CLANTON – I’ve had the opportunity to talk with several television and National Weather Service (NWS) meteorologists about this subject.  Here’s what I found out.  According to Chris Darden, Meteorologist In Charge at NWS Huntsville, “Complacency is a huge factor in human behavior. While our population is aware of the hazards of severe weather in the south, we are also very much a “now” society. With the overall spring severe weather seasons in the last few years being rather quiet, there is a tendency for folks to become complacent and forget about the very active years of 2009 to 2012.”

John De Block, Warning Coordination Meteorologist at NWS Birmingham, agrees.  “My biggest concerns are the loss of geographical awareness, and complacency.  Unfortunately, with the advance of technology and the availability of point-to-point directions by any number of available smartphone apps, I firmly believe the ability for individuals to locate themselves on a map and relate it to the location of a severe weather warning has decreased considerably.  Unlike a winter weather event, which affects large geographical areas, I am afraid that for many Alabamians, severe weather or tornado damage is something that happens to someone else.”

My last post discussed this loss of geographic awareness and can be read at:

Television Meteorologists Brad Travis, WAFF Huntsville, Mark Prater, WIAT Birmingham, and Alan Sealls, WKRG Mobile, also state complacency is a large issue.  As Alan says, “The attitude of ‘it won’t happen to me’ stops people from getting all the planning rules and items they need.”

Another issue is misconceptions about severe weather because of  myths.  I heard all the time from people that said they were safe because,  “I live in a valley” , “I live on top of a hill” , “I live behind a hill”,  “The severe weather tracks NEVER happen here”.  These are just a few.  The fact is that every square inch of our state can be affected by severe storms, tornadoes and flash floods.

Speaking of storms, many people believe severe thunderstorms are less significant than tornadoes.  As John De Block reminds us, “Severe Thunderstorm Warnings are not issued for ‘just’ a thunderstorm.  Severe thunderstorm winds can and do produce winds up to hurricane force, and/or large damaging hail.”  The definition of a severe thunderstorm is winds near or above 60 mph and/or hail at least the size of quarters.

So, what can YOU do to combat complacency?  As Mark Prater says, “Prepare yourself and more importantly, your family. While we’ve not had a number of large severe weather events over the past several years, it’s easy to get lulled into a mindset of ‘I know what to do…’ But, do your children? Who will get information to your elderly family or neighbors?”

Chris Darden also emphasizes, “There is no reason to fear or be afraid of weather, but having a hearty respect and understanding the hazards is critical to ensuring the safety of your family. There are so many ways today to receive credible up-to-date weather forecasts and alerts, and it’s vital for the public to know how and where to get that information.  Have a plan in place to keep your family safe when severe weather threatens.”

Each day next week will be devoted to a specific severe weather hazard and how to make sure you are prepared.  You can find this information at  and


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