The Tornado Near Birmingham Should be a Wakeup Call for Everyone

By Jim Stefkovich, Meteorologist, Alabama Emergency Management Agency

CLANTON –Wednesday, 9 am January 27, 2021

The devastating EF3 tornado that affected communities north of Birmingham on Monday night should be a wakeup call to every citizen in Alabama.  Why?  Because the entire state is now in tornado season, which runs from November through May.

Looking at the graph below, you can see the number of tornadoes that have occurred each month of the year.  Tornadoes from June through October are almost always associated with tropical systems, but that’s hurricane season and will be discussed in later blogs.

I want to focus this blog on what you and family need to do right now to prepare for more severe weather, which will undoubtedly occur.

1)  Damaging wind gusts, tornadoes, and flash flooding are possible anywhere in the state, from Huntsville to Mobile.  Don’t buy into the myths, “Tornadoes never strike here because (ridges, valleys, etc.)”  They aren’t true.

2)  Go to a trusted media source and especially the National Weather Service (NWS) at https://weather.gov for the latest forecasts.  Move your mouse over and click on the area for information and you will be directed to one of the four NWS offices that serve the state.

3) Check often during evolving events.  The system on Monday developed quickly.  The NWS and Storm Prediction Center (SPC) indicated no severe weather as late as 12 am Monday, but did begin mentioning the potential later in the morning and afternoon.

4) Don’t try and compare past events to evolving ones.  I was the Meteorologist In Charge at the NWS Birmingham office for 12 years before joining EMA.  After April 27, 2011, the day that produced 62 tornadoes with over 250 lives lost, everyone wanted to know if the next event would be like that day.

I continue to answer that by saying any event that happens to you, IS YOURApril 27th.  I bet the people affected in north Jefferson county feel that way about Monday night.

5) Don’t get hung up by SPC or NWS threat color scales concerning severe weather potential, but instead keep up with the latest forecasts as stated in #3 above.   The SPC threat graphic issued at 2 pm Monday had northern Jefferson County in a borderline Marginal to Slight Risk threat area.  Yes, significant and deadly severe weather can occur in either of these categories.

6) Finally, and most importantly, prepare, prepare, PREPARE!  I’m amazed at how many people STILL don’t have a reliable means to get severe weather watches and warnings, or worse yet, depend on outdoor warning sirens.  You should have at least two methods to get this information, especially in the middle of the night, NOT including outdoor sirens.  There are all kinds of apps from local TV stations and weather radio is a MUST.

Finally, you should have an action plan in place before severe weather strikes.  Trying to figure out what to do during a warning is too late!  For more information about this, go to https://www.ready.gov/tornadoes .  Let me add that when seeking safe shelter, make sure you have protective head gear such as hard hats, bicycle or any other kind of helmets. 

Unfortunately, we live in an area of the country that is both beautiful and severe weather prone.  Getting prepared now will make sure you are ready when the next severe storm strikes.

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