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Stay safe during severe weather season

By April Sorrow
University of Georgia

Though Georgia can get bad weather any time, the heart of severe weather season is now until mid-May. To keep you and your family safe, be prepared with a weather radio and a little knowledge, says a University of Georgia expert.

The No. 1 way to stay informed is to have a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, radio, said David Stooksbury, state climatologist and associate professor of engineering and atmospheric sciences with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

SAME radio

A NOAA weather radio sounds an alarm and broadcasts up-to-date details about tornadoes, thunderstorms, flash floods or tropical weather. Make sure you buy one with the Specific Area Message Encoding, or SAME, technology. It can be programmed for particular counties.

“You can buy NOAA weather radios at most electronic stores and even some grocery stores,” Stooksbury said.

It is common for severe weather to strike at night in Georgia. For this reason, place the radio in the bedroom to warn sleepers.

“Outdoor warning sirens aren't a good way to monitor severe weather,” he said. “Don't depend on them. Outdoor sirens are to warn people working or playing outside of approaching severe weather. They're not intended to warn people in cars, buildings or people who are sleeping.”

In the event of a tornado, seek shelter in a sturdy building. The lowest level away from windows is the safest place, he said. If one isn't around, lie down in a ditch or low spot where cars or trees won't blow on top of you. Don't stay in a car.

“Regardless of where you seek shelter, protect your body, especially your head and neck, from flying debris,” he said. “Use pillows, blankets, coats or whatever you can find to protect yourself.”

Turn around, don’t drown

Turn around. Don’t drown, he said. Each year, more deaths occur due to flooding than from any other thunderstorm hazard.

“Most people literally drive right into the water,” Stooksbury said. “If you can’t see the bottom of the road, turn around.”

As little as six inches of water can cause someone to lose control of a vehicle.

Lightning

An estimated 25 million lightning flashes strike the United States each year, killing 62 people annually, according to the National Weather Service. Using the simple 30-30 rule can help keep you safe during thunderstorms.

“The 30-30 rule for thunderstorm safety is simple,” he said. “When you hear thunder within 30 seconds of a lightning flash, seek shelter and stay there at least 30 minutes after the last lightning flash.”

Since sound travels one mile in five seconds, a 30-second count means lightning has struck within six miles of you. That's within the striking distance of lightning.

Small sheds, picnic shelters, baseball dugouts and bleachers don't offer adequate protection from lightning, Stooksbury said.

“If you're outside, avoid water, open high ground, metal fences and isolated large trees,” he said. “Lightning often, but not always, strikes the highest point in the area, so don't let yourself be the tallest object around.”

Stay clear of windows, landline phones, running water and computers indoors, too. Cell phones and wireless laptops are OK.

“If you have time, unplug everything,” Stooksbury said. “Surge protectors will not protect electrical devices from a direct hit.”

(April R. Sorrow is a science writer with the University of Georgia Public Affairs Office.)

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