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Alabama Severe Weather Awareness Week: Day 1 - Preparedness and Safety

This week has been designated as Severe Weather Awareness Week for the state of Alabama. Tennessee's Severe weather Awareness Week this year will be February 19th - 25th. During both weeks, we will be working alongside our local NWS offices, emergency managers, and our other broadcast meteorologist friends in the area to promote severe weather awareness, readiness/preparedness, and safety. Today's chosen topic is "Preparedness and Safety".

Severe weather is a fact of life living here in the Tennessee Valley. We see our fair share of tornadoes, severe thunderstorms, flooding, droughts, heat waves, cold air outbreaks, snow and ice storms, and even impacts from landfalling tropical systems. It is important that you are prepared for the various severe weather threats that we face through the year. This preparation is something that you need to do ahead of time while the weather is quiet, not on the day of the event when a storm is bearing down on you and is a few minutes away! Above are some general checklists and guidelines for you to use as a baseline for creating your family's personal severe weather safety plan.

One of the most important parts of your severe weather safety plan is your emergency readiness kit. There are items that you need in your shelter location to help you get through a severe weather event and the resulting aftermath. There are a few things on this list that you may not immediately think of why they would be needed:

  1. Bicycle helmet: We have learned from treating physicians in emergency rooms over the years that one of the primary causes of death and serious injuries in violent tornado situations is blunt force trauma to the head and neck region. It is critical that you have something sturdy to protect your head and neck from flying debris, and it preferably needs to be something that you can strap to your head in case you are lofted and thrown to another location by a tornado. A simple safety-rated bicycle helmet can be a LIFE SAVER in a tornado! And this is not just for kids! Every. single. person. in the family needs a way to protect their heads and necks from flying tornado debris. For babies, this may be a car seat they can be strapped into if their heads are too small for a helmet. For school-aged children that play sports, this may be a football helmet. For an adult, this may be a welding helmet or motorcycle helmet. A simple $10 bike helmet from Walmart or Academy will do just fine!

  2. Air horn: If your home is struck by a tornado, there is a reasonable chance that you may be trapped under heavy debris that you can't escape from without help. First responders need to be able to locate you quickly. Having an air horn or a whistle that can make a loud noise will alert first responders to your location so that you can be rescued. While a whistle is a good idea, there is the chance that you may be injured or your chest is pinned under something heavy, preventing you from having the lung capacity to blow enough air through the whistle to make a loud enough noise. An air horn is much easier to squeeze with very little energy, even if you are injured. An air horn will also make a louder noise overall, making it easier for first responders to locate you faster.

  3. Boots: While boots specifically aren't important, the overall idea of having closed-toe hard-sole shoes to wear IS critically important. This is because you may need to leave your home after a tornado strike, and you may have to walk across a debris field in order to get to safety after the storm has moved on. There may be broken boards, broken glass, sharp metal, wires, nails, and other dangerous things that can severely injure your feet if you aren't wearing the proper foot protection.

Another critical part of severe weather preparedness is understanding the watch/warning system. Regardless of what type of watch it is, a watch means that weather conditions are favorable so that that type of severe weather is possible during the time the watch is in effect. A warning means that the type of severe weather mentioned is happening now or happening very soon. A watch is a notification that you need to finalize your preparedness plans and be alert to changing weather conditions, and you need to listen for warnings to be issued. The warning is the urgent call-to-action message that you need to take protective action immediately. It should be noted that, especially on lower-end or isolated type severe weather days, there may not always be a watch put into place before a warning is issued.

You MUST have multiple reliable ways of hearing watches and warnings, including methods that don't include outdoor sirens and including methods that can wake you out of your sleep at night. The baseline warning system for every home, school, business, place of worship, etc., should be a NOAA Weather Radio. These are radios that tune to a special transmission broadcast by the National Weather Service, and they are programmable to the county or counties that you want to receive weather information for. When that county of concern is issued a warning, the NOAA weather radio will sound a loud alarm to notify you that an alert is issued, and then you can tap the button on the radio to receive the information. Newer models are not only programmable by county but also the type of alerts you do or do not want to receive alerts for. For the visually and audibly impaired, there are also attachment devices that will shake your pillow or flash a strobe light to get your attention. Attached above are the NOAA Weather Radio channel frequencies for the transmitter stations that cover north Alabama and middle Tennessee.

Aside from the NOAA Weather Radio, there are multiple other ways to receive urgent watches and warnings for severe weather. These include local broadcast stations (such as us, local TV, and local radio), smart phone weather apps that are designed to do push notifications for warnings (such as ours and the apps from the local media stations), social media, outdoor sirens as a backup for outdoor notification, and even messages or phone calls from your friends or family members.

Another baseline available to you if you have a mobile device is the Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) system. This is the same free system that's built into your mobile device that does the notifications for Amber Alerts. These will send a short text push notification to your phone, as well as a loud alarm if your volume is turned on, for several weather warning types (they are listed in the image here). There is a caveat to the WEA system though. Because it does not directly read the GPS location of your device, it uses the location of the cell tower you're getting your signal from to see if *that tower* is within the warning polygon. For areas where cell tower coverage is more dense, this is perfectly fine. However, for more rural areas, this can sometimes be a problem. There may be a situation where the tower your signal comes from is 10 miles away. The tower location may be in a tornado warning polygon but your actual location is not. You would still get an alert. The same is also true... your actual location may be in the warning, but the tower location is not. You would NOT get the alert in that case. This is why we strongly advise you to have multiple reliable ways of hearing warnings. The idea is redundancy!

Our FREE Tennessee Valley Weather App is a great way for you to receive reliable notifications of watches and warnings. You can either allow the app to follow your location (optional) or you can manually set multiple locations to follow. When one of those direct locations is within a polygon warning, you will receive a push notification with urgent information. You also get to select the type of watches, warnings, and advisories you do or do not want notifications for. You are also able to receive custom push notifications directly from our weather team. The app also contains interactive radar, the hourly and 7 day forecasts for your area, current conditions, and a live stream link to our 24/7 digital weather channel... where we also broadcast our live severe weather coverage when that becomes necessary. This means you have a reliable way of watching our live coverage on your mobile device while you are sheltering in your safe place!

In addition to our free weather app and our social media outlets, you can find information from us on the Tennessee Valley Weather Channel. That is our ALL LOCAL 24/7 digital weather channel. We broadcast on all smart TV devices (not also including Apple TV), YouTube, within the weather app, and on our website at During times of severe weather warnings in our coverage area, we also simulcast our live severe weather coverage on certain local radio stations across southern middle Tennessee and northwest Alabama. You can find these radio partners above.

Being aware and being prepared ahead of time are the two keys to surviving dangerous weather! We can't control what the weather does, but we CAN control how we respond to it and how we we are ready for what may happen. Use this information to guide you through being ready for the dangerous weather that we sometimes face here in the Tennessee Valley.

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