Pine Belt residents urged to have a severe weather plan

February 13th-17th marks Severe Weather Awareness week in Mississippi.
February 13th-17th marks Severe Weather Awareness week in Mississippi.

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - What exactly does being severe weather aware entail? Emergency Operations Center directors from across the Pine Belt all have the same message, putting together a severe weather plan.

"What happens at 2:00 in the morning if your NOAA radio sounds and there is a tornado bearing down on your house? Where do you go? Where do you take cover?," says Jones County EOC Director, Lance Chancellor.

This all begins with the issuance of a watch or warning for your area. Tornado watches often span several hours and multiple counties, and indicate areas that are at an increased risk for tornado development. It's important to know that a tornado watch doesn't necessarily mean a tornado is occurring, just that conditions are favorable. This is an especially important time for families living in manufactured homes.

"You got a friend or relative that's got a more substantial house that you could go to, that's probably when you need to go make a visit," says Forrest County EOC Director, Terry Steed. "Of course, it seems like mobile homes are magnets for tornados. They always seem to attract them, or they wind up getting the most damage. And certainly they aren't as strong as a regular home would be."

A warning is issued when a tornado or funnel cloud has been detected by trained spotters, or if National Weather Service Doppler radar indicates increased rotation in a storm. When a tornado warning is issued, this is the time to act quickly!

"The decisions they made in the moments before their home was hit made the difference between life and death. And in most of those, what they did was they took cover and they protected their head," explains Chancellor. "They covered their heads with pillows and blankets, they latched on to something. They were in an interior room, I say again, like a bathtub. Something that offers significant protection. Or if you have a storm shelter. The thing there is you go to get in it."

New research by the University of Alabama - Birmingham found that wearing a bicycle helmet can significantly reduce your chance of receiving a fatal head injury. Consider the helmet an essential part to your severe weather plan, and have it easily assessable should a warning be issued.

Complacency is also growing problem among Mississippians. The thought is, I didn't experience a tornado the last time a warning was issued, so I'm not going to see one this time. EOC Director for Forrest County, Terry Stead, says this is a dangerous game to play.

"Kind of interesting that if somebody reports a tornado on the ground they take more action than if the weather service says radar indicated and that isn't really a good way to do, because of where we are, covered by three different radars. Mobile, Slidell, and Jackson. The lowest level that they can see us is about 8,000 feet. So a lot of things can happen between 8,000 feet and the ground, and they may not pick up that signature that it's on the ground," warns Steed.

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