SPECIAL REPORT: Ahead of the Storm

(Source: Mallory Schnell)
(Source: Mallory Schnell)
(Source: Mallory Schnell)
(Source: Mallory Schnell)
(source: Mallory Schnell)
(source: Mallory Schnell)

(WTVM) - February is prime time for severe weather preparedness.

We're starting to wrap up the official winter season and spring is right around the corner. Preparedness is key because when severe weather strikes, time is of the utmost importance.

"The time to go see about refilling your prescription of medication you take every day is way before we say 'hey, it's going to be bad tomorrow' or 'hey we could have this'…" says Lee County EMA Public Information Officer, Rita Smith.

One way you can prepare this week is by putting together a safety kit of medication, food, water, flashlights, and anything else you may need in the case of bad weather and potential power outages. Now is also a great time to talk over your safety plan with your family and make sure you have several ways to receive severe weather alerts.

It's important to be prepared for severe weather not only this week but year-round. April remains the most active month for tornadoes in the state of Alabama, according to the National Weather Service. But an interesting fact is Alabama also has the highest number of Thanksgiving week tornadoes out of the entire nation.  There have been 150 tornadoes during the week of Thanksgiving since 1950.

As far as timing, tornadoes most often occur during the afternoon or evening hours in Alabama. However, we know that severe weather can happen at any time of day. It can happen while you're at work, asleep, or even while you're on the road.

Meteorologists, both on TV and with the National Weather Service, keep a close eye on the forecast leading up to a potential severe weather event. While we work to keep our community safe, we're just one piece of the puzzle. Emergency managers play a very vital role before, during, and after hazardous weather.

According to Smith, "We are the local level for all hazards: preparedness, mitigation, preparation, response, and recovery."

Emergency Management exists on the federal, state, and local levels. In the case of Lee County, the hyper-local level on Auburn University's campus.

" With the student numbers that we have, as well as employees, and visitors on campus, we feel that it is important that we have a program that is designated to the safety of the campus," said Chance Corbett, Interim Executive Director of Campus Safety and Security.

Emergency managers prepare for a wide range of possible hazards or disasters, but Auburn University has identified severe weather as the number one vulnerability and threat to campus.

As mentioned before, severe weather can strike at any time, even on game day.

"We have plans there where we communicate with the patrons, whether it's through the announcer/loudspeaker and also through the video board as well. We can also take over the sirens and send messages over those, telling people what to do," says Corbett. "We've taken it a step further and opened the buildings surrounding the stadium so that our patrons can actually go there and seek shelter. They're designated with signage and a staff member standing there telling people to come in to seek shelter."

Just 20 minutes down the road, the small town of Waverly has prepared for severe weather in a big way. Just behind the Community Club sits a storm shelter with a generator, working bathroom, and enough space to fit the majority of the town's population.

"It offers a place for people to gather and congregate in a time of stressful situations," said the Mayor of Waverly, Taylor Melzer. "You're not sitting in your house alone, wondering what's going to happen. You can spend that time with your friends and neighbors. They find a little solace in the shelter."

The original idea for the shelter was sparked after the super-outbreak on April 27, 2011. An EF-4 tornado came close to the town of Waverly as it crossed over Lake Martin, with wind speeds up to 170 mph.

"I think that tornado happening right down the road from us, opened our eyes and raised our awareness," said Melzer.

Whether it's on the state, local, community, or individual level, severe weather awareness and preparedness is imperative not only this week, but year-round. By taking steps now, you can save yourself time, peace of mind, and even your life when severe weather strikes.

Here are more resources on severe weather information and preparedness:

Alabama Emergency Management Agency: https://ema.alabama.gov/

Alabama Tornado Database: http://www.weather.gov/bmx/tornadodb_main

Auburn University Department of Campus Safety and Security: http://www.auburn.edu/administration/campus-safety/

Lee County Emergency Management Agency: http://leecoema.com/

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