• By Leigha Cordell, WS/FC Office of Emergency Manageme
  • Posted Friday, March 4, 2016

Spring Can Bring Severe Storms, Tornadoes to Forsyth County

Most Forsyth County residents view spring with a sense of renewal: flowers bloom, warm weather returns, people get out and about. Those carefree days can also be a time for unpredictable storms that strike quickly and leave devastating effects.

“Spring is a time when the weather is extremely unpredictable,” said Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Emergency Management Director Melton Sadler. “Weather conditions can rapidly deteriorate, and severe storms and tornadoes can pop up any time of the year. It’s critical for residents to know the warning signs, what to do and where to go when severe storms and tornadoes threaten. Having a plan in place and listening for weather alerts is the first step in being ready for any weather-related emergency.”

In 2015, the National Weather Service issued 25 tornado warnings for North Carolina and recorded nine tornadoes. There were also 98 flash flood warnings issued and 133 flash flood incidents recorded across the state. The NWS also issued more than 528 severe thunderstorm warnings, and recorded more than 542 incidents of severe thunderstorms with damaging winds and/or large hail. The combination of severe storms, flash flooding and tornadoes caused nearly $12.5 million in damages.

Warning Signs

Severe storms can occur quickly and without warning. Dangers linked with severe storms include lightning, tornadoes, strong winds, hail and flash flooding.

“Lightning strikes are one of the top three storm-related killers in the United States,” said Nicholas Petro, warning coordinator meteorologist for the National Weather Service’s Raleigh Office. “Most lightning victims survive, but those who have been struck by lightning often report a variety of long-term symptoms. Over the past 30 years, flash flooding has been responsible for more deaths than any other thunderstorm-associated hazard.” Lightning can strike as far as 10 miles away from the rain area in a thunderstorm. That’s about the distance you can hear thunder. If the sky looks threatening, people should take shelter even before they hear thunder. Tornadoes, nature’s most violent storms, are formed from powerful thunderstorms. They appear as spinning, funnel-shaped clouds that reach from a thunderstorm to the ground with whirling winds that can reach 300 miles per hour. Damage paths can be in excess of one mile wide and 50 miles long. Look for the warning signs, especially in the case of tornadoes, which are known by a large dark, low-lying cloud (particularly if rotating), greenish skies and a loud roar, much like a freight train.

Safety Tips

Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Emergency Management officials recommend having a weather radio that broadcasts NWS alerts when severe weather threatens. Many North Carolina tornado fatalities have occurred at night when people are asleep and less likely to receive a warning without a weather radio.

Emergency officials recommend people use the following safety tips:

  • Know the terms: WATCH means a tornado is possible. WARNING means a tornado has been spotted; take shelter immediately.
  • Know where the nearest safe room is, such as a basement or interior room and away from windows, and go there immediately if you hear or see a tornado.
  • If driving, you should leave your vehicle immediately to seek safety in an adequate structure. Do not try to outrun a tornado in your vehicle, and do not stop under an overpass or a bridge.
  • If you are outdoors, and there is no shelter available, take cover in a low-lying flat area. Watch out for flying debris.
  • Following a storm, wear sturdy shoes, long sleeves and gloves when walking on or near debris, and be aware of exposed nails and broken glass.
  • Be aware of damaged power or gas lines and electrical systems that may cause fires, electrocution or explosions.

Knowing where to go when severe weather threatens can save lives. There are different places that you need to go to depending on the weather emergency and your location.

“It’s good to not only have an emergency plan in place but also to practice it annually so that you know where to go during severe weather,” said Melton Sadler.

  • At Home – Go to the basement. Under the stairs or in a bathroom or closet also are good spots.
  • At Work – Go to the basement if there is one. Stairwells, bathrooms and closets are good spots. As a last resort, crawl under your desk.
  • At School – Seek shelter in inside hallways, small closets and bathrooms. Get out of mobile classrooms, gymnasiums, auditoriums and other rooms with a large expanse of roof. Bus drivers should be alert for bad weather on their routes.
  • In Stores – Seek shelter against an inside wall. An enclosed hallway or fire exit leading away from the main mall concourse is a good spot. Stay away from skylights and large open areas.
  • Outside – Find the nearest sturdy shelter or seek shelter in a ditch or low-lying area, and cover your head with your hands. DO NOT get under an overpass or bridge. You are safer in a low, flat location. Watch out for flying debris.
  • In a car – Never try to outrun a tornado in a car. Pull over, and seek shelter in a building.

More information on tornadoes and overall emergency preparedness can be found online at http://www.readyforsyth.org/ or www.ReadyNC.org. Please take a moment to ‘LIKE’ ReadyForsyth on Facebook to receive the most recently updated information. Forsyth County emergency officials encourage residents to download the free ReadyNC mobile app.

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