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Distinct seasons present danger

There are safety rules for tornado warnings. -- Illustration

Editor’s note: This is the third in a series this week about hazardous weather. This is Severe Weather Awareness Week across the state of Alabama.

Alabama is one of the few locations in the world with two distinct severe weather seasons.

The months of March through May are known as the Spring Severe Weather Season. The Fall Severe Weather Season is from November through mid-December.

This is Severe Weather Awareness Week in Alabama. During this special week, Alabamians are encouraged to learn and/or review the proper safety precautions necessary for protecting their lives during severe weather.

Generally, when people talk about severe weather the subject of tornadoes arises.

“A tornado is defined as a violently rotating column of air that is in contact with the ground,” said Rhonda Abbott, director of the Dallas County Emergency Management Agency. “If the circulation is not on the ground, then it is defined as a funnel cloud.”

Tornadoes usually descend from thunderstorms. Wind speeds in tornadoes can range from 65 miles per hour to 318 miles per hour, the highest tornado wind speed ever recorded at Bridge Creek, Okla., on May 3, 1999.

In February 2008, the National Weather Service in Birmingham confirmed and ER-2 tornado touched down in Dallas County. A tornado rated EF-2 has winds from 111 to 135 miles per hour. Eight homes and two buildings were destroyed. Six homes had major damage and 11 had minor damage, all in Summerfield.

Abbott said people should know the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning.

A tornado watch means conditions are favorable for the development of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes in and close to the watch area. A watch is normally issued for a large area covering numerous counties. The watch is intended to give people in the area time to review safety rules.

“The sky may be sunny, but weather changes can take place quite rapidly,” Abbott said.

A tornado warning means that a development tornado has been detected by National Weather Service Doppler Radar or has been reported on the ground by reliable sources.

A tornado warning is typically issued for a portion of counties at a time and usually lasts no more than 45 minutes.

If a tornado warning is issued for your county, you should seek shelter immediately. If you see a tornado or feel threatened, move to a safe place immediately, as precious seconds can save your life.

Here is some important information about tornado safety:

If you are in a home or small business, go to the basement or to a small interior room, such as a closet, bathroom or interior hallway without windows on the lowest level. Put as many walls between yourself and the outside as possible. Try to get under something sturdy, such as a heavy table, or use a mattress to protect yourself. Most injuries associated with high winds are from flying debris; remember to protect your head.

If you are in a large business, school, hospital, shopping center or factory, go to the designated shelter area. If a shelter area is not available, the best place to go is an interior hallway on the lowest level.

Stay away from the structurally weaker portions of buildings, such as windows and rooms with expansive roofs, which are more likely to collapse when tornadoes strike.

Do not waste time opening windows in an attempt to prevent damage to a building. The old belief that damage could result from rapid pressure changes during a tornado is not true.