|Severe Weather–it's on the way|
|Thursday, February 24, 2011|
By Marjorie Lloyd
Within the last four years, Sumner County has been devastated by tornadoes and floods. Severe weather has taken lives and left many homeless. Businesses have been damaged or completely destroyed.
The loss is incalculable.
In addition to tornadoes and floods, earthquakes are now looming on the horizon for Tennesseans. In anticipation of a cataclysmic earthquake, on May 16, local, state and federal emergency responders will be practicing an eight-state response to a major earthquake.
Two hundred years ago, Reelfoot Lake was formed in West Tennessee when a series of earthquakes forced the Mississippi River to flow backwards. Sumner County’s proximity to that area, the New Madrid Seismic Zone, places us at risk.
“The new Madrid Fault is our biggest concern. We don’t expect a direct effect, but indirect, in regards to getting fuel and food. If West Tennessee gets hammered, it’s going to affect us,” said Ken Weidner, Director of Sumner County Emergency Management Agency, this week as he helped promote education about preparation for weather disasters.
This week, the National Weather Service, the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, including our Sumner County EMA, and other groups are dispersing practical advice to the public on preparing for emergency weather conditions.
Wednesday the emphasis is tornado drill day.
“The last tornado we had was outside Westmoreland, in September 2009,” said Weidner.
“However, we’ve got the second largest number of tornadoes in the state. We’ve had 32 since they have kept records. Shelby County is first.”
The concern that Weidner has about major disasters is the immediate depletion of responders, supplies and equipment.
“On any large-scale event,” said Weidner, “our resources are depleted so fast, and we have to call resources from other counties, and sometimes even other states. We’ve got mechanisms in place to get additional resources in here, and that’s worked well. But to say we’re ready for any event–we’ve only got so many responders here and so much equipment here.
“You look at the ‘06 tornado, the tornado was on the ground for 22 miles and it goes through the north end and south side of the two most populated cities in the county. Resources came from every agency in the county, and we still had to call people in from Nashville, Robertson County, Williamson County, Wilson County and people came from may other counties, and it took that.”
He pointed out that in 2008, the aftermath of the tornadoes strained not only Sumner County but also neighboring Macon County, which was struck even harder than Sumner. Thirty-three people across the state died during that series of tornadoes.
“One thing that was kind of hard in the ‘08 tornadoes was the fact that, not two times, but three times, Macon County called saying. ‘We need help,’” said Weidner.
“We couldn’t send help. About three that morning, we were able to send some rescue trucks and police officers that way. But we couldn’t do anything until we got everybody located and made sure we had everything in pretty good shape here in regards to life safety. And that was a hard deal saying, ‘Chief, we can’t send you anybody; we’re doing search operations now.’”
Weidner stated that awareness is the best advantage in coping with disaster weather events.
“The NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) radios are ‘the way to go,’ said Weidner.
He also pointed out the immediacy of cell phone alerts.
“You can get weather alerts on your cell phones now–subscriber services, free services. I recommend that for anybody. With today’s radar, the further out from the base of the radar they go, the higher the signal is shooting. Really, all the meteorologist can see is rotation. It takes a trained spotter, somebody actually saying, ‘There is a tornado on the ground.’”
He added, “So many people have cell phones now. You can get text messages for watches and warnings. Last week when MTSU was on lockdown our guys were getting text messages about that. My son is at East Tennessee State, and I get texts.”
He added that communicating became important during the ’08 tornadoes.
“The ‘08 tornado came through at 10:14 that night–5.6 miles out at Castalian Springs–and then at two in the morning, we had one just to the west of 109 and to the east of Dobbins Pike, we had two out there. We had to pull all our rescuers in; we were still doing search operations for people.”
Readiness is the key, said Weidner. He warns people to be prepared, whether it is with food, drinking water or reserve medications, blankets or batteries.
“If conditions are favorable,” said Weidner, “you need to be ready and not get caught off guard. That’s our biggest fear is that a tornado might come through after everybody’s gone to bed. The biggest thing about severe weather is the unknown.
“The new Madrid Fault is our biggest concern. We don’t expect a direct affect, but indirect, in regards to getting fuel, food. If West Tennessee gets hammered, it’s going to affect us.”
Weidner believes that citizens should prepare themselves for the aftermath of disaster as well as safety issues during the disaster.
“Challenge yourself to go without power, go without running water, go without hot water. Try to take a bath in cold weather. You’ll see how challenging it is.”
Weidner is promoting awareness of safety and preparedness this week through education and information, and he said that the weather forecast for Thursday is ironic.
“Guess what we’re going to have Thursday? We’re expecting a lot of rain.”
But he is also quick to point out that the unpredictability of weather is what can be so devastating.
“Those May and August floods–that came on them. Weather prediction is hard.” There is a lot of good information
One of the biggest things is being aware of what is going on around you. We’re supposed to have severe weather this week; make sure you’ve get what you need.”
If floodwaters should rise again, Weidner cautions the public not to embark on journeys in the car.
“We’re really big on the ‘Turn around, don’t drown’ campaign. We were lucky in the May floods–we had several people in the water trying to do rescues, like the young couple on Station Camp Creek; we just couldn’t get to them in time, but luckily we didn’t have any fatalities. We have since started Swift Water Rescue teams. People underestimate the power of moving water, just water in general.
“I’d say don’t drive through any standing water or moving water. That’s the safest bet. You don’t really know what’s going on, or what’s underneath, you lose the road.”
For more information about the Sever Weather Awareness Week, the full brochure is available on line at http://www.srh.noaa.gov/images/ohx/PDF/swx2011brochure.pdf.