Severe weather season approaching

By Justin Reedy

Thunderstorms and tornadoes are something more associated with the plains of Kansas and Oklahoma than the forests and hills of Georgia.

But every spring, Georgia's severe weather season starts up with storms capable of producing lightning, high winds and hail n dangers that shouldn't be taken lightly, officials say.

Thunderstorms are quite common in this state, with the violent events occurring an average of 45 to 55 days each year in Georgia, according to the National Weather Service. The storms n which most likely occur in the afternoon or evening hours of the spring and summer n can produce winds in excess of 100 miles per hour and produce damaging hail and lightning.

Just such a storm hit the Southern Crescent last week, causing heavy rains, high winds and lightning.

"We had a house in Waybridge Subdivision that was struck by lightning, which started a fire," said Joe Shelnutt, the director of emergency operations for Clayton County. "They got the fire out without any injuries, though."

Like their Clayton County counterparts, Henry County emergency personnel have a lot of work to do during periods of severe weather, according to Lt. Sabrina Puckett, spokeswoman for the Henry County Fire Department.

"Anytime we get a lot of lightning, we get a lot of calls from it hitting houses or striking nearby," Puckett said. "And high winds can cause fire alarms to trigger. Lightning storms do tend to increase call volume."

Sometimes severe weather has much more serious consequences than just false fire alarms and minor damage, though. Shelnutt recalls a storm in 1978 that included a tornado which destroyed an apartment complex on Conley Road in northern Clayton County.

Spring is a time of year to be wary of such storms, since most tornadoes occur in Georgia between March and May. Emergency personnel, however, warn that while severe weather may have a peak season, it can happen throughout the year.

"Tornado season is March through May, but violent storms can occur any time in the year," Puckett said.

That's why residents are urged to have a NOAA weather radio which can receive severe weather warnings and updates, and have an emergency preparedness kit in their homes should a disaster occur.

"We encourage residents to have supply kits good for three days," Puckett said.

An emergency supply kit should have non-perishable food, water, a first aid kit, tools and supplies, clothing and bedding, and any special items such as necessary prescription drugs, baby care supplies and important family documents.

In addition to such a kit, residents should prepare a plan for what family members will do in the event of a tornado or other severe weather disaster, according to the National Weather Service.

"If you have a plan, review it and see if it is still valid," said Barry Gooden, a meteorologist with the NWS office in Peachtree City. "If you do not have a plan, now is the time to develop it. If you need help developing a plan or have questions, contact your local Emergency Management Agency or the National Weather Service."