Knowing how to watch the weather key

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My Views

By Stephen Thomas

April 1 means April Fools' Day, a day where I could write about men from Mars invading Bullitt County and searching for intelligent life.

The odds of this happening are astronomical, primarily because we have not determined that there is intelligent life in outer space, much less here.

There are other things that remind us of April's arrival other than being foolish. Sometimes Easter is a sure sign. Sporting events like the NCAA basketball championships and Major League Baseball opening day help.

The surest sign that it's April in Bullitt County is the weather. This is the time when neighbors wash cars, mow lawns and walk dogs.

That's on a good day. On a bad day, look out!

April begins the peak season for severe weather in our area. The National Weather Services tells us that April through July is the area's core season for bad weather.

In the past 20 years, Bullitt County has experienced most severe weather situations that could be presented: a flood in 1993, a blizzard in 1994, a major tornado in 1996, a hurricane in 2008 and an ice storm in 2009.

We've experienced drought-like conditions, straight-line winds and hailstorms, as well as temperatures over 100 degrees and below zero.

Along with all that, though not technically weather-related, we've even experienced the occasional small earthquake.

Some of the above situations have caused great amounts of damage. The ice storm alone caused an enormous amount of debris, which in turn caused home and auto damages along with lengthy power outages.

Even with meteorological advances, new radar systems and equipment, the weather forecast remains an educated guess.

In the name of safety, the NWS now reports warnings a bit sooner, with the intent that a weather event could lead to something severe. For instance, a tornado warning may not necessarily mean there is a tornado wreaking havoc, but educated guessing by meteorologists via radar information concluded that conditions were set for a tornado based on data and experience.

People get nervous and they take cover, though often nothing happens. The "boy who cried wolf" syndrome begins.

It can become a dangerous situation when many people do not heed weather warnings. Simultaneously, it wears down a community when many warnings are issued but no severe weather strikes the area.

Despite seemingly overbearing warnings, they are like that because they are indeed important. Look at it this way: if there was a chance for a tornado, and no one told you, and then there was a tornado, where would you be?

The warnings are not issued with the intent of interrupting your favorite broadcasting. They are meant to allow time to seek safety and shelter in case a worst-case scenario actually happens.

If it doesn't, then keep the worst-case scenario in mind while returning to normal, rather than complaining that there wasn't any severe weather. Why complain about that?

I know some folks in the media get a little overexcited, boasting the newest expensive radar toys and dancing like ballerinas in front of blotches on the screen. But behind all the ratings hype they mean well. They don't want anyone to be unnecessarily injured when they can help prevent it.

So please remember that when watches and warnings are issued, they are for everyone's benefit. Do something to make yourselves safer, in case their best guesses become reality. We all know after the past two decades that anything is possible.

For further weather information besides television and radio broadcasts, Internet sites can assist. At www.weather.goc/nwr, the National Weather Service weather radio is available. There are even ways to sign up for weather alerts and radar maps on your cell phone.

Other weather information sites include www.wunderground.com, radar.weather.gov and www.weather.com, which is available through the Pioneer News homepage, www.pioneernews.net.

The best way to combat any severe weather is advanced preparedness. There are two elements to this: strategies and safety kits.

Have a home plan ready for anything from tornado shelter to fire escapes in the event of lighting strikes or power surges. Just like at work or school, post the plans on a wall where everyone can see.

In the event of a tornado, always seek shelter in a basement or other low point. If a basement is not available, head to a secure room in the center of the house, most likely an interior closet or bathroom. Often plumbing work and extra pipes make a bathroom more sturdy, plus there are less or no windows.

If in a mobile home, the best thing to do is get out of it. If you hear there are warnings in the area, make an evacuation to a safer facility part of your safety plan. Don't wait until the last minute to leave.

If you are outdoors with nowhere to seek shelter, find the lowest point possible, such as a ditch, and cover your head.

Once surviving a severe weather incident, it is wise to have a prepared emergency kit. This is true for all seasons and all weather events, like dangerous ice storms.

A safety kit should include first aid items, a flashlight, a radio and some extra batteries, water and non-perishable food items. Portable non-electric heaters and blankets are helpful during colder weather.

For more tips and suggestions on preparing evacuation plans and safety kits visit www.ready.gov. Other informational sites include homelandsecurity.ky.gov/ready and ready.adcouncil.org/beprepared.

In the event of a weather-related emergency, the best thing to do is call 9-1-1 to report it. From there, the proper emergency units and officials will be notified.