As powerful as mother nature may be, knowledge is powerful too. We can weather any northern Alabama storm by learning and applying the right severe weather preparedness tips.
How common are tornadoes in northern Alabama?
North Alabama is in a region known as Dixie Alley or Tornado Alley, characterized by a high frequency of tornadoes. In an average year, North Alabama sees around 30 of these natural disasters, making it one of the most tornado-prone areas in the country. In fact, North Alabama experienced the second highest number of tornadoes last year in 2021 among all states in the U.S.
North Alabama is in a region known as Dixie Alley or Tornado Alley, characterized by a high frequency of tornadoes. (WSFA 12 News)
So why are tornadoes so frequent in northern Alabama? A few factors contribute to the high tornado activity here. Dixie Alley is in the path where cold air from the north meets warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico. When humid air collides with the cold, dry air of the Great Plains, it creates an unstable environment ripe for severe weather.
Additionally, the Appalachian Mountains act as a barrier, trapping the warm air in the valley. This leads to even more instability and increases the chances of severe weather. Finally, North Alabama is located at a point where several major jet streams come together, creating a strong wind shear that can help to spawn tornadoes.
The difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning
By being aware of the difference between a tornado watch and a warning, you can know exactly what to do in either scenario.
A tornado watch is issued when conditions are favorable for the development of a tornado. This means there is the potential for a tornado to form, but it has not yet been sighted. Still, it’s best to be alert and prepared to take shelter.
A tornado warning is issued when a tornado is imminent or has been observed by spotters or indicated by radar. During a tornado warning, it’s time to take immediate action to find shelter to protect yourself from an approaching storm.
Because there’s no off-season for severe weather in Alabama, WHNT News 19 says the best way to stay tuned to tornado warnings is through NOAA Weather Radio. You can also receive location-based alerts through the Live Alert 19 app for iOS and Android.
Tornado watches and warnings and the 5-minute rule
If a tornado warning were issued where you live, how long would it take you to take shelter? Do you have a designated safe place to go in the event of a tornado watch or warning?
When it comes to tornado warnings, immediate action means you should be able to take adequate shelter within 5 minutes or less. So during a tornado watch, if you do not think you can seek safety within five minutes at any given time, WFSA advises you to seek shelter for the entire duration of a tornado watch.
Where to go in your home in the event of severe weather: shelter options and safe rooms
During severe weather, knowing where to go in your home is essential. If possible, avoid windows and doors, and put as many walls between you and the outside as possible.
In the absence of a basement or cellar, a bathroom, laundry room, closet, or hallway on the lowest level of your home are often good choices. Once you’ve selected a safe space, make sure it is stocked with supplies like water, food, and a first-aid kit in case you are stranded for an extended period of time. And if you have young children or pets, include their needs in your emergency plan.
In the case of severe weather such as high winds or a tornado, once you are in your shelter, cover yourself with a blanket, comforter, or mattress to protect against flying debris. And most importantly, stay calm and wait for the storm to pass.
With a little preparation, you can ensure that your family stays safe during severe weather. However, the best option for living in an at-risk area like northern Alabama is to have a safe room.
An adequate safe room should be securely anchored to your home, built from thick concrete walls, and designed to withstand high winds and flying debris. Because they are so secure, safe rooms are typically built to fit on the main floor of your home rather than a basement. With a safe room on your main floor, you and your family can bypass taking stairs or going outside during a storm.
Don’t let severe storms take you by surprise
Residents of northern Alabama are no strangers to severe weather. From frequent tornadoes to winter storms, we know to expect the worst – but now, we know how to plan for it too.
It is always better to be safe than sorry. So, keep these tips in mind, and continue to educate yourself on severe weather preparedness.