Wicked weather passes

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 12, 2002

Killer tornadoes rolled through the Southeastern portion of the nation early Monday morning, killing at least 35 people and injuring more than 156, and flattening homes in its path.

According to authorities, 16 people died in Tennessee, 10 in Alabama, five in Ohio and one person died in Pennsylvania and another in Mississippi.

In the small rural town of Mossy Grove, Tenn., about 150 people are missing and unaccounted for following the storm that slammed through that area. Homes were flattened as raging winds in excess of 140 miles per hour ripped the tops from homes as if they were sardine cans, and demolished or partially destroyed others. What the winds failed to rip apart, torrential rains and golf ball sized hail ruined.

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The area around Knoxville, Tenn., saw huge trees toppled and power lines broken and dropped to the ground as gale force winds roared through the region.

An emergency management official for Mossy Grove said the town is just about wiped from the face of the earth. Schools, homes, churches and businesses were all destroyed.

Suffolk’s Emergency Management Coordinator, Captain Jim Judkins said our city has been fortunate thus far, but with two more days of extremely unstable weather ahead, he advised that everyone should keep a close eye on their favorite weather news source.

&uot;It is crucial to be prepared and have an emergency plan of action in case something does begin to happen here,&uot; said Judkins. &uot;Once we have a tornado in the area, it’s too late to prepare. We should always be ready for any type of emergency and we need to discuss an emergency plan with our families so that everyone will know exactly what to do when such an event as a tornado occurs.&uot;

Judkins added that Suffolk as well as the rest of the southeast should continue to look for unusual weather for some time to come.

&uot;The reason for the severe weather is the strong jet stream we have moving from the west to the East Coast,&uot; Judkins said. &uot;We also have strong surface winds moving north from the Gulf of Mexico, and the resulting wind shear causes a strong turn in the air. All this together is going to make for some severe weather. Right now, we have conditions that are ripe for tornadoes. Since Sunday, we’ve had reports of 45 tornadoes across at least six states, and even though spring is thought of as the tornado season, they are not unusual in November.&uot;

Judkins added that strong thunderstorms were predicted to strike across Virginia as well as damaging winds. That situation never hit Suffolk, but he offered suggestions to follow should the need arise again.

Should strong winds occur, he suggested, hiding under a heavy table, under stairs, or under a bed could save a family from crumbling walls, chimneys and large, flying objects.

&uot;On April 8, 1998, a family in Birmingham, Ala. survived a tornado because they hid under their dining room table,&uot; said Judkins. &uot;It’s also a good idea to cover yourselves with blankets, quilts and mattresses, all of which will protect your body when things start happening.&uot;

Judkins also noted that it’s a good idea to hide in a small, windowless, interior room of the home if possible. He suggested that getting into a bathtub and covering your body with cushions or a mattress is also good idea.

&uot;A bathroom is a safe place because of the commode and bathtub, which are firmly anchored directly to the ground,&uot; said Judkins. &uot;Also, the extra framing it takes to put a bathroom together may make a big difference in whether you survive. The point is, put as many walls as possible between yourself and the tornado.&uot;

Judkins added that first and foremost in any weather situation, it is most important that people stay alert and informed.

He suggested tuning a radio or television to a weather station whenever dark clouds are on the horizon, especially if the clouds are a &uot;sickly&uot; green or greenish black. Hail is also a danger sign as is a &uot;strange quiet&uot; that occurs within, or shortly after a thunderstorm.

Watch also for clouds moving extremely fast, especially if they’re in a rotating pattern.

One final note of warning from Judkins, if you see a tornado funnel and it’s not moving right or left relative to trees in the area, then it may be headed directly toward you.

For more information of preparing for a tornado, hurricane, or other disasters, call Suffolk’s Department of Fire and Rescue Division of Emergency Management at 923-2110.