Officials: Heed severe weather warnings
Mar 05, 2013 (The Wilson Daily Times - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
In the past two years, Wilson has been pounded with severe weather, including tornadoes and Hurricane Irene. Many lives were uprooted, homes and businesses were damaged. Last week, a small tornado hit a rural area four miles north of Selma and Kenly, destroying a barn and causing minor damage to homes nearby.
While no one was injured during these recent weather events, emergency officials are urging residents now more than ever to get prepared when tumultuous weather strikes.
That's why the Wilson County Amateur Radio Emergency Service is promoting National Severe Weather Preparedness Week, which runs through March 9. The special week is a nationwide effort to increase awareness about severe weather and to motivate individuals, families, businesses and communities to take action that will prepare them for the next weather event.
"This weather, it hits wherever and whenever," said Ben Gufford Jr., spokesman for Wilson County Amateur Radio Emergency Service and the North Carolina Amateur Radio Relay League. "The intensity in occurrences is increasing. There is a big push from the federal level all the way down for preparedness."
That EF-0 tornado, the lowest on the category scale, touched down around 8:18 p.m. near the 2700 block of Old Beulah Road. According to the National Weather Service, the damage suggested the tornado had maximum wind speeds of 75 mph.
"We've had some very weird weather," said Rodney Dancy, Wilson County Emergency Management community preparedness coordinator. Over the years it seems the weather patterns have changed. We're getting more severe-type weather throughout the year instead of just certain times of the year. People need to always be prepared. Preparedness is not a bad thing. It's not a scare tactic we use. Preparedness is just taking personal responsibility for yourself and your family."
Dancy said you never know how bad a weather-related event might be. And if it's extreme, it could take emergency officials some time to get to people during a disaster.
"It may take a little while to get to you if it's that bad," he said. "It's better to be safe and be prepared to be able to be self-sustaining for at least three days. It may take a few days for help to get here to help us. The more prepared you are, the better off you are."
This week is Severe Weather Awareness Week in North Carolina.
'IT DESTROYED HER HOME'
Gufford said he knows there are some who disregard the talk about being prepared for severe weather because they believe they will be OK.
"I was like those people until when we had all those tornadoes that came through a couple of years ago," Gufford said.
On April 16, 2011, Gufford was on the phone with his sister, Elizabeth Stephenson, as he was driving on Interstate 95 in Dunn.
"She was telling me I needed to pull off the road on I-95," he recalled. "A tornado was getting ready to cross in front of me."
Gufford pulled off the interstate and headed into a gas station to warn others about the tornado.
"About that time, here it comes about a football field away from the gas station crossing the road," he said.
But little did Gufford know, another tornado was headed toward Wilson at the same time. As Gufford was talking with his sister, she was watching the weather radar.
"Her last statement on the phone was 'Oh Lord, it looks like one's coming toward Wilson,'" he recalled.
He told his sister to get off the phone and get in the closet. That closet ended up saving her life. The powerful F-2 tornado tore a path of destruction through Wilson County in less than 10 minutes on that April day.
"It destroyed her home in Cranberry Ridge completely," Gufford said. "Had she been in her bathtub she would have gotten sucked out of the back of the house. A wall on all four sides was blown out."
In its wake, 33 homes were rendered uninhabitable and more than 100 structures sustained extensive damage. Twelve businesses were severely damaged or destroyed as well.
Gufford said while he and his sister were thankfully safe during that tornado, that moment changed him. He wanted to get involved and help others prepare for the worst. He became a licensed radio amateur and is now a part of Wilson's Amateur Radio Emergency Service.
"When it hits home then you want to do something about it, and you want to help others because you realize this stuff is real," Gufford said. "The weather is just intensifying."
He said it's important for people to know "it can happen anytime."
'YOU'VE GOT TO BE ABLE TO TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF'
Gufford, who is an art teacher at Stantonsburg and Barnes elementary schools, will be educating his students on the importance of having a plan and educating them on severe weather this week. He said those students in return take the information they've learned and spread the word to their parents. It gets the whole family involved in preparedness, he said.
He talked with several students Monday about severe weather risks and what they need to be aware of. Gufford said families could get stuck in many different scenarios when a powerful storm hits.
"You consider you can't get out the door, you can't get down the street, you can't cook, you don't have any electricity, you're not mobile," he said hypothetically. "You've got to have your food and water. You've got to be able to take care of yourself."
And it's all about knowing the risks, taking action and being an example for others to get on board with having a preparedness plan, officials said.
Despite advanced warnings, many are killed or seriously injured each year by tornadoes or other types of severe weather. Nationwide, more than 450 people were killed and nearly 2,600 were injured due to weather-related events in 2012, according to statistics.
Severe weather knows no boundaries and affects everyone, officials said.
Code RED EMERGENCY SYSTEM
Wilson County Amateur Radio Emergency Service members attend a wide variety of community events and sign people up for Wilson County's CodeRed Emergency System.
That system is a fast communication service, allowing Wilson County to notify residents of an emergency situation through a high-speed telephone system. In 2011, warnings for tornadoes, severe thunderstorms and flash floods were made available to Wilson County residents through the system. The free program delivers a pre-recorded alert message directly to the phone numbers that have been entered, giving them critical information. More than 10,000 residents have signed up so far, officials said. And for those who haven't, they urge residents to sign up for the service. The address entered into the CodeRED system will be the address used for weather warnings issued. Visit the Wilson County website to sign up.
For those who have iPhones and Android smartphones, there is also an app, which is a small fee, that will give you a range of emergency and weather notifications in Wilson and other areas across North Carolina.
firstname.lastname@example.org -- 265-7879
Three Basic Steps To Take
Know Your Risk:
--Understand the type of hazardous weather that can affect where you live and work, and how the weather could impact you and your family.
--Check the weather forecast regularly.
Pledge and Take Action:
--Take the pledge to prepare at ready. gov/severe-weather
--Fill out your family communications plan that you can email to yourself, make an emergency kit, keep important papers and valuables in a safe place and get involved
--Buy a NOAA Weather Radio
--Sign up for Wilson County's CodeRED System
Be an example:
--Share your story with family and friends, post in on Facebook, comment on a blog, or send a tweet. Studies show that many people use social media in the event of a disaster to let relatives and friends know they are safe. This is an important trend because people are most likely to take preparedness steps if they observe the preparations taken by others.
For more information and ideas on how you can be prepared, visit www.ares-wilsonnc.com/, www.facebook.com/WilsonCountyARES or Ready.gov/severe-weather. Information on the different types of severe weather such as tornadoes, severe thunderstorms and flooding is available at www.weather. gov and ready.gov/severe-weather or the Spanish-language web site www. listo.gov.
Wilson County Amateur Radio Emergency Service
A Look at Severe Weather at Home
--On Feb. 26 of this year, an EF-0 tornado hits a rural area four miles north of Selma and Kenly after strong thunderstorms moved across part of the state. The storm destroyed a large barn and caused minor damage. Maximum wind speeds were 75 mph. No one was hurt.
--On Aug. 11, 2012, an EF-1 tornado swirled through and hit two Stantonsburg streets. That tornado, which brought 110 mph winds, left behind severe damage to homes along R.B. Avenue and Moyton Drive. No one was hurt.
--On Aug. 6, 2011 an EF-0 touched down between Black Creek and Stantonsburg damaging seven mobile homes and a turkey farm off Pelt Road. Those winds were 85 mph. No one was hurt.
--About a week later, on Aug. 12, 2011, a powerful weather system pounded Wilson County, sparking widespread damage. The damage happened in the same area as it did a week prior. That system produced large-size hail and up to 2 inches of rain. Streets were flooded, winds were up to 65 mph, causing downed power lines and trees. No one was hurt.
--On Aug. 26, 2011, Hurricane Irene brought damage to Wilson County, which included downed trees, flooding, high winds and power outages. More than 7,000 city and county residents lost power.
While no one was hurt in Wilson County, a Nash County man was crushed to death outside his home by a large limb, which was blown down during high winds. A Wayne county child died when the car she was riding in wrecked at an intersection in Goldsboro due to the storm knocking out the power.
--On April 16, 2011, an F2-tornado plowed through Wilson, changing many lives. It took less than 10 minutes for the tornado to tear a path of destruction through Wilson County. While no one suffered from any severe injuries, 33 homes were rendered uninhabitable and more than 100 structures sustained extensive damage. Twelve businesses were severely damaged or destroyed, too.
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