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Meteorologists: Before Oklahoma Storm, 2015 Tornado Season Uncommonly Quiet

Across the United States, relatively few of the destructive storms have been confirmed so far.

by Zach Tyler, The Anniston Star / March 26, 2015
Homes and cars were left as rubble after a tornado struck Louisville, Miss., on April 28, 2014. (Bill Koplitz/FEMA)

(TNS) — Jerry King will never forget April 27, 2011.

He lost his home, and nearly lost his life, to a tornado spawned by the storm that tore through Calhoun County then.

“I felt like my brains were gonna be sucked out of my ears,” he said by phone Wednesday.

After the storm passed, he climbed his basement stairs and opened the door to daylight. His house was gone, blown away by the last tornado seen in Calhoun County.

Roughly a month away from the four year anniversary of that day, meteorologists say 2015 has been a year of record quiet. Alabama has had only a handful of tornadoes this year. Across the United States, relatively few of the destructive storms have been confirmed so far.

While the national tornado season is only a month old, meteorologists say Alabama’s has been going strong since November, and the state has seen a fraction of the storms it normally does.

“It’s definitely been quiet — not just here, but all over the United States,” Kevin Laws, chief scientist with the National Weather Service office in Calera, said Wednesday.

The meteorologist said March 1 is considered the opening of tornado season nationally. Alabama’s season is longer, running from November to May, he said.

“It’s almost unheard of to not have any tornadoes” during March, he said. “That hasn’t happened since 1968.”

Wednesday marked the first active day of March in the country, he said.

The National Weather Service has said it believes the first tornado fatality of the year occurred Wednesday night when tornadoes impacted large portions of Oklahoma. Weather.com reported that the storm left 75,000 people without power. 

Alabama hasn’t seen a tornado since the first week of January, when several hit the state. Between 2005 and 2014, the state averaged between 50 and 60 tornadoes per year.

“With that in mind, by now we’ve normally already had … somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 or 30,” he said. “We should be well over halfway” to the yearly average, he said.

“We passed an ordinance about it,” Ohatchee Mayor Steve Baswell joked of the calm. “There’s no tornadoes allowed inside city limits,” he added, laughing.

The April 2011 storm destroyed 200 homes and killed nine people in Calhoun County. Ohatchee and Webster’s Chapel were some of the county’s hardest-hit communities.

Ohatchee finished a storm shelter near the town’s volunteer fire department in 2013, capable of housing 85 people and built using grant money.

Baswell thinks the shelter makes Ohatchee better prepared for the inevitability of tornadoes in Alabama. Even he said it’s hard to keep that danger in mind, given the variability of the storms.

“Out of sight, out of mind,” Baswell said Wednesday. “We just go on, and you know … You never think it’ll happen to you. And then it does.”

King knows exactly what the mayor meant.

“I was one of those types of people, ‘It’s not gonna ever hit my house,’”  he said.

It took him more than a year to rebuild after 2011. When he did, it was with adobe-style bricks. No wall in his new house is fewer than 14 inches thick, now.

The infrequency of that kind of evens may help lull some into a sense of complacency. That’s why it’s important to watch the weather during tornado season, local officials say.

Greg Militano, deputy director of the Calhoun County Emergency Management Agency, said the agency has a duty officer charged with monitoring weather updates from the National Weather Service.

Militano encourages people to get an emergency weather alert radio. Regularly check the batteries, he said. County residents can also sign up for emergency alerts via text message by texting the message “CALHOUNEMA” to the number 888777.

The current calm is guaranteed to end, though.

“It’s definitely going to change,” Laws said.

Remaining weather-aware is the price we all have to pay for living here, he said.

©2015 The Anniston Star (Anniston, Ala.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

This article was updated to a more recent version with information about the Oklahoma storm.

 

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