Shoppers at Warren Hardware in Jacksonville weren’t concerned with severe weather preparedness right after the March 19 tornado struck their community last year. They were just trying to patch up their houses.
“I think people were so devastated and caught completely off guard that nobody was prepared,” said Debbie Tomlinson, co-owner of the business.
In the wake of the EF3 tornado, she said, customers didn’t have the next big storm on their minds.
“Everybody was more concerned with stopping the roof from leaking than little things,” she said.
Those little things are in the spotlight this week, though, thanks to Gov. Kay Ivey’s declaration making this week Severe Weather Awareness Week in Alabama.
The National Weather Service and Alabama Emergency Management Agency set aside each day of the week to discuss dangerous weather phenomena like thunderstorms, floods, tornadoes and lightning on their websites, along with explainers about receiving weather alerts on Friday. A tax holiday on weather preparedness supplies including cell phone batteries and charge cables, flashlights, tarps and fuel cans caps the week, running from 12:01 a.m. Friday to midnight Sunday. Each item must cost less than $60 individually, except for gas generators, which can cost up to $1,000.
Michael Barton, director of Calhoun County’s Emergency Management Agency, said this week is a good opportunity to put together weather preparedness kits.
“We keep go-bags in our vehicles all the time, because we never know what situation we’re going to be in,” Barton said of himself and his staff. “But the general public should use them too. Everybody has the potential to be affected by some kind of abnormal event in their daily life. That could be as simple as a car wreck.”
According to the EMA, kits for the home should include enough food to last three days for the whole family, including food for pets, bottled water and any important medications, along with flashlights, batteries and spare cell phone batteries and first aid kits.
“We’re not talking about a week-long stay somewhere, though that can happen,” Barton said, “but something that can get someone by for that 24- to 48-hour period until other resources can come in to help them out.”
Car kits might include food, water and a change of clothes, blankets, road flares and medical supplies, he said.
Jason Holmes, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Calera office, said Alabamians are familiar with constantly-changing weather, but there’s always room for more planning. He said this week is a good time to put together a family preparedness plan, which should include how to contact family members when regular communication methods don’t work, or where to meet up when something happens at home.
“If your kids are at home and there’s a tornado warning, they need to know where to go, what to do and who to call,” Holmes said. “You know that it’s there and that you’re prepared. You never want to get caught off guard.”
The EMA also recommends having at least three methods of getting information about severe weather events, which can include smartphone apps, social media, weather radios and the agency’s free text alerts through a communications service called Nixle. Residents can sign up by texting CalhounEMA to 888777.
“If you put effort into preparedness, you’re going to reap the benefits of it in your personal response and your personal recovery from an event,” Barton said.