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Tornado watch: Being prepared key in midst of storm season

Cindy Krimminger and her family have a “souvenir” perched high in the top of a tree in their Newport Drive backyard. A piece of metal has been stuck in a birch tree since April 16, 2011 — the day an EF1 tornado struck not only her home, but dozens of others in the Farrington Meadows subdivision.
The tornado produced winds that were an estimated 105 mph and made a path that stretched 3.5 miles throughout the northeastern part of the county, mostly in the Franklin community.
The tornado was considered a weak one, based on rating standards, but nonetheless gave the residents there quite a scare. The recent tornadoes that wreaked havoc across the state a week ago and throughout the Gulf Coast were severe EF3 tornadoes that produced winds of up to 150 mph.
Krimminger recalled that Saturday was just a rainy kind of day. She and her daughter, then 16, were lounging around the house while her husband and son were away at a basketball game. She never heard the “freight train” sound that most people associate with a tornado, but she noticed when the wind picked up.
“I said ‘I don’t like the way the winds are moving,’ ” Krimminger recalled telling her daughter.
The two left their living room and hunkered down in the bathroom away from the windows. Krimminger admits she was scared, but was comforted by her daughter. The two prayed while they sat near the bathtub.
“We could hear things hitting the house. It was so quick,” she said.
Afterwards, Krimminger looked out her front door and then her back door.
“I’m not sure what that was,” Krimminger told her daughter.
Krimminger said initially, and for a short time after, she and a few of her neighbors weren’t sure if what struck was a severe storm or a tornado.
She doesn’t remember hearing a severe weather warning on the news or radio before that day. She soon realized as one of her neighbors pointed out they’d just survived a tornado. She’d heard a fire alarm sound at nearby Ellis Cross Country, but didn’t recall hearing a tornado siren.
“Ours was a ‘baby’ tornado,” she said comparing the deadly storms over the past week.
When she went outdoors she found a metal gazebo on the roof and many more downed trees. A pine tree had broken off and landed nestled in the top of a birch tree just outside the back patio. There were holes in the Krimmingers’ roof and the wind ripped apart the siding on parts of their house. She said it could’ve been worse, but her home wasn’t the hardest hit in the Farrington Meadows subdivision.
“It was enough damage that it shocked us,” she said.
It was as if the tornado made a straight path down Newport Drive, the main road of the subdivision,
“You could see there were trees everywhere,” Krimminger said.
She was always cognizant that a storm could destroy the home that her father built, it was one of his last projects before his death, but Krimminger never suspected the house would be damaged by a tornado.
Krimminger didn’t pay much attention to severe weather reports, but regularly watches the news for sudden changes in the weather and impending storms that might hit the area. She also has a severe weather alert set on her phone.
“When I see wind going a certain way it just makes me nervous,” she said.
The residents of the subdivision were blocked off from the main road. There was little to no access onto Old Mocksville Road. Krimminger remembered being hungry with no way to get out to food so she ordered pizza for everyone. She called up a local pizza place, explained that they were trapped in by the storms and the restaurant delivered dozens of pizzas at no cost. Some of the neighbors were without power and Krimminger said they banded together to help one another immediately after the tornado and the days following.
Emergency crews responded relatively quickly to the Farrington Meadows subdivision, she said.
County emergency services was among the agencies that provided response to not only the Farrington Meadows neighborhood but other areas in Rowan County impacted by the tornado that day.
Frank Thomason, head of that department, said it takes multiple agencies to respond to single major disasters such as that tornado.
“There’s no one entity that has all the tools,” he said.
The first responder community has plans in place to work together during a disaster. Fire service, EMS, the Red Cross and others take part in four areas that responders concentrate on when responding to disasters — preparedness, mitigation, response and recovery.
“Every single event is formed around that cycle,” Thomason said.
Preparedness involves not only emergency response training and drills, but how citizens can prepare.
Thomason the agency provides the community with opportunities to access important tips and resources that might be needed following a disaster. One of those sources is ReadyRowan, which provides a list of things residents can do before a disaster and is found on the county website.
The county offers citizens training classes, Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), which trains residents on how to be prepared. The county website also offers ways businesses and schools can prepare for disasters.
“The more knowledge they have the better prepared they are if an event occurs,” Thomason said.
Emergency responders have even given presentations to churches, civic groups and schools.
Rescuers also undergo multi-agency training through drills with the hospital, utility company and the health department.
“It’s like a symphony, everyone has a role,” Thomason said.
His department works to mitigate what risks are involved if a disaster strikes through risk assessments. The department can work with area businesses to come up with a disaster plan and determine if there are hazards present within the company.
“We see what we can do to minimize risk,” Thomason said.
The three largest natural hazardous concerns are those from tornadoes, thunderstorms and severe winter storms.
In the tornado response to Farrington Meadows, Thomason said, responders initially assessed whether there were injuries or deaths. Once they discovered there were none the response became more about assessing property damage.
He said responders had to literally cut trees to make a path down Newport Road.
Thomason said from the first moment responders go to the scene, recovery begins.
One of the first major concerns in the Farrington Meadows subdivision was restoring power to the residents who were without it. There were some downed utility lines that Duke Energy was called in to handle. The Hanford Dole Chapter of the American Red Cross also assisted residents and responders.
Thomason recalled many of the homes had shingle and roof damage. Some of the response meant personnel helped homeowners connect with their insurance companies. Security was also an issue, he said, there were many onlookers who just wanted to ride through the neighborhood to “see the damage.”
Law enforcement provided roadblocks that kept none residents out and allowed residents to enter, if needed. The Department of Transportation loaned caution signs that warned motorists of the destruction ahead.
“It takes a coordinated response to make it work,” Thomason said of disaster response.
Thomason said North Carolina is in a geographic area that lends itself to severe weather that can form tornadoes.
A tornado is a vortex of violently rotating winds that look like a funnel-shaped cloud that extend from a thunderstorm to the ground, National Weather Service experts said.
There are key indicators for impending severe conditions — tornado watch and tornado warning.
A watch means tornadoes are possible in the area and residents should stay tuned to news or radio while a warning means a tornado is either on the ground or has been detected and residents should immediately seek shelter.
“There are places that have more tornadoes at certain times of the year,” said meteorologist John Tomko, but he noted “tornadoes can occur at any time or day of the year.”
In the southern part of the United States, peak tornado season is from March through May. Peak times for tornadoes in the northern states are during the summer. However, there are a few southern states have a “second peak time” for tornado outbreaks in the fall.
More than 500 tornadoes occur in the central part of the U.S. every year that includes Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Texas, South Dakota, North Dakota, Iowa, Arkansas and Louisiana. This area makes up what is commonly known as Tornado Alley.
“Traditionally places like the northeast, Rocky Mountains and west coast don’t get that many tornadoes. There have even been tornadoes in Alaska and Canada,” Tomko said.
He said this year’s severe weather season was off to a slow start and normally about this time of year there would’ve already been reported deaths. The only reported death in North Carolina was an 11-month-old Chowan boy who died after sustaining injuries in an EF3 tornado that struck a week ago. Tornadoes hit Mississippi and Arkansas, which were two of the hardest hit states, where there were 27 confirmed storm-related deaths. Deaths were also reported in Oklahoma, Iowa, Tennessee and Alabama.
“Unfortunately we’ve had fatalities this week,” he said.
Just recently the National Weather Service issued a tornado warning for the northwestern area of Rowan County that also included Davie and Iredell counties. The April 25 warning said there was a severe thunderstorm capable of producing a tornado. On the same day, Salisbury resident Ruth Young had a tree crash through her Lilly Avenue home. She was not injured and the storm that uprooted the tree was not a tornado, but it did produce strong winds, rain and thunderstorms.
The National Weather Service says 11 percent of all tornadoes are considered strong and produces EF2 or EF3 damage. The winds from such a storm reaches 111 to 165 mph.
Since January there were 243 tornadoes reported, 26 of those were in North Carolina.
Since 1978, there have been eight confirmed tornadoes to hit Rowan County, none of which resulted in deaths. The most recent tornado was the one that hit the Franklin community in April 2011, but before that there was a tornado March 28, 2010 that barreled through Spencer.
To learn more about how to respond to tornadoes and other disasters visit the Rowan County website at www.rowancountync.gov for more information.
Contact reporter Shavonne Potts at 704-797-4253.

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