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Spring brings potentially severe weather

COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- Spring brings an increased occurrence of severe weather. Knowing what actions to take during severe weather can help protect one's family, pets and property. Using this information will help develop a plan and be ready when threatening weather approaches. Climatologically, Columbus AFB has recorded wind speeds, in association with thunderstorms, in excess of 50 knots, 58 miles per hour, for every month of the year with February through April being the most likely months for severe weather events. Severe thunderstorms can produce tornadoes, lightning, strong winds, flash flooding and hail.
Thunderstorms occur more often, from an average of two thunderstorm days per month in January to 13 days per month in July. Strong thunderstorm winds can exceed 100 mph and cause damage equal to a tornado. Feb. 16, 2001, severe thunderstorm winds caused extensive damage to downtown Columbus. Columbus AFB recorded 62 knots, 71 mph, as the thunderstorms moved through the base and winds downtown were estimated in excess of 100 mph.
Lightning causes an average of 82 fatalities and 300 injuries each year and occurs with all thunderstorms; each year lightning strikes the Earth 20 million times and the air near a lightning strike is heated to 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit, hotter than the surface of the sun. If thunder is heard, the storm is close enough for lighting to strike. Seek shelter immediately.
Hail causes more than $1 billion in crop and property damage each year. Large stones fall at speeds faster than 100 mph. While hail is not that common of an occurrence in the southeastern states, Columbus AFB has recorded numerous cases of 1/4 to 3/4 inch hail.
Tornadoes cause an average of 70 fatalities and 1,500 injuries each year. They can produce wind speed in excess of 250 mph, be one mile wide and stay on the ground covering over 50 statute miles. Prepare by selecting a place where family members could gather if a tornado is headed your way. It could be a basement or, if there is no basement, a center hallway, bathroom or closet on the lowest floor. Keep this place uncluttered.
Flash flooding is the number one cause of deaths associated with thunderstorms; more than 140 fatalities each year. Stay away from high water, storm drains, ditches, ravines or culverts. If it is moving swiftly, even water six inches deep can knock a person off their feet. Do not attempt to drive through a flooded area with water that is continuously flowing. An inaccurate determination of the depth of the water may leave a victim trapped in the car.
When a WATCH is issued, the potential exists for the occurrence, whereas a WARNING indicates that the phenomena are occurring. Severe thunderstorms or tornado warnings are issued when forecasters detect a severe thunderstorm or tornado. This could be based on Doppler radar or visual observations.