When Decatur was under a tornado watch last month, the campus-wide email lacked the relevant information necessary for students in the event of a tornado warning, and simply stated that severe weather that could be possible and that Agnes Scott students should “monitor the weather conditions closely and be prepared to shelter in place.” Not only did this email neglect to specify that Decatur was under a tornado watch at that time, it did not explain the difference between a watch and a warning was also sent forty-five minutes after the watch had been issued by the National Weather Service; in forty-five minutes, a tornado warning could have been issued and a tornado could have passed through.
On average, 1,253 tornadoes touch down across the United States annually. In Georgia, that number is an average of 30 tornadoes a year. The Georgia tornado season peaks during March, April, and May, and tornadoes are responsible for the majority of weather-related deaths in the state each year. According to the Weather Channel’s tornado expert Dr. Greg Forbes, Atlanta is one of the most tornado-prone cities in the United States.
Tornadoes are unpredictable and can form with little to no warning. For this reason, it is imperative that Agnes Scott students know the college’s emergency procedure in the event of a tornado.
The Agnes Scott Safety Guidelines describing Agnes Scott’s emergency procedures were included in the Irvine in early March but they are not posted on the Agnes Scott website. For students who are not familiar with tornadoes, this information is essential and should be more readily available. Students may not know the language surrounding tornadoes and what to do if a tornado warning is issued.
A tornado watch means that weather conditions are favorable for the formation of tornadoes. A tornado warning means that a tornado has either been sighted or a funnel is forming. If a watch is issued, you should stay alert and either listen to a weather radio or a TV and keep your devices charged in case the power goes out. If a warning is issued, there is an imminent threat of a tornado and you should take shelter immediately. The last time Agnes Scott included this information in an email was April 10, 2015. As tornado outbreaks are becoming more severe due to changes in the environment, this is information that Agnes Scott should be relaying to its students in order to ensure they are well-informed and know what to do in case a tornado warning is issued.
With advancements in weather technology, NOAA’s (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) current average advance warning time for tornadoes is thirteen minutes. This does not mean that tornadoes will not form more quickly. There are several visual warning signs that may indicate that a tornado is about to strike in the case of insufficient warning time: a dark green or greenish-yellow sky, large hail without rain, a roar similar to the sound of an approaching train, an approaching wall of debris, and a sudden stillness.
On Agnes Scott’s campus, if there is a tornado warning, mass emails and text messages will be sent out to the campus community. An emergency siren for Decatur will also sound. If you receive a text or email or hear the tornado siren, you need to take shelter immediately.
According to the Agnes Scott Safety Guidelines, “If you are in a residence hall, academic building, or nearby apartments or homes: go to a central area on the lowest level. Stay away from windows. If you are in a car: stop, get out and go to the storm shelter or lowest level in a nearby building. If you are outside or in an open space: Lie flat in a ditch or depression and cover your head with your hands. DO NOT seek shelter under an overpass or bridge.” If possible, pull a mattress over your head or shelter underneath a sturdy piece of furniture. Never open windows.
As tornado season for Atlanta continues, it is imperative that Agnes Scott students stay on top of the weather and, most importantly, stay safe!