Thanks to a certain girl in ruby slippers, everyone knows about Kansas and its tornadoes. The state is one of many in the Midwest that make up Tornado Alley, an area of the country that is most susceptible to tornadoes.
But while storms do rage over the plains, tornadoes are just as much a way of life in the Deep South, or Dixie Alley, as meteorologists have named the region. Dixie Alley stretches across the eastern edges of Texas and Arkansas through Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia, and includes some parts of South Carolina, North Carolina, Missouri, and Kentucky.
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Birmingham-based meteorologist James Spann has seen his fair share of tornadoes in his time with local station ABC 33/40, and has a couple of things he wants anyone living in Dixie Alley to know.
1. Dixie Alley technically has two tornado season.
For anyone wondering when tornado season is in the Deep South, there's actually two separate sets of tornado season months to worry about, and they're a little different from the Tornado Alley season. "You've got your spring season, which spans the traditional spring months, March, April, and May," Spann says. "Then you have your fall season, which falls in November and December. So there's really two seasons in the Deep South."
Most Southerners are familiar with the spring season, but it can be easy to be caught off-guard by a Christmastime twister, Spann says. In Tornado Alley, it's usually too cold in the fall and winter to produce a tornado, but in the South, the lower latitude is more conducive to the low pressure systems that spawn the storms.
Though most typical tornado activity falls within one of those two seasons, tornadoes can touch down any time of year.
2. Don't rely on tornado sirens to let you know when to take shelter.
One of the biggest problems Spann says Alabama Residents encountered in the deadly string of tornadoes that his the state on April 27, 2011, was a reliance on tornado sirens that couldn't always be heard. "It's an old World War I mentality," Spann says. "We have to stop the siren dependency and move toward more modern ways of severe weather notification."
Spann says it's imperative to have at least two means of finding out about weather conditions, specifically a weather radio with a battery backup and some sort of smartphone app. Most smartphones come equipped with Wireless Emergency Alerts (a government service that will send home screen notifications during tornado warnings, flash flood warnings, and AMBER alerts), but Spann recommends downloading a third-party app like Weather Radio by WDT. The app is available for both Apple and Android products and costs $4.99.
3. Always be prepared.
The April 27, 2011, tornadoes may have been the most recent example of a large-scale disaster in the South, but Spann warns against getting too comfortable or assuming that every tornado warning is benign. "It's been quiet for six years, but that doesn't mean it's going to stay that way," Spann says. "You can feel the complacency creeping in, but we want people to stay safe when it does happen again."
You don't need a concrete shelter or a basement to stay safe, but everyone should have a designated safe space in their home and workplace to go to as soon as a warning is issued. The safest place in any building is on the ground floor, as close to the center of the building as possible, in a small area with no exterior doors, windows, or walls. Everyone should remain in a safe space until the warning has come to an end.
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While safety is paramount when a storm hits, bad storms are relatively rare. "People should never be afraid of storms when they come up," Spann says. "Just stay in touch, know your warnings, and we'll be fine."
For more tornado safety tips, visit the National Weather Service website.