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September 2019
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Last week’s storms prove weather warnings save lives

While damage here was nowhere near the magnitude of other southern cities like Tuscaloosa and Ringgold, dozens of families in Pickens became victims of last Wednesday’s furious storms.

Some homes were completely demolished, their belongings exploded across the landscape, but miraculously no one was harmed.

Not only do we feel this brutal storm has altered the consciousness of residents in the south who now seem to be taking more seriously the importance of preparation and precaution, we feel that weather forecasting made a strong case for itself.

From the beginning of the week we heard the constant warnings on television and radio broadcasts. Meteorologists issued the direst of warnings, dubbing the system a “mega storm” and painting huge swaths of the country red with severe weather systems they said would sweep across 40 percent of the nation.

Their forecasts were so horrific, in fact, it was almost difficult to know what to do with them. Were they blowing things out of proportion? Early in the week it was easy to dismiss, but as the days rolled on the predictions intensified.

From official reports and first hand experiences we know that people here heeded those warnings, fleeing to friends and families homes that were safer than their own. Those cavaliers who typically ride severe weather out on their patio because they like to “see what’s coming,” ran instead to their basements and their bathtubs for shelter.

We’ve heard stories of 15 or more huddling into storm shelters or friends’ basements, and families putting on their motorcycle helmets or blockading themselves with mattresses and pillows.

These actions  saved lives. Pickens County Fire Chief Bob Howard has estimated that had residents here not evacuated their homes, a minimum of 12 fatalities would have occurred.

Not too long ago this kind of preparation was not possible. Weather forecasting technology has come so far in such a short period of time, making the 24-hour lead time we had here in Pickens a reality.

We’ve come a long way since the Italian-born Evangelista Torricelli invented the barometer in 1643, or the first satellite images of Earth were taken in 1960 when the polar-orbiting satellite TIROS 1 was launched.

Over the past 40 years satellite sensor technology has made huge strides and Doppler radar technology has advanced, allowing forecasts to be more accurate and reliable.

The ability to disseminate these forecasts has also become much easier. We no longer rely on tornado sirens or buzzing National Weather Service warnings issued on television or radio broadcasts.

Now we have cell phones, weather apps and smart phones. These services save lives by providing us with connectivity when the power goes out, and we’re glad they’re here.

Here in Pickens County we also have the Code Red weather alert system, which has received lots of positive feedback.

Those registered for this service will receive a call to either their cell phone or home phone, or both, in the event the National Weather Service issues weather warnings.

You can visit the Pickens County government website at and scroll down. In the left-hand column you will see a link to the Code Red site. There you simply enter your telephone number and location information and you’ll start receiving the calls.

Now that the dust is beginning to settle from last week’s storms we are hearing residents here talking about installing storm shelters of their own, purchasing weather radios or making evacuation plans for the future. These are all smart moves.

We’re thankful that we live in a time when we have so many ways to be prepared, and we were inspired to see people in Pickens get over being “the cool guy” and actually take last week’s weather forecasts seriously.

Because we did, our community was able to weather this storm without the loss of life.

Like one tornado victim told us last week, “You can replace things, but you can’t replace people.”