Having a plan and being prepared are essential to safety during inclement weather and tornadoes.
The Rotary Club of Cleveland was given a review of best practices Tuesday by Chattanooga meteorologist Paul Barys, who is the primary weatherman for WRCB-TV.
Having a plan is the most important element to staying safe in a tornado.
“Don’ let anybody tell you, ‘Oh it can’t happen here,’ because it can,’” Barys said.
He advised having a weather radio and setting a channel for Bradley County so it will provide alerts when dangerous weather is coming.
He said having such an item is important because it will wake a person up if a tornado is coming while they are asleep.
He said there is often not enough time to develop a plan when a tornado is spotted.
“You may only have 30 seconds,” Barys said.
Barys said the safest place is in a basement. He said if someone has an upper level apartment they need to make friends with someone on the ground floor so that they will have a safe place to go.
“No. 1 rule: Stay away from windows,” Barys said.
He said curiosity often draws people to watching tornadoes at the window rather than going for shelter.
“You can’t see wind. You can’t see when the wind’s coming at you. So let’s say you have an 80-90 [mph] wind that’s headed for your window and you are standing up next to it. You don’t want to be in the way when that 80-90 wind gust hits,” Barys said. “That is how most people get hurt, is flying glass.”
Instead, find a room or closet with no outer walls to take shelter in, Barys said. This still might not save one’s life, Barys said.
“The smaller the room, the safer the room,” Barys said.
The safest place would be a tornado shelter, he said.
If driving when a tornado is close, the driver and passengers should take shelter in a ditch, trying to get as flat as possible. He said people should never seek shelter from a tornado under a bridge because the high winds can come right at them pushing them against the concrete sides.
Many times tornadoes follow straight lines but that is not always the case.
“Weather we’ve had the last few years in the Tennessee Valley is actually more interesting, except for the ’93 blizzard, than all the other years I have been here combined,” Barys said.
The Blizzard of 1993 that struck the South tops his list of interesting weather.
He has been in Chattanooga for nearly 29 years.
In that time, science and technology have advanced and drastically changed the way weather is forecast.
Today weather forecasters often know days ahead of time if severe storms are coming. This was not the case when Barys began his career.
“Computers have changed absolutely everything with forecasting,” Barys said. “I get more data in one day now than I got in an entire year when I worked for a private weather service (his first job in the field). There is so much that you can’t look at it [all]; you have to just pick and choose.”