EMA: Weather radios can save lives

Published 11:57 pm Monday, January 23, 2012

Covington County luckily escaped any serious damage from the line of severe thunderstorms that unleashed tornadoes on parts of northern Alabama Monday, killing at least two and injuring 100, said County EMA Director Susan Harris.

Gov. Robert Bentley has declared a state of emergency for all 67 counties, while meteorologists with the National Weather Service said it could be as late as today before the specifics of the storm that hit Jefferson County is known.

It appears, however, it was a single tornado that traveled from Tuscaloosa, through Jefferson County and into St. Clair County, during a two-hour stretch beginning about 2:30 a.m., said meteorologist Mark Rose. A second storm system moved into Chilton County about 5 a.m., causing widespread damage there as well. Authorities believe that, too, was a tornado, but said they likely won’t have that confirmed until today.

The most severe damage was in Oak Grove, Center Point and Clay, where hundreds of homes were damaged or destroyed.

Harris said in instances of inclement weather – like Monday’s storm system – a NOAA weather radio is invaluable.

“My advice is get one. It may save your life,” she said.

She said the radios provide continuous broadcasts direct from your mobile weather office of the National Weather Service, which is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of the U.S. Department of Commerce. NOAA Weather Radio broadcasts the latest weather information on seven frequencies in the 162.40 to 162.55 MHz range, and in many cases can be received up to 40 miles from the transmitter.

“In the Mobile NWS office forecast area, NOAA weather radio transmitters serve a total of 29 counties in Southeast Mississippi, Southwest Alabama and Northwest Florida,” she said. “Covington County receives the signal from the Dozier tower at 162.550 MHz.:

She said the regular broadcasts are tailored to the needs of the people that live within the listening area of a transmitter.

“During hazardous weather situations, though, regular programming will be interrupted to provide up-to-date information, watches or most importantly, warnings,” she said. “A special tone, which automatically triggers weather radio receivers with an ‘alert’ feature, can also be used to alert the listener of a dangerous weather situation.

“In addition to the regular alarm tone, which sounds the alarm within the entire transmitter listening area encompassing multiple counties, we now generate a SAME – which is short for Specific Area Message Encoder alarm – which allows you to select only the county or counties you want to be alerted for,” she said. “Which allows you to program your receiver for a specific county or for multiple counties, thus eliminating alerts for counties you are not concerned about.”

SAME equipped receivers are available to the general public from local radio supply stores and range in cost from $50 to $100 per unit.

Harris said the SAME code for Covington County is 001039.