Lessons learned from April 27, 2011 - WBRC FOX6 News - Birmingham, AL

Lessons learned from April 27, 2011

Tornado in Pickens County on Tuesday, Feb. 2. Source: WBRC video Tornado in Pickens County on Tuesday, Feb. 2. Source: WBRC video
BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) -

There have been a lot of changes since severe weather struck five years ago. Several cities and counties have created alerts, disaster response plans, notification systems and safe rooms have been built.

"There have been a number of shelters installed throughout Alabama. One of the successes recently was the Pickens County tornado in February. The community went to the shelter, the tornado went over the shelter and everyone was safe. A wonderful example of lessons learned and community response from April 27th," John De Block said.

A recent survey of about 3 thousand people in Alabama and Mississippi over the course of 3 months took a look at how things unfolded.

There was some concern about the number of fatalities across the state so television meteorologists teamed up with the National Weather Service and Dr. Laura Myers, Director and Sr. Research Scientist at the University of Alabama for answers.

"We started doing research on the public to find out what they knew, when they knew it and how they knew it," Myers said.

"We discovered that a lot of people were relying on tornado sirens and that they didn't have multiple ways to get warnings and so on April 27th the way things unfolded, a lot of people didn't get the information they needed," Myers added.

The National Weather Service now uses social media and continues the effort to utilize new tools to provide timely and accurate predictions.

"One of the other improvements since that day and time we had the dual polarization of the doppler radar completed which allows us to see the difference of debris that may be lofting into the atmosphere to give us that confirmation that a tornado has occurred," De Block said.

Researchers say the public has reacted to the events on April 27th as well, by becoming better prepared. More and more people now have helmets to use as they brace for severe weather.

Dr. Myers said just about any helmet will work: football, baseball, motorcycle even a construction hard hat can prevent injury and death. She said helmets should be easily available in the home, work place or vehicle in case of a tornado.

"A lot of research was being done about the protection of the head, blunt force trauma coming from wind damage. And so it was like, that would be a great solution. Everybody get your helmets. Everybody has got sports helmets. And start using those. And we've seen more and more people since then say, that's part of their plan. They have their helmets in their safe place. They especially put the helmets on the children," Myers said.

Myers said even though we have rebuilt and recovered in many areas we still have be weather aware five years later. She said when we get a watch, warning or alert that explains the possible impact of a storm, we should pay attention and take the proper action sooner than later.

"Is it just going to blow down trees or knock down houses? That gives people an idea of what kind of sheltering they need to take," Myers said.

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