For the Daily News
Starkville and Oktibbeha County are not strangers to severe weather.
Within the past year, the city and county have seen numerous severe thunderstorms, the touchdown of at least two confirmed tornadoes and the heaviest season of frozen precipitation in several years.
As winter segues into spring, Mississippi and many Southern states tend to see an increase in severe weather, and that’s why the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency and the National Weather Service are teaming up to observe National Severe Weather Awareness Week across the state beginning Monday.
Locally, the staff and volunteers of Oktibbeha-Starkville Emergency Response Volunteer Services (OSERVS), are urging residents to join in the observance and review safety precautions in the event of severe weather events locally.
“We’ve seen firsthand the impact a severe weather event can have on people in our community,” said Becky Wilkes, OSERVS executive director. “That’s why it is important that people know about the hazards associated with the types of severe weather and know how to protect themselves and their families.”
OSERVS recently sponsored a SKYWARN Storm Spotter class to help train volunteers in spotting severe weather systems locally.
Beginning Monday and continuing through Friday, Weather Service and MEMA officials will be focusing on a different topic each day of Severe Weather Awareness Week. The following is a breakdown of each day’s topic:
• Monday, “Severe Thunderstorms” — A severe thunderstorm is categorized by NWS meteorologists as a storm system that can produce hail with at least a 1-inch diameter, winds at speeds of 58 mph and greater and tornadoes.
Possible at any time during the year, the most common months for severe thunderstorms are during March, April and May, according to information released by MEMA. In Mississippi, the months of November and December have frequently seen severe thunderstorms.
When the NWS issues a “severe thunderstorm watch,” it means that atmospheric conditions are favorable for these types of storms to develop. A “severe thunderstorm warning” means that a storm has been indicated by weather radar or witnessed by storm spotters.
• Tuesday, “Flooding and Flash Flooding” — Flash floods can occur within a few minutes or up to 6 hours after an excessive rainfall, a dam or levee failure or the sudden release of water held by an ice jam or mudslide, according to MEMA officials.
Flash floods can wash out roads and destroy homes, buildings and bridges in a very short time, making them more threatening than other flooding types. Areas that are most likely to see flash flooding are some streams and rivers, low-lying areas, urban areas, storm drains and culverts.
Locally, previous periods of sustained heavy rainfall have caused flash flooding in some areas of Starkville and Oktibbeha County, particularly in areas where drainage structures are insufficient to handle a sudden onslaught of rushing water.
If a flash flood watch or warning is issued, areas subject to flooding should be evacuated for higher ground. Already flooded areas — particularly those with the presence of rushing water — should be avoided, particularly if already barricaded, MEMA officials say.
Should motorists get caught in a flooded area — particularly at night — and see a vehicle stall, abandon it immediately and seek higher ground.
• Wednesday, “Tornadoes” — Tornadoes are violently rotating columns of air that extend from the base of a storm cloud to the ground.
Conditions favorable for tornadoes include warm, moist, unstable air, strong winds increasing in speed and changing direction with height and a forcing mechanism to lift the air. Tornadoes frequently form out of severe thunderstorm systems.
In Mississippi, months most likely to see tornado activity include March, April and May, as well as November and December.
Tornadoes are classified according to the Enhanced Fujita Scale, with each classification designated by wind speeds and level of potential description.
For example, a weak tornado may be classified as an EF-0 or EF-1 storm and see wind speeds of 65 to 85 mph and 86 to 110 mph, respectively, and light to moderate damage.
An EF-5 tornado would see wind speeds of 200 mph or greater and be capable of catastrophic damage.
Mississippi saw 42 confirmed tornadoes during 2010; the yearly average for the state is 28. The 2010 tornadoes claimed 13 lives, caused 186 injuries statewide and resulted in more than $400 million in estimated damage.
On Wednesday, as part of the tornado focus, MEMA and NWS officials are urging schools, businesses, churches and other agencies to conduct tornado drills at 9:15 a.m. local time, weather permitting.
• Thursday, “Lightning” — Called the “underrated killer” by MEMA and NWS officials, lightning is an extremely powerful electrical discharge containing up to 100 million volts and capable of reaching 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
All thunderstorm systems contain lightning. In 2010, 30 people across the nation were killed by lightning strikes; some 3,919 people have died from lightning strikes in the United States since 1959.
If outdoors when a thunderstorm strikes, seek shelter immediately in a house or vehicle with the windows rolled up. If your hair stands on end and your skin tingles during a storm , a lightning strike is imminent and cover should be taken immediately.
Avoid trees, hilltops, high places, chain link fences and small vehicles such as motorcycles, bicycles and tractors. Once inside, NWS meteorologists recommend staying away from windows, avoiding telephones and not using electrical appliances.
If someone is struck by lightning, begin CPR immediately to maintain vital body functions until medical help can be obtained.
• Friday, “Day of Review — Friday would be a good day to review what has been learned about severe weather and safety precautions.
Safety tips in severe weather
Here are a few tips offered by MEMA and NWS for being prepared for severe weather:
• Have a plan — Think ahead and educate your family on what actions to take when severe weather occurs.
• Stay or go indoors — There is no safe place outside during a thunderstorm, tornado or flash flooding situation.
• Be informed — When the threat of severe weather is present, pay attention to local media outlets, stay tuned to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) radio and visit the NWS homepage on the Internet at http://www.srh.noaa.gov  for up to date information.
• Know your county — NWS meteorologists will issue severe weather watches and warnings by county and identify severe weather systems by county.
• Get an NOAA weather radio — This is the best way to receive the latest and most up to date weather information from the Weather Service.
For more information about severe weather preparedness, visit http://www.oservs.com  or the MEMA website at http://www.msema.org .