published Thursday, February 23rd, 2012

Severe weather week arrives along with storms in Chattanooga area

UTC emergency management specialist Tim Pridemore tests an Alertus beacon alert system device mounted on the wall of a classroom on the campus of UTC. The beacons are being installed in UTC's 100 most-used classrooms and provide flashing alerts, alarm sirens and text instructions in situations of immediate threat.
UTC emergency management specialist Tim Pridemore tests an Alertus beacon alert system device mounted on the wall of a classroom on the campus of UTC. The beacons are being installed in UTC's 100 most-used classrooms and provide flashing alerts, alarm sirens and text instructions in situations of immediate threat.
Photo by Doug Strickland.
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It's Severe Weather Awareness Week -- and possible severe weather is moving into the Chattanooga area.

"It's quite a coincidence," said Kate Guillet, a meteorological intern for the National Weather Service in Morristown, Tenn., which declared this week Severe Weather Awareness Week in its region of Tennessee, Virginia and two counties in North Carolina.

Unstable air was forecast to hit the Chattanooga area starting Wednesday evening and continuing into tonight. The storms could bring in damaging winds, hail and even the small possibility of an isolated tornado, she said.

The NWS declared Severe Weather Awareness Week in light of the April 2011 tornadoes that tore through Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama. The Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety, a nonprofit research center in South Carolina, is using the week to provide information from its research to benefit the public.

"Last year, severe weather struck in places that weren't accustomed to it," institute spokesman Joseph King said. "It's critical to always be prepared for Mother Nature."

Each day of the week focuses on a specific weather-related topic, including severe thunderstorms, lightning, tornadoes, flooding and weather radios.

The week kicked off Sunday with a Skywarn Spotters class in Morristown, where members of the public were told what to notice in weather patterns and how to report conditions that indicate severe weather.

"It's very valuable to have people that have been educated," Guillet said. "We can't see everything that's in our area."

Separate from the week's events, the NWS hosted a webinar on the incoming storm front Wednesday afternoon.

Tim Pridemore, emergency management specialist for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, sat in on the webinar. Afterward, he concluded that no extraordinary precautions had to be taken to prepare the campus.

"We'll talk to the grounds people to tie down anything that could get blown away, but there's nothing that is going to affect classes," Pridemore said. "At this point, it's a matter of personal safety than university safety."

However, UTC is prepared for the worst. Twenty-six emergency alert beacons and screens -- called Alertus -- are set up in the Engineering, Mathematics and Computer Sciences building, and a total of 170 Alertus systems are set to be installed across campus in classrooms that see more than 40 students per week, Pridemore said.

Standing in a UTC classroom Wednesday, he demonstrated the system by typing a sample message on the system's website. Hanging in a classroom, the Alertus system flashed red and displayed his message. Pridemore said the new system will reach a wide range of people more quickly.

"Some classes don't allow you to use cell phones, so this overcomes that hurdle," he said. "We can even trigger this to go off in certain classrooms but not others.

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