National News

March 31, 2013

Tornado warnings vary by county

ATLANTA — Tornadoes are Georgia’s No. 1 weather-related killer, claiming 23 lives and causing $500 million in damage from 2008 to 2012. But just how much warning you receive before a tornado hits your home depends on where you live.

Last week’s deadly storms served notice that spring is the most favorable time of year for a strike, and history shows twister touchdowns are most likely in April.

A survey by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution of more than 30 counties and cities found the systems used by governments to warn residents vary, with some providing no notice of an approaching storm.

Experts agree there isn’t one perfect plan for alerting those in the storm’s path, but say the key is having several systems in place to ensure there are multiple ways a resident can be notified. The challenge for county leaders is to balance limited resources, changing technology and the needs of the county’s population.

In Hall County, where some of the state’s deadliest tornadoes have hit, including a 1998 storm that killed 12, county emergency officials say it’s their duty to notify residents. Hall, with 185,000 residents, has one of the region’s most aggressive warning systems including 21 outdoor sirens, an automatic call-out system for landlines and a voluntary notification system, which sends messages to cell phones and mobile devices.

Just south in Gwinnett County, home to more than 800,000 people, there are no county-operated outdoor sirens, social media warnings or call-out systems. Eleven tornadoes have hit suburban Gwinnett County since 1950, including a 130 mph twister that slammed into Buford in November 2010. County emergency officials say they have a limited number of resources and are investing in lightening sensors to address Gwinnett’s biggest threat — severe thunderstorms.

“There’s isn’t a standard one-sized fits all for Georgia,” said Lisa Janak Newman, spokesman for the Georgia Emergency Management Agency. “It’s up to each individual community to determine the best system to serve residents.”

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