Tornado season arrives in North Carolina

Funnel cloud touches down in Kittrell

VIDEO: Carissa Speed photographed a funnel cloud touching down near Kittrell, NC north of Raleigh Wednesday afternoon, Feb. 24, 2016.
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VIDEO: Carissa Speed photographed a funnel cloud touching down near Kittrell, NC north of Raleigh Wednesday afternoon, Feb. 24, 2016.

Tornado season has arrived in North Carolina.

March through May is the three-month stretch when we see the most twisters, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla.

“It starts to ramp up in March,” Justin Lane, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Greer, S.C., said Tuesday. “The peak time is now through May.”

At 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, schools and government buildings statewide plan to hold tornado drills to practice their emergency plans. Test messages will be broadcast on NOAA weather radios and the statewide emergency alert system.

A memo was sent out to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools principals alerting them about the drill. “However, it is not necessarily mandated for Wednesday but encouraged for that morning,” CMS spokesman Brian Hacker said. “Schools have the option of scheduling the drill for another day.”

The Charlotte region and the rest of the state weathered intense storms even before the season began.

In late February, strong wind gusts brought down power lines across the region. Three tornadoes were confirmed in the eastern part of the state.

“As we enter peak severe storm season, the uncertainty we’ve experienced this winter highlights that we need to be ready for whatever nature throws our way,” Gov. Pat McCrory said in declaring this week as Severe Weather Preparedness Week.

Since 1950, March has seen at least 145 tornadoes of varying intensity, according to the Storm Prediction Center. April has experienced at least 200 and May at least 215.

All of last year, the National Weather Service issued 25 tornado warnings for North Carolina and recorded nine tornadoes.

Lane said June and July are the worst months for all types of severe weather combined to strike in the state. That also includes large hail and straight-line thunderstorms, he said.

But severe weather can strike throughout the year, emergency management officials said.

Lane said it’s impossible to predict how severe this year’s severe weather season will be. That’s because such storms are so localized, he said.

In North Carolina, 2015 also saw:

▪ 98 flash flood warnings and 133 flash floods.

▪ 528 severe thunderstorm warnings and 542 severe thunderstorms with damaging winds and/or large hail.

Combined, severe thunderstorms, flash flooding and tornadoes caused nearly $12.5 million in damages last year, according to McCrory’s office.

VIDEO: If your area is under a tornado warning, then you may only have a few minutes to get to safety. Here are the actions you should take during a tornado.

Joe Marusak: 704-358-5067, @jmarusak

Tornado safety tips

Tornadoes usually form during heavy thunderstorms when warm, moist air collides with cold air. The storms also can produce large hail and strong, damaging winds.

Emergency Management officials recommend:

▪ Having a weather radio that broadcasts NWS alerts when severe weather threatens. Many North Carolina tornado deaths happen at night when people are asleep and less likely to receive a warning without a weather radio, officials said.

▪ Knowing where the nearest safe room is, such as a basement or interior room away from windows. Go there immediately if you hear or see a tornado.

▪ If driving, leave your vehicle immediately to seek safety in an adequate structure. Do not try to outrun a tornado in your vehicle, and do not stop under an overpass or a bridge.

▪ If you are outdoors and no shelter is available, taking cover in a low-lying flat area. Watch out for flying debris.

Source: Gov. Pat McCrory’s office