Click here to download a printable PDF with a checklist and storm shelter locations.
'Tornado Watch' vs 'Tornado Warning'
Alabama is different from most areas around the country by having two distinct tornado seasons. The primary Spring peak season in Alabama is March through May while a secondary peak season come from November to early December.
According to the National Weather Service (NWS), a tornado watch is issued where tornados might accur. If a tornado watch is issued for your area, then preparations should be made to quickly take safety measures in the event that a tornado warning is issued.
A tornado warning is issued when a tornado has been visually confirmed or indicated by weather radar. In 2007, the NWS stopped issuing tornado warnings for entire counties in favor of the much more narrow polygon-based warning system. The polygon gives a much more precise path that the storm will take. If you find yourself inside a warning polygon, you should take action immediately to protect yourself and your family.
Often, a severe thunderstorm warning can pose a threat to life and property as well. The NWS defines a severe thunderstorm as producing hail at least 1" in diameter and/or winds of at least 58 mph. Wind gusts in a severe thunderstorm can often exceed that parameter, at times approaching hurricane force wind, further increasing the risk of tree and property damage. Another risk of a severe thunderstorm is life-threatening cloud-to-ground lightning. For these reasons, a severe thunderstorm should always be taken seriously.
While the NWS has opted for the polygon-based warning system, Walker County's tornado warning sirens are county-wide. No matter where in the county a tornado warning is issued, the sirens will sound across Walker County.
Walker County tests its outdoor warning sirens on the first Wednesday of every month, except when weather permits. In the event of inclement weather, sirens will be tested the next Wednesday.
The City of Jasper tests its outdoor warning sirens on the first Tuesday of every month between 5 and 6 p.m..
While the sirens are a helpful tool to warm residents of a warning, they should not be anyone's only way to receive a weather alert. A NOAA Weather Radio is universally recommended to receive warnings.
It is important to know not only the location of Walker County, but also the surrounding counties.
If a severe thunderstorm or tornado warning is issued for surrounding counties, such as Tuscaloosa, Fayette or Winston for example, those storms have the potential to move into and affect Walker County as well. When looking at weather maps or watching television coverage, it is important to know what you are looking at. Be sure to pay attention to not only the location of the warning, but also the direction and speed at which the storm is moving.
Once a tornado watch is issued, you should immediately be ready to take action in the event of a warning. By this time, you should have your severe storm plan in place along with any supplies you may need if disaster strikes.
If you are at home when a tornado warning is issued, go to your basement or the centermost room of your house away from any windows. Manufactured homes are not safe if a tornado strikes. If outside, seek shelter in a sturdy building. Storage buildings and sheds are not safe, nor is being inside a vehicle.
If your home or current location does not have a safe space, know where your nearest approved storm shelter is. Make sure you allow yourself enough time to get to the closest shelter BEFORE the storm hits!
If you are in a situation that requires immediate emergency help, call 9-1-1 immediately. Be sure to be as specific as possible about your situation and where you located. However, in the event of non-threatening structural damage, those calls should be directed to the Walker County EMA.
In the hours and days following a tornado event, emergency personnel are busy trying to save lives while others are working through what is left of their homes. If you live outside of the impacted area, do not go sightseeing and leave the roadways open for only those in need. Likewise, even though your neighborhood may not be not directly affected by the storm, your power may be out for days. If you use one, remember to never run a portable power generator in an enclosed location.
If you must be traveling, avoid downed power lines and flooded roads.
For the latest traffic updates and road conditions, download ALGO Traffic: Android iPhone
While winter weather is less of a threat in central Alabama than other types of severe weather, it is a problem Walker County will occasionally face.
If winter weather is expected, the NWS will issue one of three advisories:
Winter Weather Watch - Wintry weather expected. Excersize caution. Light amounts of wintry precipitation can cause slick spots and affect trabel is precautions are not taken..
Winter Storm Advisory - Snow, sleet or ice possible. Medium confidence that heavy snow, sleet, freezing rain or ice could occur and have significant impact.
Winter Storm Warning - Snow, sleet or ice expected. High confidence that heavy snow, sleet, freezing rain or ice could occur and have significant impact.
Before a winter storm arrives, it is important to be prepared for more than making milk sandwiches. The biggest hazards of a severe winter storm are two-fold - Power outages and unsafe travel conditions. In the event that both of these occur, have enough supplies readily available until conditions allow for safe travel.
Supplies include but are not limited to:
Heat source such as fireplace, wood burning stove or heat source
Diapers and formula/baby food
Extra prescription medications
After the storm
Unless your vehicle is specifically equipped to travel in icy and wintery conditions, driving after a severe winter storm can be life threatening.
In the event of a power outage, a power generator can be a lifesaver. But generators should never be operated in an enclosed location.
As winter storms are rarely a serious threat to Alabama, most of the state, Walker County included, lacks the infrastructure to adequately treat roadways following a winter storm. For that reason, official road closures should be taken seriously. Do not risk traveling away from home unless it is an emergency.
For the latest traffic updates and road conditions, download ALGO Traffic: Android iPhone
About the NWS
The National Weather Service (NWS) provides weather, water, and climate forecasts and warnings for the United States, its territories, adjacent waters and ocean areas, for the protection of life and property and the enhancement of the national economy. These services include Forecasts and Observations, Warnings, Impact-based Decision Support Services, and Education in an effort to build a Weather-Ready Nation. The ultimate goal is to have a society that is prepared for and responds to weather, water and climate events. (From weather.gov)
The National Weather Service is the organization that actuallly issues watches and warnings, with the Birmingham office serving Walker County and central Alabama. Meteorologists such as James Spann relay that information to the public via various news outlets.
Walker EMA provides a structure for anticipating and dealing with emergency incidents within Walker County. Emergency management includes working with all governmental levels, Non-Profit organizations and the private sector. Walker EMA operates on the four phases of emergency management: Mitigation, Preparedness, Response, and Recovery. Our priorities are: (1) Life Safety, (2) Incident Stabilization, (3) Protect Property and (4) Needs/Damage Assessments.
When/If damages occur due to a weather event it is imperative that those damages be reported. What determines a Disaster Declaration is that information being reported to Walker EMA so that the State EMA can be advised if we need further damage assessment teams and possibly qualify for FEMA disaster assistance.
In the age of retweeting and sharing, it's easy to snap a photo for Twitter and Facebook. However, it is more important to ensure all damages are promptly reports to Walker EMA. Damages can be reported to Walker EMA by either calling the office at 205-384-7233 or by posting to/private messaging the Walker EMA Facebook page.
In the event of a life-threatening emergency, please call 9-1-1.
It is the goal of Walker County 9-1-1 to provide the citizens of Walker County, Alabama with a quick and efficient method of accessing emergency services using 9-1-1. To obtain this we will use trained professionals and state of art communications equipment. (From Walker911.org.)
In the event of severe weather, emergency 9-1-1 services should be utilized only in emergency situations. Damage reports should be directed to Walker County EMA.
Walker County 9-1-1 and Walker EMA are extremely busy during inclement weather events. It is in those times that it is crucial for us to manage what is happening within our county. When non-emergency calls are received, it takes a dispatcher away from being able to answer emergency calls and dispatch the proper responding agencies. Please be mindful of that you never know when it could be your own family's emergency being delayed for non-emergency calls coming in. Please refer to the FAQ below as we try to give answers to the most common questions we receive.
- Walker County 9-1-1 and Walker EMA
My community doesn’t have a shelter. Can I use a shelter in another community?
Can I bring my pet?
Shelters do not allow pets
Are all shelters ADA accessible?
When are shelters opened?
Shelters have different operations plans and you need to reach out to your respective shelter location and ask their specific opening policy for severe weather.
Do the shelters have bathroom facilities?
Can I bring food/beverages into the shelter?
Who opens the shelters?
Each site is operated independently by the operations team over each shelter (not EMA or 9-1-1).
Who do I notify of downed trees in roadways?
You NEED TO CALL 9-1-1 and advise them. They will ask if power lines are also down. That is very important information for our first responders and to call Alabama Power. Try to be as accurate as you can on the location and if the tree is large or small.
What does "roads have been deemed impassable" mean?
That means that road conditions have deteriorated beyond being able to be driven on. This is something you may see us put out during winter weather events.
Who do I notify if I have damages due to inclement weather?
If you have damages that DO REQUIRE emergency services (law enforcement, fire, EMS), call 9-1-1.
If you have damages that DO NOT REQUIRE emergency services (law enforcement, fire EMS), notify Walker EMA.
How do I find out about current road conditions during inclement weather that may impact travel?
DO NOT CALL 9-1-1. Please check the 9-1-1 Facebook page, this information is posted there. You can also check ALGO traffic for state road information or by calling EMA.
Who do I notify if my power is out?
Contact Alabama Power at 1-800-888-2726. You will need your address.
Why do tornado sirens go off all over the county when a small portion may only be affected?
The current system we use is a all or nothing alert. We are unable to set off the sirens in the affected communities with the current system.
Who do I call if the siren in my community does not work?
Why can i not hear the siren in my community from inside my residence?
The intent of sirens is for outdoor use. We strongly recommend that you rely on a NOAA weather radio or a weather app for information rather than a siren.
How often are the tornado sirens tested?
The sirens are tested on the first Wednesday of each month, weather permitting. If it is cloudy, rainy or looks like the weather could be bad, we will not test. If the first date is missed, we will test on the second Wednesday of the month.