University finds ways to cope with severe weather on campus

A UNA student gets soaked in the pouring rain Jan. 17 as he prepares to use the crosswalk on Wood Avenue. Meteorologists predict more rain and warmer temperatures in Florence in the coming months.

Trudging through campus in the early weeks of the spring semester to avoid snow and heavy rain, UNA students can expect more unusual weather in the coming months as temperatures rise and precipitation increases, officials said.

The Shoals has experienced a mixed bag of weather conditions this month-including tornadoes, snow, unseasonably warm temperatures, rain and flooding-and those conditions are only expected to increase in the next few months, said Jennifer Lee, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Huntsville.

Last spring’s snow and tornado activity prompted the university to create a stronger weather strategy as part of UNA’s new crisis communication plan that is being developed by Josh Woods, director of University Communications.

Woods said the weather plan will include an improved system of action for future extreme weather situations. For example, three back-up systems have been added in the emergency operations center on campus so officials can communicate with students even if power goes out as it did in Florence after the April 27 tornadoes last year.

“In the crisis communication plan, weather plays a major part in it,” Woods said. “Things have to be dealt with pretty quickly.”

When there is severe weather in the Shoals, UNA police Chief Bob Pastula keeps an eye on conditions and monitors the situation using specialized radar.

He said he gives his recommendation to UNA President Bill Cale, who ultimately makes the decision on whether to delay opening or close the university.

Pastula said he submitted the paperwork last week to the National Weather Service for UNA to become a storm ready university.

“We do our best to monitor the weather and road conditions and make sure that everyone is safe in getting to campus and around campus,” he said. “If students are afraid to venture out in severe weather, we recommend they not. If they’re uncomfortable with the weather, then by all means stay home.”

This month, temperatures have been above average and the amount of rain in the Shoals and across the Tennessee Valley has been higher than normal, according to Lee.

She said there have been more than six inches of rain in Northwest Alabama this month, which is more than 2.5 inches above normal. She also said temperatures in the Shoals have been several degrees higher than the average in January.

Dr. Richard Statom, assistant professor of geology, names meteorology as one of his research focuses. He said the Shoals is experiencing the La Nina weather pattern, which occurs due to unusually cold ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific, unlike El Nino, which includes unusually warm ocean temperatures.

“We’re going to be looking at a little wetter weather and temperatures that are higher than normal,” he said. “It’s where we are in the country in where our weather patterns occur that put us in an inclement weather area where the southern air from the Gulf meets the cold air from the north.”

Lee said students should improve their own emergency preparedness for severe weather to cope with future extreme weather on campus and in the Shoals.

“The best thing to do is to make sure you’re educated in terms of knowing what to expect in the forecast,” she said. “Be aware that if we’re expecting a winter storm to come in, that you know what to do and how to prepare for winter weather. You need to have things prepared for severe weather ahead of time so you’re not running around at the last minute.”