At 7 a.m. Monday the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Storm Prediction Center extended its tornado watch to include all of Flagler County, including Palm Coast, Putnam and Marion counties until 11 a.m. A wind advisory is in effect until 4 p.m.
The watches are ahead of a weather system that has unleashed some 150 reports of severe weather in the Southeast United States since Sunday evening, including a reported tornado 11 miles south of Columbia in Mississippi, and a tornado that touched down for two minutes in southeast Texas. Flooding was reported in parts of Mississippi.
The National Weather Service in Jacksonville was forecasting showers and thunderstorms likely in the morning for Flagler, then partly cloudy with a slight chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon, with highs in the mid-80s and west winds 15 to 20 mph, gusting up to 40 mph in the morning, 30 mph in the afternoon. Gusty winds could blow around unsecured objects. Tree limbs could be blown down and a few power outages may result, the National Weather Service cautions.
The chance of rain was at 70 percent. Flagler’s drought index Monday morning was at 340 on a scale of 800, with zero meaning the ground is saturated, and 800 meaning conditions are bone dry. Wildfires in the area have tended to pop up once the index crosses into the 400s. Every substantial rain event lowers the index.
What is a Tornado Watch? NOAA has one clear directive: Be prepared. A watch means that tornadoes are possible in and near the watch area. Ensure that you have an emergency plan in place. Check supplies you may need such as flashlights, back-up batteries for your devices, and your safe room. Be ready to act quickly if a warning is issued or you suspect a tornado is approaching. Acting early helps to save lives. The watch area is typically large, covering numerous counties or even states.
Warnings are typically issued for smaller areas, where the National Prediction center has detected a tornado either through a sighting or on radar, meaning there is imminent danger to life and property. In case of a warning, which would be issued to your phone or by email if you’ve signed up for Flagler’s alert system, move to an interior room on the lowest floor of a sturdy building. Avoid windows. If you’re in a mobile home, a vehicle or outdoors, move to the closest substantial shelter and protect yourself from flying debris.
On April 9, the American Meteorological Society issued its “Tornado Sheltering Guidelines during the Covid-19 Pandemic.”
“Do not let the virus prevent you from seeking refuge from a tornado,” the statement reads. ” If you cannot take refuge in your home, discuss sheltering with neighbors, friends, or family.”