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TUESDAY, OCTOBER 23, 2007
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A view of the skyline in Decatur when Morgan County was under a tornado watch Thursday.
Daily photo by Jonathan Palmer
A view of the skyline in Decatur when Morgan County was under a tornado watch Thursday.

No more crying wolf about weather
New emergency alert system allows for more precise warnings

By Paul Huggins
phuggins@decaturdaily.com · 340-2395

Emergency officials don't like being affiliated with the boy who cried wolf, and they believe unnecessary warnings in Morgan County could end soon.

Clouds linger over Limestone County on Monday. Heavy rain is expected in the Tennessee Valley through Tuesday.
Daily photo by Jonathan Palmer
Clouds linger over Limestone County on Monday. Heavy rain is expected in the Tennessee Valley through Tuesday.
Beginning Nov. 1, Morgan households equipped with weather radios that feature Specific Area Message Encoding technology will be able to program their radios to only warn them when danger is nearby.

As part of a pilot program, the county is the first in the Southeast and the third nationwide to test the system.

"The way our county is made up, it didn't make a lot of sense to warn everybody in Eva if something was approaching Decatur and, vice versa, if something was heading toward Decatur, there was no need to warn Eva," said Eddie Hicks, director of the Morgan County Emergency Management Agency, which applied for the test program.

Dividing county

The system works by dividing Morgan County into five sections, using Interstate 65, Alabama 36 and Alabama 67 as dividing lines.

When a severe thunderstorm or tornado crosses from Winston County into Morgan County near Falkville, only Zone 4 will hear the warning. Other zones could receive alerts as the storm approaches. Radios also can be programmed to alert for multiple zones.

Users enable the system by programming a radio frequency into radios that corresponds with their zone. Those numbers are available at www.srh.noaa.gov/hun/nwr/Morgan_Sub_County_NWR.php.

SAME is not available on all weather radios. Those equipped with SAME are top sellers at Radio Shack, an employee said, and the Decatur store has two models priced at $29 and $69.

Investment in a radio with SAME could be a safe choice because the pilot program likely will continue even after the test ends in a few months, said Tim Troutman, warning coordinator and meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Huntsville.

"We're going to test if for a few months, and if the utility of it looks to be accurate and everything works correctly, then we'll just continue it from then on," he said.

As for how Morgan County got picked, Troutman said it's because it's a large county geographically that has varying weather patterns in different sections. Its proximity to Brown's Ferry Nuclear Plant and heavy industries on the Tennessee River also was a factor, he said.

Though the warning system incorporates weather alerts, Morgan EMA also will have the capability to warn residents of other disasters, such as a nuclear accident or chemical spill.

It's an exciting project for the Huntsville NWS office to be part of, Troutman said. Only two other counties have had the chance to implement the SAME system since Rapid City, S.D., started in 1997. Furthermore, information and feedback Huntsville meteorologists learn from the pilot program will help the NWS develop the next generation of weather radios.

"We're on the cutting edge," Hicks said, noting the technology eventually will be applied to cell phones, not just weather radios.

Weather radio users will enjoy the peace of not being warned unnecessarily, he said, and the new system ought to give people an immediate heightened sense of urgency knowing danger is close.

"When we warn somebody, we want it to be the real deal and not a cry of wolf," Hicks said. "If you hear a warning from us, we want it to be credible that you better pay attention."

On the Net

NOAA radio frequency numbers: www.srh.noaa.gov/hun/nwr/Morgan_Sub_County_NWR.php

NOAA warning areas

Area 1, Northwest Morgan County (code 101103): Beginning at the Interstate 65 river bridge, go south until the Alabama 36 interchange. On Alabama 36, go west to the Lawrence County line. Go north on the Lawrence County line to the Tennessee River. From the river, go east until the I-65 river bridge. This includes the towns/communities of Decatur, Trinity, Flint, Neel, Punkin Center, Oak Ridge, Clemons Crossroads and Mud Tavern.

Area 2, Northeast Morgan County (code 301103): Beginning at the I-65 river bridge, go south until the Alabama 36 interchange. On Alabama 36, go east to Lacey’s Spring. On U.S. 231, go north to the Tennessee River. From the river, go west to the I-65 river bridge. This includes the towns/communities of Mount Tabor, Valhermoso Springs, Center Grove, Lacey’s Spring, Priceville, Apple Grove, Somerville, Cotaco, Talucah, Rocky Point, Bluff City, Dancy Quarters, Winton and Echols Crossroads.

Area 3, Central Morgan County (code 501103): Begin at Alabama 67 and 36. Go east on Alabama 36 to Lacey’s Spring, then go north to the Tennessee River. Go east on the river to the Marshall County line, then go south to the Cullman County line. Go west on the Cullman County line to Alabama 67, then go north on Alabama 67 to Alabama 36. This includes the towns/communities of Apple Grove, Union Hill, Morgan City, West Point, Center Grove, Florette, Ryan Crossroads and Hulaco.

Area 4, Southwest Morgan County (code 701103): Beginning at the I-65/Alabama 36 interchange, go south on I-65 to the Cullman County line. Go west on the Cullman County line to the Lawrence County line. Go north on the Lawrence County line until it crosses Alabama 36. Go east on Alabama 36 back to the I-65 interchange. This includes the towns/communities of Hartselle, Falkville, Lacon, Massey, Cedar Plains, Andrews Chapel, Lebanon, Danville and Penn.

Area 5, Southeast Morgan County (code 901103): Beginning at the I-65/Alabama 36 interchange, go south on I-65 to the Cullman County line. Go east on the Cullman County line to where Alabama 67 crosses it. Go northwest on Alabama 67 until it intersects with Alabama 36. This includes the towns/communities of Eva, Center Dale, Mount Tabor, Gandy’s Cove, Turney Crossroads, Oden Ridge, Gum Springs, Gum Pond, Cole Spring, Winn Crossroads and Union Hill.

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