University of South Carolina

Thunder and lightning and hail, oh my!

By Jeff Stensland, stenslan@mailbox.sc.edu, 803-777-3686

Torrential rains. Brilliant lightning strikes. Howling winds. These are a few of the unwanted visitors the USC campus can expect during the spring and summer months. Although thankfully rare, tornadoes and weakening hurricanes also have come calling through the years.

And while nasty weather conditions can’t be controlled, keeping the USC community safe when they do occur is priority for campus emergency planners.

That’s why USC recently became the only college in South Carolina to earn the prestigious StormReady designation from the National Weather Service. Among other things, the designation means USC has the capability to send severe weather alerts to faculty, staff and students, and can monitor oncoming storms through specially trained weather spotters.

“Keeping the community informed about oncoming severe weather is very important,” said Vinny Bocchino, Emergency Manager with USC’s Division of Law Enforcement and Safety. “One of the good things about going through the StormReady certification is that it validated that our severe weather procedures were on the right track.”

The national StormReady program was formed in 1999 and 130 colleges and universities nationwide have earned the StormReady designation. In order to qualify, they must demonstrate that they have the ability to receive notifications directly from the National Weather Service and quickly disseminate information to the community about severe weather.

At USC, flood and severe storm warnings are posted on Carolina Alert website, as well as Facebook and Twitter (@CarolinaAlert). Tornado warnings, which are occur far less frequent, would trigger instant text messages and a campus siren system.

“Geographically, we’re fortunate that the downtown area is not as susceptible to tornadoes, in comparison to the flat and low lying areas of Richland County are. Knock-on-wood, we’ve only had one tornado warning in the downtown area that has affected campus,” Bocchino said.

In lieu of generic county weather alerts, USC has the capability to send out warnings tailored specifically to the footprint of USC’s campus. Alerts also can specify which areas of campus are most likely to face problems.

While sudden storms can sometimes be exciting, they’re also serious business, as evidenced by the devastating tornado that struck Moore, Okla. last month.  Nationwide, storms are responsible for an estimated 500 deaths per year and nearly $14 billion in damage.

USC has seen all manner of storm damage, including damage caused by flash floods in the low lying areas on the south side of campus near Rocky Branch Creek. Two weeks ago, several roads were quickly closed off as a powerful storm bore down on campus.

June also is the beginning of hurricane season. And while Columbia would likely be spared the brunt of a hit on the Carolinas, Columbia could still experience high winds, not to mention a mass influx of coastal residents trying to escape the storm.

Students, faculty and staff are strongly encouraged to update their emergency contact information, as well as join the Carolina Alert Facebook and Twitter groups. To learn more about Carolina Alert, and tips on how to remain safe during severe weather, visit www.sc.edu/carolinaalert.

By Office of Media Relations

Posted: 06/03/13 @ 12:30 AM | Updated: 06/03/13 @ 9:21 AM | Permalink