Tornadoes and Severe Weather

There’s a joke that Alabama has three seasons each year: summer, football season, and tornado season. There’s some truth to that, as Tuscaloosa is in a region that regularly sees tornadoes and other severe weather events, and we can see severe weather any time from September through April (as well as during the summer when the remnants of hurricanes come through!).

While that sounds (and can be) scary, the good news is that the campus, city, and (once they’ve been here a couple of semesters) students know how to handle it.

Frequently Asked Questions

We’ve provided additional details below, but here are some of the most frequently asked questions we get when severe weather is in the Tuscaloosa area.

How common is severe weather in Tuscaloosa?
Severe weather is fairly common in Tuscaloosa, and most semesters have several days where there is at least some risk of severe weather in the area. The good news, though, is that this means that the University, local governments, and students (after a couple of semesters) have ample experience planning for and responding to severe weather events.

Is my child safe?
The short answer is yes. The key to remaining safe during severe weather events is to be informed and have a plan. Encourage your student to stay weather-aware and have multiple ways of receiving weather alerts when severe weather is forecast, and to make plans in advance about where they’ll go and what they’ll do if a tornado warning is issued.

Where should my child go?
When a tornado warning is issued, students should have a plan for a safe place where they’ll go. On campus, students can locate the nearest storm shelter or Best Available Refuge Area (BARA) on the UA website or using the UA Safety app.

If off-campus, students should identify where they will go during a warning. Regardless of whether living in an apartment complex or a house, students should identify an interior room or hallway, preferably without windows, on the lowest level of the building. If in an apartment complex, they should consult the complex’s management for guidance on storm shelters and refuge areas, being mindful that the best location may be in an office or community building.

Where can I get updated information?
The best source of information before, during, and after severe weather events is the University, which will post regular updates to its homepage. Information can be found using the additional resources listed here.

Watches versus Warnings

One of the most important things to know if you’re receiving weather alerts for Tuscaloosa is the difference between a watch and a warning, both of which are issued by the National Weather Service.

A tornado watch is issued when conditions are favorable for the development of storms which may include tornadoes. Watches are issued for broad areas, and many never actually lead to tornadoes. Think of a watch as a “heads up” to pay attention to weather conditions, though no immediate action is necessary.

A tornado warning is issued when a a tornado has formed or is likely to form based on radar and/or reports from storm spotters on the ground. Unlike watches, tornado warnings are issued for a specific “polygon” indicating the path of the storm producing the tornado. Anyone inside that polygon should take shelter immediately when a warning is issued.

For more about the difference between tornado watches and warnings, see the details provided by the National Weather Service.

Campus Preparations

The University of Alabama is recognized by the National Weather Service as a Storm-Ready University, meaning that they have met strict standards to ensure students’ safety during severe weather events. Below are a few of the steps the University has taken to prepare for severe weather, and more details can be found at UA’s Office of Emergency Management.

  • The University maintains a comprehensive alert system to notify students, faculty, and staff of severe weather conditions, including both watches and warnings.
  • When a tornado warning is issued, the University automatically suspends operations for the duration of the warning.
  • The University campus has a number of storm shelters that are opened both to students (including those who live on campus) and the community.
  • Each building on campus has designated Best Available Refuge Areas (BARAs), which are clearly posted throughout campus.
  • During severe weather events, UA’s Office of Emergency Management remains in constant contact with UAPD, the National Weather Service, the Tuscaloosa County Emergency Management Agency, and other authorities to monitor and respond as necessary to the situation.

Students and parents are encouraged to download the UA Safety app (available for both iOS and Android), which provides notifications of severe weather alerts as well as valuable campus information such as the location of the nearest storm shelter or BARA.

For more about the University’s plans for tornadoes and other severe weather, visit the Office of Emergency Management website.

Preparations for Students Living Off-Campus

Students who live off-campus should consider in advance what actions they should take if severe weather occurs while they are at home. These preparations should include:

  • Having at least two ways to receive severe weather alerts issued by the National Weather Service. Options include phone apps, a NOAA Weather Radio, and online services that send a text message or email when an alert is issued. Students should not rely on outdoor sirens to alert them of a tornado warning.
  • Knowing where to go in the student’s house/apartment if a tornado warning is issued. Generally, this will be in an interior room or hallway with no windows on the lowest level of the building. In some cases, the best place to go (particularly in apartment complexes) may be a community building or office. Students should check with their apartment complex’s management for guidance on where to go during severe weather.
  • Having an emergency kit available in the safe area where the student will go if a warning is issued.
  • Knowing the difference between a watch and a warning, and ensuring they are able to receive further alerts if a watch is issued.

Bama Wesley’s Preparations

When severe weather is imminent, Bama Wesley monitors conditions and plans accordingly for our operations.

It is Bama Wesley’s general policy to follow the University’s guidance on any suspension of operations, and in keeping with that policy we also suspend operations when a tornado warning is issued for the campus. Recognizing that our programming often occurs outside of the normal operating hours of the University, we evaluate forecast severe weather (including tornado watches) on a case-by-case basis and notify students via email, text message, social media, and other channels of any suspension in operations.

In general, we encourage you to communicate with your student directly if you have concerns about impending severe weather, including providing them with the information on this page about locating a safe place to find shelter during tornadoes and other severe weather events. In the event of a severe weather event that results in damage in the Tuscaloosa area, if you are unable to reach your child and are concerned about their safety contact UAPD at (205) 348-5454.