The most prevalent hazard we face in Madison County is severe thunderstorms. Severe thunderstorms are those capable of producing a tornado, have winds of at least 58 mph (50 knots or ~93 km/h), and/or hail at least 1 inch in diameter. Severe thunderstorms may also produce dangerous lightning and heavy rains that may result in flooding. Watches and warnings are announced through the NOAA Weather Radio.
Floods, similar to tornadoes and severe thunderstorms, occur most frequently during the late winter and spring but can develop when conditions are right. Flooding can be divided into two categories: flash floods and mainstream flooding. Flash floods occur from excessive rainfall or possibly a dam failure. Mainstream flooding occurs when excessive rainfall causes the water in rivers and streams to overflow. Both types of floods can cause death, injury, and the destruction of property. According to the National Weather Service, on average, flooding and flash flooding account for about as many deaths nationally each year as lightning, tornadoes, and hurricanes combined.
The National Weather Service monitors the flood stage of larger streams, which could overflow their banks and affect the residents of Madison County. In Madison County, these streams are the Tennessee, Paint Rock and Flint rivers and Indian Creek.
Tornadoes are violently rotating columns of air that descend from thunderstorms and make contact with the ground. According to the National Weather Service, Madison County had 142 tornadoes between 1950 and 2018. In Alabama, tornadoes occur most often in the months of March, April and May. A secondary tornado season occurs in the fall, typically in November. While tornadoes can occur at any time of the day or night, most tornadoes occur between noon and 6 p.m.
Historically, the deadliest tornado disaster to hit Madison County was the Nov. 15, 1989 tornado in Huntsville, which caused over 20 fatalities and damages totaling millions of dollars. More recently, the tornado outbreak of April 27, 2011, resulted in nine fatalities in Madison County. That day, Madison County had a total of 26 tornado warning polygons issued during the event. Hundreds of homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed. Many locations in Madison County were without power for a week.
Winter storms can bring heavy snow, freezing rain, high winds, ice, and extended freezes. They can also cause hypothermia, broken pipes, house fires, icy roads, and power outages in Madison County.
Typically, winter storms occur in Madison County in January and February, but they can also occur in other months. Proper planning before the winter storm is very important. Gather needed supplies in advance and make sure you have an alternate heat source in case of an extended power outage.
Extreme summer heat can pose physical problems to the elderly, small children, invalids, heart and respiratory patients, those on certain medications or who have weight or alcohol problems, and those whose employment requires them to work outside during extremely hot weather.
Landslides are a natural geologic event that have occurred in all states and territories, and even here in Madison County.
A landslide is caused by multiple factors coming together to create slope instability and cannot be attributed to one single event. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, landslides occur when gravity acts on an overly steepened slope. Factors include natural erosion, heavy saturation of soil by snow melt and/or rain, earthquakes, vibrations from machinery, traffic, blasting, and thunder, and from waste piles such as coal mine tailings, or from man-made structures.
The hazards of landslides can be reduced through geologic monitoring, excellent engineering practices, and the adoption of effective land-use management regulations.
The North Alabama Region can be affected by the New Madrid Fault, which runs from Cairo, Illinois, to Marked Tree, Arkansas. Earthquakes in other states along this fault can be felt in North Alabama. Though Northwest Alabama could potentially see the most damage from an earthquake, we still are at risk in Madison County. To our east, the Pulaski Fault runs along Lookout Mountain near Chattanooga, Tennessee, down through Sand Mountain into DeKalb County, Alabama.
We may not experience a major seismic event, but damage could be evident in poorly constructed buildings (masonry cracks, falling chimneys), infrastructure (utility, telephone and sewer lines) and affect water well levels.