FORT MCPHERSON, Ga. -- This week was designated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as "Severe Weather Awareness Week." Though the official tornado season doesn't begin until March, it seemed prudent with the high winds we've been experiencing to take a moment to talk about tornadoes and how you can prepare for and survive them.

According to NOAA, in Georgia, there are on average six days a year with reported tornadoes; however, in 2007, there were nine days with tornadoes. Those natural disasters left 10 dead, 38 injured and $129.3 million in damages with an additional $50,000 in crop damages.

Thirty seven percent of tornadoes are classified as strong or violent (EF2 or greater on the Enhanced Fujita Scale), and these tornadoes are most likely to occur in April.

March 14, 2008, an EF-2 tornado struck Atlanta at 9:38 p.m. A relatively small, densely populated area was affected, but the impact was severe. Business and commercial areas were mostly unoccupied at the time but several large hotels were at capacity and sustained substantial damage. Adding to the damage, two large sporting venues were in progress and a large convention center, a major commuter rail station, condominiums, a hospital and a university were damaged. Several large events planned for the following weekend were cancelled.

Three counties within commuting distance of Fort McPherson and Fort Gillem are in NOAA's "red" zone. Between 1950 and 2008, Cobb County reported 27 tornadoes, followed closely by Fulton County with 23 and Cherokee County with 21. Coweta County fell into the "yellow" zone with 16 and Henry County in the "light blue" zone with 14. DeKalb had 11, Gwinnett had 10, Douglas had nine and Fayette had five. As you can tell, our installations are right in the thick of things.

Tornadoes have been reported throughout the year, but are most likely to occur from March to May, in the mid afternoon to early evening. In Georgia, tornadoes are often hard to see as they are wrapped in areas of rain and hail. The hilly terrain can also limit visibility.

Tornadoes are violently rotating columns of air extending from the thunderstorm that is in contact with the ground. Tornadoes can vary in shape, size and intensity. Most tornadoes are weak, lasting a few minutes and producing winds of less than 100 mph; however, a few tornadoes are strong or even violent. Those tornadoes last from 20 minutes to more than an hour and can produce winds between 100 and 300 mph.

Protect yourself and your family. Put a plan of action in place before threatening weather develops. Know what the difference is between a watch and warning. A tornado watch means conditions are favorable for tornadoes to develop, but there is not an imminent threat. A tornado warning means a tornado has been detected and an imminent threat to life and property has developed. Know your area so you can track storms, listen to a weather radio, local television or radio reports. Make sure you have battery backup. Monitor area forecasts to know if threatening weather is possible when you are planning outdoor activities.

If a tornado is imminent and you are in a home or building, move to a pre-designated shelter on the lowest floor, such as a basement, a small interior room closet, a bathroom or a hallway and get under a sturdy piece of furniture. Remember to always put as many walls as possible between you and the outside. Stay away from windows.

If you are driving, stop the vehicle and get out. Do not try to outrun a tornado in your car. If you are caught outside or in a vehicle, lie flat in a nearby ditch or depression and cover your head with your hands. Keep the possibility of flooding in mind, but try to get as low as you can.

Mobile homes offer little protection from tornadoes. You should leave a mobile home immediately and go to the lowest floor of a sturdy nearby building or a storm shelter.

Ready Army means getting a kit, making a plan and being informed. Ready Army is Army Strong.