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June 01, 2011   Email to Friend 

Weather Cameras Provided Warnings That Helped Save Lives
Debra Davis

From left, CBS-WAKA Meteorologists Micha Harris, Marcy Novak and Chief Meteorologist Ashley McDonald watch the Alfa weather cameras located throughout the state as the April 27 storm approached.
The tornadoes that ripped through Alabama recently reiterated just how valuable a first-hand view of an approaching storm can be.

Alfa Insurance is a sponsor for 75 weather cameras in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi that television meteorologists use to give an up-to-the-minute live shot of what's happening in those locations. In Alabama, they are located from Huntsville to Gulf Shores and many spots in between.

Ashley McDonald, chief meteorologist for CBS station WAKA-TV in Montgomery, said she believes the cameras help save lives. The most recent example was when tornadoes caused catastrophic damage across the state April 27.

"Radar is good and gives us a good indication of what is going on, but nothing replaces actually seeing what's happening," McDonald said. "It certainly makes it more real to our viewers and to us here in the newsroom. When you can actually see a tornado coming to your area, you know you need to go to a safe place. The cameras definitely add clarity to what is going on."

Newsrooms can switch to cameras in locations throughout Alabama and in neighboring states that also may give viewers an indication of weather that may be approaching their area.

"Many of the storm systems that come through our state pass through Mississippi before they reach us in west Alabama," McDonald said. "So our cameras in Mississippi can give us a very real picture of what is headed our way. We have meteorologists in our studio who are constantly watching all the cameras and even while I am on the air, they may switch to a different camera location to give our viewers important information about what is happening at that very moment."

Marlene Hall, media director for Alfa Insurance, said the idea behind sponsoring the cameras is that Alfa is involved in and cares about the communities it serves.

"Alfa has offices located in all 67 counties in Alabama and our company and our employees are very involved in those communities," Hall said. "The weather camera sponsorships are a great partnership we have with the television stations to provide an important service to the communities Alfa Insurance serves. There are few things that impact more lives every day than the weather, whether you are a business owner, housewife or farmer."

The weather also is a critical part of the insurance business because of the risks associated with storms, like the ones that hit the state in April.

"I do believe the cameras make what is happening more real," Hall said. "To actually see a tornado coming into Tuscaloosa or through the middle of Cullman was unbelievable. The destruction was horrific, and there were so many people killed and hurting. I do believe the weather cameras helped save lives by showing the severity of the storms that were approaching and that more people took cover because of that."



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