Several thunderstorm watches and tornado warnings were in effect for parts of Mississippi and Alabama on Saturday, January 19, 2019. It was a typical weekend morning for me, sleeping in to catch up on some rest. Moments after hearing the sirens, my heartbeat started racing. I didn't know what was up, but I knew it was something serious.

"ASHLEY, ASHLEY!" my roommate called as I was frantically getting out of bed. Throwing on a pair of tennis shoes and grabbing my keys, we quickly made it down the stairs to the tornado shelter. Dodging raindrops without a coat, I could only think about the new students with barely any knowledge about Alabama weather. You never know when it's going to rain, flurry, or be blazing hot walking to class at UA. I had heard there had only been a watch out until 5:00 p.m., but numerous warnings were made throughout the morning. Ever since a tornado hit my hometown last March, I've always taken precautions for inclement weather.

When is the right time to take shelter for bad weather, one might ask? The importance of knowing the difference between a watch and a warning can save lives. It is common that most people only take shelter when given tornado warnings than thunderstorm watches. The National Weather Service defines a watch when bad weather conditions are favorable but not yet occurring. Warnings are given when conditions for severe thunderstorms or tornadoes have developed in an area. While thunderstorms don't seem as threatening as tornadoes, lightning striking a tree can cause just as much damage as a small tornado. Whenever there is a watch in effect, be sure to stay notified in case warnings are issued.

Growing up we're always taught to be cautious of the weather and prepared for an emergency. Tornadoes never scared me that much, as I always believed that nothing serious could ever happen. I ate my words when an E-F3 tornado destroyed my hometown March 19, 2018. Seeing the destruction of my best friend's apartment and several homes left with nothing but debris, my heart was broken for local residents in Jacksonville. While many students had already left town for spring break, luckily nobody was hurt. Returning back to back to campus, numerous residents were unable to retrieve their belongings due to the extensive damage. I will never forget the terrifying moment hearing the news from several close friends about their houses being destroyed. I was grateful to be very fortunate, as the tornado could have easily hit me.

10 months later, I now realize the importance of weather warnings. The morning after the disaster, I was humbled by the number of supporting charities and first responders that came to help rebuild my community. Buildings and tangible objects can be taken away from us, yet a bond between Jacksonville residents will never be broken. Coming back home from college, I see the progress that has been made and can not help but be thankful for the people who volunteered to clean up. It's a long road to recovery, but we are getting there together.

Waking up Saturday morning and hearing the sirens, I was scared to death for what was to come. Understanding the impact that a tornado can make, I will never take watches or warnings lightly anymore. Stay alert for inclement weather by watching the news and setting up notifications on your phone through WeatherUnderground. You may never know when a disaster might hit you, so it is best to always be prepared.