February 23, 2013
Severe Weather Guide 2013
The severe weather season has already started for the Gulf Coast region, as we have seen many outbreaks already occur along the Dixie tornado alley region. This is typical for Severe Weather to occur in this region already, taking a look at severe weather season below in more detail.
Dixie Alley (Gulf Coast Region): There are two distinct tornado seasons for this region. The first is a very short period that usually forms and gets active during the month of November, when all the cold air is being forced southward. The second season is a bigger season and it usually starts in January and goes until the first part of April. During this time period the region can see many tornado outbreaks like we have already this 2013.
Tornado Alley (Plains Region): This tornado alley is the one that everyone is always talking about because of the wide open space; it makes it a great place to see tornadoes in the open. Also, this region has the highest amount of tornadoes per year. The season for this area starts in March for the southern part, such as Texas, and works its way northward through the months, finally peaking in June up in the Dakota’s and parts of Minnesota. It can move into Canada during this time.
Now, let’s examine some terminology that is used by the National Weather Service for Severe Weather. First is the Severe Thunderstorm watch. This is issued by the Storm Prediction Center (SPC) when they feel the region is prone to have severe weather occur; it may not be occurring yet, but there is a good chance the area will see some severe weather in the short term. Next is the thunderstorm warning. This is issued when a cell has met the criteria to become severe and is impacting an area now. The third term is Tornado Watch. Again, this is issued when the Storms Prediction Center (SPC) feels that conditions are favorable for tornado developing storms; however, the storms may not be occurring at the time. The next term is Tornado Warning. This is issued when conditions warrant such, as a cell has got Doppler radar indicated tornado present, or someone in the field has notified the NWS of a tornado on the ground.
So, what is the process of a warning or watch getting to you, the public? The first step is the SPC will issue the warning or watch and then pass it on to the local NWS branch in that area. From there it will be disseminated across to other media outlets for distribution to the public. A few changes that have evolved over the past few years that have had both positive and negative impacts on warnings and weather alerts, is the social media. Social media has become a firestorm for information in regards to many weather hobbyists to meteorologists and many others now posting images on Facebook, Twitter and all the social networks to help warn each other about upcoming storms. This, in my opinion, has two sides to it. Number one: it’s an excellent addition to the Severe Weather field and supports the SPC a lot. However, there is a down side to it as well and that is that sometimes information gets released to the public and it can be false information. This is usually not intentional, but by accident. An example would be a weather guru is looking at a map or radar and starts alerting the public it’s a tornado. Maybe the NWS sees the same cell and does not issue that warning because it does not have rotation to the storm, something that weather guru might not have seen. This can lead to a false sense of security. Remember, this is just my personal opinion on how the social media has good and bad impacts to people’s life when it comes to severe weather.
A good rule of thumb to follow is that if it came from the Television Met, or a reliable source on the social networks. or the National Weather Service themselves, then it needs to be taken seriously. Not down playing all the other people on the social networks, but sometimes you need to use the information with caution.
So, how do you protect yourself from a severe storm such as a tornado? The first rule is that if you are in a mobile home “GET OUT” as fast as possible. Statistics have shown that mobile parks are very vulnerable to tornadoes and provide no means of safety when it hits. You always read in the news after a tornado hits, “Headlines tornado hits mobile homes”. This is true with almost every tornado – it finds the mobile homes. If you live in a house with no basement, your best bet is to take shelter in an interior room away from any windows and take a pillow or blanket with you to cover yourself. This will allow you to be a little bit more protected from flying debris. If you are in a car and traveling down the road, get out of that car and seek shelter in a low lying ditch and keep your head covered.
Tornadoes are a violent column of rotating air that can create massive destruction. There is a scale out there called the “Enhanced Fujita Scale” which is used to rate tornadoes based on their damage path and wind speeds. This scale was first developed by a Japanese Meteorologist known as Mr. Fujita. It has been recently modified and is now called the Enhanced Fujita Scale.
What about the gadgets on the market and how can they help. There are many tools available today to help you monitor severe weather; from the National Weather Service Radio, to your phones and all the Severe Weather apps you can download from the NWS, your local TV station and even private weather companies have these apps as well. So there are plenty of methods for you to stay one step ahead of the severe weather and be safe this Severe Weather Season.
Image Credit: Todd Shoemake / Shutterstock