Nonprofit pleads for volunteers to help Louisiana flood victims

Operation Blessing, International photo
Operation Blessing, International photo

Devastating floods in Louisiana aren’t receiving the kind of national news coverage as have other big disasters, and that’s affecting the amount of volunteer assistance victims are receiving, according to an email message from nonprofit relief organization Operation Blessing International (OB).

As you’ll see in the verbatim message below, OB has a great need for volunteers who are able to travel from outside the disaster area. Please share this information widely, to improve the chance that it will get in front of the eyes of someone who might be able and willing to help.

From: “Operation Blessing International” <volunteer@ob.org>
Subject: Manpower Desperately Needed in LA: Operation Blessing Volunteer Housing Now Available
Date: 20 Aug 2016 14:59:38 -0600

Dear OB Volunteer:

Operation Blessing is on the ground in the Denham Springs and Baton Rouge areas following the catastrophic floods that devastated parts of Louisiana and Mississippi this past week with more than 40,000 homes affected and thousands or residents who have lost everything. You can provide the hope that they need, by volunteering your time!

Manpower is desperately needed! Because so many homes have been flooded, the local volunteer response is limited and with the lack of news coverage that leaves these residents without the manpower and help they desperately need. Please consider getting a team of friends, coworkers or members of your church together. We will take care of everything you need, including housing, if you can just get here!

Volunteers are needed to sort through and salvage belongings, remove flooded debris, gut homes by removing soggy insulation and drywall and most importantly be there to love, listen, and minister to these precious residents who have lost so much.

Volunteer Housing is now available! Operation Blessing provides lodging, meals, tools and makes work assignments. All we ask volunteers to provide is their own transportation to and from the work site each day.  Volunteers must be 18 years or older and serve in teams of at least 2 people. To stay in Volunteer Housing, please contact us volunteer@ob.org with your name, telephone number, and number of team members and we will give you a call within 24-48 hours or you may call us at 757-226-3407.

If you are local to the area and do not need volunteer housing, you can report directly to the site Monday – Saturday 8:30 AM and Noon. Volunteer Check-In is located at:

Healing Place Church (Denham Springs Campus)
569 Florida Avenue SW
Denham Springs, LA 70726

Just a few days of your time can make an eternal impact to the people of Louisiana who have lost so much.

Thank you and God Bless.

Kerry

Kerry L. Dodson
National Volunteer & U.S. Programs Manager
U.S. Disaster Relief

Operation Blessing International
977 centerville turnpike | virginia beach, va 23463
office: (757) 226-3407|fax: (757) 277-0231 | web: www.ob.org

Last night’s tornado warning demonstrates why sirens aren’t your best alert source

The tweet above from Valparaiso University meteorology student and Fort Wayne resident Matthew Hayes points out something a lot of Allen County, Indiana residents probably don’t know. The county’s outdoor warning siren system is all-or-nothing. That means that when a tornado warning covers any part of the county, sirens sound throughout the county, which encompasses 660 square miles (making it the largest county by area in the state).

That’s what happened at about 9:06 p.m. last night, when the northern Indiana office of the National Weather Service issued a tornado warning that included a small part of southwestern Allen County. A very small part:

tor_polygon
The Aug. 15, 2016 tornado warning included a tiny part of southwester Allen County, Indiana (the triangle indicated by the arrow.
Maps showing the complete tornado warning polygon, with and without radar data. At the time of the warning, the radar-indicated tornado was over the town of Andrews, west of Huntington, moving northeast at 25 mph.
Maps showing the complete tornado warning polygon, with and without radar data. At the time of the warning, the radar-indicated tornado was over the town of Andrews, west of Huntington, moving northeast at 25 mph. Click the image for a better view.

The Fort Wayne-Allen County Consolidated Communications Partnership center dutifully followed protocol and activated Allen County’s outdoor warning siren system. People throughout the county who were close enough to a siren would have heard it sound. Presumably, this  included people 26 miles away in Harlan, where the storm wasn’t forecast to travel. See a map of all Allen County’s sirens.  Remember, sirens are designed for outdoor alerting only, but people can sometimes hear them from inside their homes, if their homes are close enough to a siren.

Ironically, if anyone was in the small part of Allen County that the warning covered, it is unlikely they heard a siren. The nearest operating outdoor warning siren is at least four miles away, at the headquarters of the Southwest Allen County Fire Department on Indianapolis Road.

The outdoor warning siren nearest the warned area was at least four miles away, at the Southwest Allen County Fire Department station on Indianapolis Road.
The outdoor warning siren nearest the warned area was at least four miles away, at the Southwest Allen County Fire Department station on Indianapolis Road. Click the image to see a larger version.

So, last night’s tornado warning demonstrated two weaknesses of outdoor warning sirens as primary means of learning of such warnings:

  1. Outdoor warning sirens cannot be heard in many parts of Allen County, even by people who are outdoors.
  2. Sirens are often activated where warnings are not in effect.

What should you do? For geographic precision, your best bet is a good smartphone app, like Storm Shield or Weather Radio. These apps use your phone’s GPS to determine whether it is within the actual warning area. The next best thing is the Wireless Emergency Alerts that are built into  modern smartphones. As I explained in another blog post, the geographic precision of such alerts is imperfect, but it’s better than countywide, doesn’t require installing an app, and it’s “on” by default on modern smartphones.

When you’re home, weather alert radios provide very reliable alerts but have the disadvantage of alerting an entire county for any warning that includes any part of that county. At least weather radio alerts — unlike outdoor warning sirens — come with voice messages the explain what part of the county is affected.

The bottom line, as I’ve written before, is don’t rely on tornado sirens. Not hearing one does not mean you don’t need to take cover, because you might be in a place where it’s impossible to hear a siren. Hearing one does not necessarily mean you need to take cover, because your neighborhood siren might sound for a warning that doesn’t affect you. Find a better way to know if you are in danger!

Side note: Based on what I know about how the National Weather Service generates warnings, I highly suspect that the meteorologist who issued last night’s warning probably intended to keep the warning polygon out of Allen County entirely, but accidentally overshot the county line when drawing the warning polygon.

Slight or greater risk of damaging straight-line winds in Indiana this afternoon & tonight

Indiana map showing risk of severe weather between 12:30 p.m. EDT today and 8 a.m. EDT tomorrow. Source: SPC "Day 1 Convective Outlook" issued at 12:54 p.m. EDT.
Risk of severe weather between 12:30 p.m. EDT today and 8 a.m. EDT tomorrow. Source: SPC “Day 1 Convective Outlook” issued at 12:54 p.m. EDT.

Nearly all of Indiana has at least a slight risk (yellow shading on map above) of severe thunderstorms with damaging, straight-line winds or gusts of 58 mph or greater this afternoon and tonight, according to the “Day 1 Convective Outlook” that the National Weather Service (NWS) Storm Prediction Center issued at 12:54 p.m. EDT today.

In addition, part of extreme southwestern Indiana (orange shading) has an enhanced risk, which means damaging winds are even more likely.

The slight risk area has a 15 percent probability of damaging, straight-line winds or gusts of 58 mph or greater within 25 miles of any point. The normal probability on this date in that area is about three percent, according to climatology data from the National Severe Storms Laboratory. In the enhanced risk area, today’s probability is 30 percent, but the normal climatic probability is as low as two percent.

Remember that severe, straight-line winds kill people, by blowing down trees, stage rigging, etc. Especially if you have plans for outdoor activities today and tonight, make sure you have a way of knowing about any watches or warnings that the NWS might issue. If the NWS issues a severe thunderstorm warning for your area, treat it seriously by seeking shelter away from anything that could get blown down.

SKYWARN storm spotters should be prepared for possible activation this afternoon and/or tonight.

Don’t be fooled by earliest storms

I’m concerned that some people might let down their guard if a few non-severe storms arrive early this evening. They might think, “Well, that wasn’t so bad,” and assume they have nothing to worry about.

It’s very important for the people of northern Indiana to understand that the severe storms, with potentially hurricane-force winds and isolated tornadoes, are not expected to arrive until later in the evening (late at night in some places).

Don’t be fooled by weak storms that might arrive in advance of the forecast severe storms!

Significant severe thunderstorms forecast today

Indiana map showing severe weather risk level categories for June 22, 2016Approximately the northern half of Indiana (shaded in red on the map above) has a moderate risk of severe storms this afternoon, this evening and tonight, according to the “Day 1 Convective Outlook” that the National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center (SPC) issued at 8:54 a.m. EDT. While “moderate” is not a serious-sounding word, it’s the word the SPC uses for the second-highest category of risk. It’s a risk level that’s fairly rare in Indiana.

Within the moderate risk area, there’s a 45 percent probability of damaging straight-line thunderstorm winds or gusts of 58 mph (50 knots) or greater within 25 miles of any point. In terms of such severe winds, that’s a pretty high probability, because the normal probability for this date in that part of Indiana ranges from four percent to five percent. That make today’s probability 11 to five times normal, depending on where you are.

Even more concerning is the fact that the SPC forecasts “significant” hurricane-force damaging winds or gusts of 75 mph (65 knots) or greater in the same area. The probability of that happening is 10 percent or greater. The normal probability of such significant damaging wind in that area on this date is only 0.20 percent. That means today’s probability of hurricane-force winds is 50 times normal!

In other words, there’s a very good chance of severe storms and in any sever storms that form, there’s a very good chance of hurricane force winds.

Remember the derecho?

In June, 2012, the Fort Wayne area got hit by a line of storms that were later classified as a “derecho.” It’s not really possible to forecast a derecho, but tonight’s storms could cause similar widespread damage, with similar wind speeds.

Actions to take

First and foremost, don’t let this blog post be the last information you receive about tomorrow’s weather. Use this as a trigger to start paying close attention to reliable weather information sources as tomorrow afternoon draws near.

Second, take time today to review your severe weather plans, for example:

  • Make sure you have a reliable way to know about any watches or warnings that might be issued.
  • Know what you’ll do if a severe thunderstorm or tornado warning is issued (i.e. take shelter immediately in the lowest level of a strong structure, as far as possible from exterior walls).
  • If you have outdoor activities planned tomorrow, make sure you identify appropriate shelters in advance and that you’ll have a portable source of warnings with you.
  • Make sure all of your portable electronic devices (cell phones, etc.) have a full charge before the storms hit, in case of a power outage.
  • Fuel your vehicle! Widespread power outages could make buying fuel difficult.
  • Put away lawn furniture (including trampolines) and anything else that could blow away.

Of course, if you’re a volunteer SKYWARN storm spotter, you’re already making plans for activation, including making sure your communications equipment is ready to go.

I expect to get busy today, so I might not have time to create an updated blog post. Monitor reliable sources of weather information and make sure you have a way to be awakened by weather warnings.

Your wind speed estimate is probably wrong

And the Beaufort wind force scale is flawed, says storm data researcher

As an avid kite flier, I’m often out in windy conditions. More than once, on a particularly windy day, I’ve guessed at the wind speed, only to be surprised when a handheld anemometer shows a speed as much as 10 mph lower than I guessed. It’s easy to think the wind is blowing stronger than it is. And a recent scientific study proves that.

“Storm reporters overestimated the speeds of wind gusts—on average, by about one third of the gusts’ actual speeds.”

The resulting paper, “Quantitative Assessment of Human Wind Speed Overestimation,” appears in the April, 2016 issue of the Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology (JAMC). Its authors report that “storm reporters overestimated the speeds of wind gusts—on average, by about one third of the gusts’ actual speeds,” according to a report on the study in Eos . (Members of the American Meteorology Society may view the full text of the original, JAMC article.)

I learned in SKYWARN storm spotter training that if I don’t have an anemometer, I can estimate wind speeds based on what I see the wind doing, using the Beaufort wind scale as a reference. Supposedly, an estimate based on whether the wind is (for example) causing large tree branches to move (32 to 38 mph, according to the Beaufort scale) is more reliable than an estimate based on how the wind feels against my body.

That might be true, but Beaufort-based estimates are still unreliable, because the Beaufort scale is flawed, study lead author Paul Miller told Eos.

What’s a SKYWARN storm spotter to do? I’ve heard a National Weather Service (NWS) warning coordination meteorologist say many times that damage reports are much more valuable to NWS weather forecast offices than are wind speed estimates. Now that I know my wind speed estimates — even those based on the Beaufort scale — are probably wrong, here’s what I’ll send NWS instead; a detailed description of damage I see the wind doing.

I encourage my fellow storm spotters to likewise report wind damage, rather than estimated wind speeds.

Slight risk of severe winds in most of Indiana this afternoon & evening

Indiana maps shoring risk and probabilities of severe weather in Indiana today. Source: SPC "Day 1 Convective Outlook" issued at 12:40 p.m. EDT
Risk and probabilities of severe weather in Indiana today. Source: SPC “Day 1 Convective Outlook” issued at 12:40 p.m. EDT. Click the image for a larger version.

Most of Indiana (shaded in yellow on the map, above-left) has a slight risk of severe thunderstorms this afternoon and evening, with damaging straight-line winds being the greatest threat, according to the “Day 1 Convective Outlook” that the National Weather Service (NWS) Storm Prediction Center (SPC) issued at 12:40 p.m. EDT.

In the slight risk area, the probability of damaging straight-line thunderstorm winds or gusts of 58 mph or greater occurring within 25 miles of any point is 15 percent. The normal probability for that part of Indiana on any June 15 is three to four percent, according to climatology data from the National Severe Storms Laboratory. That means today’s probability in the slight risk area is up to five times normal.

People who plan outdoor activities in the slight risk area today would be wise to assure that they have reliable ways to receive any storm watches or warnings that the NWS might issue. They should also assure that they have access to adequate shelter.

SKYWARN storm spotters should be prepared for possible activation this afternoon or evening.

The SPC plans to update its outlook for today by 4 p.m. EDT.

Learn more about weather via podcasts

If you’re interested in learning more about weather and the weather enterprise – especially while driving, exercising or doing anything else when you might listen to music or an audio book – a number of weather-related podcasts might be worth your time.

A podcast is basically a radio talk show that you can play on a web browser or download to a portable device like a smartphone or mp3 player for playback at your convenience. Some smartphone apps will automatically download a podcast’s new episodes when they become available. Several interesting podcasts are devoted to weather and often cover topics related to severe weather. Below, I list a few I’ve listened to and found to be worth my time.

WeatherBrains

WeatherBrains is the granddaddy of weather podcasts. It has been producing a weekly panel discussion for more than 10 years. Led by well-known, Alabama TV meteorologist James Spann, the WeatherBrains panel includes other broadcast meteorologists, a National Weather Service meteorologist and a college meteorology professor. The panel routinely invites guests who are experts on various weather-related topics. Find more information at www.weatherbrains.com or search for “WeatherBrains” on the Stitcher or iOS podcast app or on YouTube.

Tornado Talk

Two radio meteorologists who work for a company that provides audio weather services for radio stations recently created a weekly podcast called, “Tornado Talk.” Episodes so far have focused on the 2011 tornado outbreak in Alabama, the 2007 devastation of Greensburg, Kansas, the 10th anniversary of the Hollywood movie, “Twister,” the 2011 Joplin, Missouri tornado and tornadoes that occurred in nine states in early May of this year. Because this podcast is produced by radio professionals, it should be no surprise that the production quality is very high. Of all the podcasts to which I listen, “Tornado Talk” sounds the most like a radio documentary that you might hear on a public radio station. Learn more at www.tornadotalk.com. This podcast is also available on the iOS podcast app, Stitcher and Google Play.

Carolina Weather Group

Don’t let the title of this podcast fool you. It is not solely about weather in the Carolinas. Like WeatherBrains, this is a weekly panel discussion with several regular panelists. Little information is available on the Web about the backgrounds or occupations of the panelists. Like WeatherBrains, the Carolina Weather Group tackles a different weather-related topic every week, usually with a guest, and some episodes focus on severe weather. Search for the Carolina Weather Group on YouTube and the iOS podcast app.

Weather Junkies

Two fairly recent graduates of the meteorology school at Pennsylvania State University host this weekly podcast. One is a TV meteorologist and the other is a graduate meteorology student. Like the other podcasts, the Weather Junkies invite a guest each week (often a fellow Penn State grad) to talk about a weather-related topic. Search for Weather Junkies on YouTube, Stitcher or the iOS podcast app.

Storm Front Freaks

This is one of the newest weather podcasts on the web and I’ve just finished listening to the first two episodes. It is produced biweekly. Only one of the regular panelists has a meteorology degree. Another is working on a degree. Others are storm spotters (like me) and storm chasers.  Two of the panelists (also like me) are licensed amateur (ham) radio operators: Marc Johnson, KD0TCR and Mark Massaro, KD8RIS. Johnson’s bio indicates that he’s active with his local SKYWARN group. This podcast endeavors to be less technical than others and therefore more approachable to amateur weather enthusiasts. Like WeatherBrains, it includes a recorded educational segment. Learn more at www.stormfrontfreaks.com. This podcast is available on YouTube, iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play and Tunein.  

Half of Indiana has marginal risk of severe storms today

Indiana map showing (Left) Risk of severe weather between 9 a.m. EDT today and 8 a.m. EDT tomorrow. Dark green shading: Marginal risk. Light green: thunderstorms possible but none expected to be severe. (Center) Probability of damaging straight-line thunderstorm winds of 58 mph or stronger within 25 miles of any point. Brown: 5% (marginal risk). Unshaded: Less than 5%. (Right) Probability of hail of one inch diameter or larger within 25 miles of any point. Brown: 5% (marginal risk). Unshaded: Less than 5%. Source: SPC "Day 1 Convective Outlook" issued at 8:52 a.m. EDT.
(Left) Risk of severe weather between 9 a.m. EDT today and 8 a.m. EDT tomorrow. Dark green shading: Marginal risk. Light green: thunderstorms possible but none expected to be severe. (Center) Probability of damaging straight-line thunderstorm winds of 58 mph or stronger within 25 miles of any point. Brown: 5% (marginal risk). Unshaded: Less than 5%. (Right) Probability of hail of one inch or more in diameter within 25 miles of any point. Brown: 5% (marginal risk). Unshaded: Less than 5%. Source: SPC “Day 1 Convective Outlook” issued at 8:52 a.m. EDT. Click the image for a larger version.

Half of Indiana (shaded in dark green on the map, above-left) has a marginal risk of severe thunderstorms between 9 a.m. EDT today and 8 a.m. EDT tomorrow, according to the “Day 1 Convective Outlook” that the National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center (SPC) issued at 8:52 a.m.

The primary risks are damaging straight-line thunderstorm winds of 58 mph or stronger and hail of one inch or more in diameter. The probability of either occurring within 25 miles of any point in the slight risk area is five percent.

The normal wind probability for any May 12 is about two percent, according to climatology data from the National Severe Storms Laboratory. Today’s probability, therefore, is roughly twice the normal probability for this date.

The normal hail probability for any May 12 is about one percent, so today’s probability is roughly five times normal.

There’s no reason to be alarmed by a marginal risk, but if you live in that half of Indiana, it’s wise to remain weather-aware today, especially if you’ll be involved in any outdoor activities (e.g. baseball games, etc.). Remember that all thunderstorms, severe or not, bring lightning, which kills people who are outdoors.

The SPC plans to update its outlook for today by 12:30 p.m. EDT.

Slight risk of severe storms in Southern Indiana Tues. May 10

National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center Day 2 Convective Outlook Mapy for Indiana issued May 9, 2016 shows a slight risk of severe storms in extreme southern Indiana between 8 a.m. EDT May 10 and 8 a.m. EDT May 11, 2016Extreme southern Indiana (shaded in yellow on the map above) has a slight risk of severe storms tomorrow, according to the “Day 2 Convective Outlook” that the National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center issued early this morning. The slight risk area includes Vincennes, Jasper, Corydon and Evansville, among other communities.

A slight risk on a day-two outlook means a 15 percent probability of any one or more of the following types of severe weather occurring within 25 miles of any point between 8 a.m. EDT tomorrow and 8 a.m. EDT Wednesday:

  • Tornado
  • Damaging straight-line severe thunderstorm winds of 58 mph or stronger.
  • Large hail of one inch or more in diameter.

The normal probability of one or more of the above on May 10 is approximately three percent, according to climatology data from the National Severe Storms Laboratory. That means tomorrow’s probabilities in the slight risk area of Indiana are approximately three times what’s normal on May 10.

The SPC plans to update its outlook for tomorrow by 1:30 p.m. EDT.

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