Tornado Look-Alike Appears over Fort Wayne


Here’s a good training aid for SKYWARN spotters. What does this look like to you?

No, it’s not a tornado or even a funnel cloud. It’s a funnel-shaped rain shaft. You might call it, “virga,” but the technical definition of virga is rain shaft that evaporates before it reaches the ground and the bottom of this rain shaft (the illuminated part) appears to be reaching the ground. I took this photo in the early evening of March 31, 2013 in northeastern Fort Wayne, Indiana.

During SKYWARN training, instructors warn spotters not to confuse rain shafts with funnel clouds. But never before have I seen a rain shaft that so closely mimics the appearance of a funnel cloud.

How did I know it wasn’t a tornadic funnel?

  • It wasn’t spinning (sorry, I didn’t think to shoot video).
  • The weather conditions weren’t right for tornadoes.
  • I could see the rain in the illuminated part at the bottom.

I forwarded this photo to my local NWS weather forecast office to use as a training aid. If you ever see something like this, I encourage you to photograph it and do the same.

Leave a comment below if you’ve ever seen something that looks like funnel cloud or a tornado but wasn’t.

Send a check

Every radiogram preamble has a “check.” The check is the number of word “groups” in the text of the message. We send the check one digit at a time, without introduction. For example, if the message text has 15 word groups, we say, “alpha bravo nine Zulu alpha, one five,” not “alpha bravo nine Zulu alpha, check one five,” and not “alpha bravo nine Zulu alpha, check fifteen.” Some messages contain ARRL numbered radiograms (an explanation of which is beyond the scope of this article). In that case, the letters “ARL” precede the check, like this: “A-R-L one five.” Note that this is one of those rare times when we do not use phonetics. Next week: Every message comes from somewhere.

(This is the sixth in a series of short traffic-handling columns I submitted to the Kosciusko County ARES newsletter.)

NWS Changing Storm Warnings in Regional Experiment

Jeff Koterba "Siren Fatigue" cartoon
Used with permission, Jeff Koterba/Omaha World-Herald.

Does your mother know the difference between the damage that can be done by 58 mph winds and 91 mph winds? I didn’t think so. Everyone knows that 91 mph is worse than 58 mph, but Mom probably doesn’t know how much worse. She’s not alone. And that’s part of the reason so many people were surprised by how much damage the June 29, 2012 derecho did.

When a thunderstorm produces winds of at least 58 mph the National Weather Service (NWS) issues a severe thunderstorm warning. The June 29 derecho produced a measured wind gust at Fort Wayne International Airport of 91 mph. What does NWS do when thunderstorm winds reach 91 mph? It issues … a severe thunderstorm warning.

Beginning April 1, 2013, the NWS Northern Indiana weather forecast office will join all other offices in the NWS central region in an experiment to test of a new type of storm warning. “Impact-based warnings” are designed to help people understand the difference between barely severe storms and storms like the one we had June 29, by indicating what the storms might do.

For example, at 3:09 p.m. June 29, NWS issued a severe thunderstorm warning for several northwestern Ohio counties (Example 1). It included the following text: “This storm has a history of producing destructive winds in excess of 80 mph. Seek shelter now inside a sturdy structure and stay away from windows!” Notice that the warning mentioned a wind speed and action to take but said nothing about what that wind might do.

Example 1: 2012 Severe Thunderstorm Warning

BULLETIN – IMMEDIATE BROADCAST REQUESTED
SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WARNING
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE NORTHERN INDIANA
309 PM EDT FRI JUN 29 2012

THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN NORTHERN INDIANA HAS ISSUED A

* SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WARNING FOR…
  WESTERN ALLEN COUNTY IN WEST CENTRAL OHIO…
  SOUTHERN DEFIANCE COUNTY IN NORTHWEST OHIO…
  PAULDING COUNTY IN WEST CENTRAL OHIO…
  VAN WERT COUNTY IN WEST CENTRAL OHIO…
  SOUTH CENTRAL HENRY COUNTY IN NORTHWEST OHIO…
  PUTNAM COUNTY IN WEST CENTRAL OHIO…

* UNTIL 400 PM EDT

* AT 304 PM EDT…NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE DOPPLER RADAR INDICATED A
  LINE OF SEVERE THUNDERSTORMS CAPABLE OF PRODUCING DESTRUCTIVE WINDS
  IN EXCESS OF 80 MPH. THESE SEVERE STORMS WERE LOCATED ALONG A     
  LINE EXTENDING FROM 27 MILES NORTHWEST OF ANTWERP TO 12 MILES     
  WEST OF PAYNE TO 24 MILES SOUTHWEST OF OHIO CITY…AND            
  MOVING EAST AT 65 MPH.

* LOCATIONS IN THE PATH OF SEVERE THUNDERSTORMS INCLUDE…
  PAYNE…ANTWERP AND CONVOY…
  PAULDING…VAN WERT AND OHIO CITY…
  SPENCERVILLE AND DEFIANCE…
  DELPHOS…OTTOVILLE AND CONTINENTAL…
  ELIDA…

OTHER LOCATIONS IMPACTED BY THESE SEVERE THUNDERSTORMS INCLUDE
WORSTVILLE…TIPTON…MIDDLEBURY…MARK CENTER…BRICETON…SCOTT…
LATTY…HAVILAND…CECIL…CAVETT…THE BEND AND SHERWOOD.

PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS…

DOPPLER RADAR HAS INDICATED SOME WEAK ROTATION WITHIN THIS LINE OF
SEVERE THUNDERSTORMS. SEVERE THUNDERSTORMS CAN PRODUCE TORNADOES WITH
LITTLE OR NO WARNING. IF A TORNADO IS SPOTTED…ACT QUICKLY AND MOVE
TO A PLACE OF SAFETY IN A STURDY STRUCTURE…SUCH AS A BASEMENT OR
SMALL INTERIOR ROOM.

THIS STORM HAS A HISTORY OF PRODUCING DESTRUCTIVE WINDS IN EXCESS OF
80 MPH. SEEK SHELTER NOW INSIDE A STURDY STRUCTURE AND STAY AWAY FROM
WINDOWS!

TO REPORT SEVERE WEATHER…CONTACT YOUR NEAREST LAW ENFORCEMENT
AGENCY. THEY WILL RELAY YOUR REPORT TO THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE
IN NORTHERN INDIANA.

&&

LAT…LON 4064 8404 4064 8410 4065 8411 4065 8421
      4068 8422 4068 8437 4071 8445 4072 8445
      4072 8449 4084 8480 4135 8472 4127 8400
TIME…MOT…LOC 1908Z 269DEG 58KT 4154 8487 4104 8487
          4054 8487
WIND…HAIL 80MPH <.50IN

Example warnings courtesy Michael Lewis, warning coordination meteorologist, NWS Northern Indiana 

Had impact-based warnings been in effect that day, the same warning would have included language like this: “Impact … damage to vehicles…buildings…roofs and windows. Trees uprooted and large branches up to 9 inches in diameter down.” (Example 2). Impact-based warnings will also tell us whether a storm is indicated by radar or actually observed by humans.

Example 2: Mock Impact-Based Severe Thunderstorm Warning

BULLETIN – IMMEDIATE BROADCAST REQUESTED
SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WARNING
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE NORTHERN INDIANA
309 PM EDT FRI JUN 29 2012

THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN NORTHERN INDIANA HAS ISSUED A

* SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WARNING FOR…
  WESTERN ALLEN COUNTY IN WEST CENTRAL OHIO…
  SOUTHERN DEFIANCE COUNTY IN NORTHWEST OHIO…
  PAULDING COUNTY IN WEST CENTRAL OHIO…
  VAN WERT COUNTY IN WEST CENTRAL OHIO…
  SOUTH CENTRAL HENRY COUNTY IN NORTHWEST OHIO…
  PUTNAM COUNTY IN WEST CENTRAL OHIO…

* UNTIL 400 PM EDT

* AT 304 PM EDT…A LINE OF SEVERE THUNDERSTORMS EXTENDED FROM 27
  MILES NORTHWEST OF ANTWERP TO 12 MILES WEST OF PAYNE TO 24 MILES
  SOUTHWEST OF OHIO CITY…AND MOVING EAST AT 65 MPH.
 
  HAZARD…GREATER THAN 80 MPH WIND GUSTS.
 
  SOURCE…TRAINED SPOTTERS.
 
  IMPACT…DAMAGE TO VEHICLES…BUILDINGS…ROOFS AND WINDOWS. TREES
           UPROOTED AND LARGE BRANCHES UP TO 9 INCHES IN DIAMETER 

           DOWN. 

* LOCATIONS IN THE PATH OF SEVERE THUNDERSTORMS INCLUDE…
  PAYNE…ANTWERP AND CONVOY…
  PAULDING…VAN WERT AND OHIO CITY…
  SPENCERVILLE AND DEFIANCE…
  DELPHOS…OTTOVILLE AND CONTINENTAL…
  ELIDA…

PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS…

THIS STORM HAS A HISTORY OF PRODUCING DESTRUCTIVE WINDS IN EXCESS OF
80 MPH. SEEK SHELTER NOW INSIDE A STURDY STRUCTURE AND STAY AWAY FROM
WINDOWS!

TO REPORT SEVERE WEATHER…SEND REPORTS VIA TWITTER WITH THE HASHTAG #NWSIWX.

&&

LAT…LON 4064 8404 4064 8410 4065 8411 4065 8421
      4068 8422 4068 8437 4071 8445 4072 8445
      4072 8449 4084 8480 4135 8472 4127 8400
TIME…MOT…LOC 1908Z 269DEG 58KT 4154 8487 4104 8487
          4054 8487

HAIL…<.50IN
WIND…>80MPH

The impact-based warnings experiment includes three forms of tornado warnings, based on the storm’s damage threat. Tornadoes with “considerable” and “catastrophic” damage threats will have new “tags” at the very bottom of the warnings, for example, “tornado damage threat … considerable” and “tornado damage threat … catastrophic.” Note that NWS has been including tags at the bottoms of warnings for the past three to five years (they’re highlighted at the bottoms of the example warnings above). The impact-based warnings experiment expands on these tags to enable users and automated systems to glean information more quickly.

A basic tornado warning will have no damage threat tag. It will include impact language such as, “Significant house and building damage possible.” The vast majority of tornado warnings issued by the Northern Indiana NWS office will look like this.

A “damage threat considerable” tornado warning will include impact language such as, “Major house and building damage likely and complete destruction possible.”

A “damage threat catastrophic” tornado warning will include impact language such as, “This is a life threatening situation. You could be killed if not underground or in a tornado shelter.” The NWS will rarely use the catastrophic language, saving it for storms like the 2011 Joplin, Missouri tornado.

More information about impact-based warnings, including example tornado warnings and a map of NWS offices participating in the experiment, is available on the NWS website.

When a warning is issued, it will be important to access the entire text of the warning. You can do so via NOAA Weather Radio, the Web and some email services. Make sure your friends and family also know how to get the full text of warnings, so they’ll benefit from the impact statements.

Impact-based warnings will make detailed, timely reports from SKYWARN storm spotters even more important. More than ever, NWS will need to know what storms are doing near you; exactly what they’re doing. Did tree limbs come down? How big? Did you see structure damage? Was it just a few shingles blown off or part of a wall blown down? And NWS meteorologists will need that information immediately, especially when a storm system moves as fast as the June 29 derecho did (60 mph). The tornado damage threat tags are especially dependent on spotter reports. Radar data alone is insufficient for NWS meteorologists to determine appropriate damage threat tags.

If we provide the information NWS needs, when it needs it, impact-based warnings could lead to fewer comments like one often heard after the June 29 derecho: “I had no idea it would be that bad.”

Know others who could benefit from the information in this blog post? Use the sharing buttons below to share a link on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, email, etc. Have questions or comments? Use the comment form below.

Station identification


Every radiogram has a station of origin; the call sign of the ham who first transmitted it on the radio. That means if another ham gives you a message via telephone and you transmit it on the radio, the radiogram’s station of origin is your call sign, not his. We transmit the station of origin phonetically, without introduction. For example, “number one five, routine, alpha bravo nine zulu alpha,” not “number one five, routine, station of origin A-B-9-Z-A,” and not “number one five, routine, amateur call alpha bravo nine zulu alpha.” Next week: How to send a check.
(This is the fifth in a series of short traffic-handling columns I submitted to the Kosciusko County ARES newsletter.) 

Handle the handling instruction


ARRL Form FSD-218 defines seven possible handling instructions, each represented by one of the letters, A through G. Not every message has a handing instruction. When present, we send it after the precedence. We introduce it with the phonetics “hotel x-ray” and then we give the letter phonetically. For example, we say, “routine, hotel x-ray charlie,” not “routine, charlie.” When a number is involved, we say it one digit at a time. For example, “number one two, routine, hotel x-ray alpha five zero,” not “number one two, routine, A fifty.” Next week: Station of origin.
(This is the fourth in a series of short traffic-handling columns I submitted to the Kosciusko County ARES newsletter.)  

Stay In A Routine


After we transmit a radiogram’s message number, the precedence is next. “Precedence” is the word we use to describe how urgent a message is.  It also determines which messages get sent first.  Possibilities include “routine,” “welfare,” “priority” and “emergency.” Definitions of each appear in ARRL Form FSD-3.  Experienced traffic handlers know that the precedence always immediately follows the message number, so we don’t introduce it, we just say it.  For example, we don’t say, “number one five, precedence routine.”  We instead say, “number one five, routine.” Next week, we’ll cover handling instructions.
(This is the third in a series of short traffic-handling columns I submitted to the Kosciusko County ARES newsletter.) 

What’s in a number?


A radiogram’s number is the first thing we send. If a receiving station has indicated, “ready to copy,” the next word out of our mouths should be “number.” Not “please copy,” not “message follows,” just “number.” It’s what experienced traffic handlers expect to hear. 
Next, we say the number itself, one digit at a time. So, if the message number is 12, say “number one two,” not “number twelve.” If the number is 131, we say “number one three one,” not “number one thirty-one” and not “number one hundred and thirty-one.” Finally, we say “zero,” not “oh” in numbers like 101.
(This is the second in a series of short traffic-handling columns I submitted to the Kosciusko County ARES newsletter.)

Allen County SKYWARN Spotters Receive Training

About 35 people attended SKYWARN spotter training Feb. 26 at the Allen County Public Library. Here are some highlights:
SKYWARN Spotters receive training at the Allen County Public Library, February 26, 2013
Warning Coordination Meteorologist Michael Lewis reminded spotters of the importance of their reports. He pointed out that studies have shown that members of the general public pay more attention to weather warnings when they include eyewitness reports. In other words, if a tornado warning says a spotter has seen a tornado on the ground, it’ll get a lot more response from the public than a possible tornado indicated by radar.
Reporting Methods
Lewis covered the preferred and less preferred reporting methods.
Twitter. Lewis said Twitter is not only the fastest way to get a report in front of meteorologists’ eyes; it’s also supported by software that automates the process of creating a local storm report (LSR). That means news media and emergency managers see it faster. To send a report via Twitter, include the “hash tag” #nwsiwx. If possible, attach a photo to the tweet.
Facebook. This is the second choice of the NWS. Lewis said it’s a bit slower than Twitter and requires manual retyping to create an LSR. “But it’s still pretty darn fast,” Lewis said. Another advantage of Facebook is that it archives photos and videos, making it easier for meteorologists to look at them after the event. To report via Facebook, Log into your Facebook account and go to the National Weather Service Northern Indiana Facebook page (www.facebook.com/US.NationalWeatherService.NorthernIN.gov). Click on “Write Post” and enter your report. If possible, include a photo.
SpotterNetwork.org. NWS likes this web-based spotter organization (www.spotternetwork.org), in part because it requires spotters to complete the organization’s own online independent study training before it accepts reports from them. Also, SpotterNetwork.org conducts quality assurance on reports and suspends people who make inappropriate reports. Michael says SpotterNetwork.org is fast but depends on the speed of the weather forecast office’s (WFO) Web connection, which can vary.
Amateur Radio. Lewis described amateur radio as “super-fast” but also described a significant issue: Volunteer operators are not always available to staff the amateur station at the WFO, WX9IWX. Also, meteorologists do not monitor the radio traffic; they wait for the volunteer operator to write down a report and hand it to them. Lewis urged amateur radio spotters to use one of the other methods whenever WX9IWX is not on the air.
CoCoRaHS. The Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network (www.cocorahs.org) is a grassroots volunteer network of backyard weather observers who measure precipitation and report it via the Web. The network can also receive reports of severe weather. NWS has access to these reports and considers the speed of this reporting method to be comparable to amateur radio.
E-spotter. The NWS operates this web-based spotter reporting system (espotter.weather.gov) but not for much longer. Lewis said 2013 is probably the last year that E-spotter will be available. It’s running on a server that uses the outdated operating system MS-DOS!
Telephone. Lewis gave the audience the toll-free spotter hotline number (888-668-3344) but said the phone is far from an optimal way to make a report. In fact, he said spotters should consider the phone to be a last resort. He said the phone line can get swamped with calls and there can be a considerable delay getting out an LSR.
Email. NWS does not really consider email a reporting method, especially for urgent reports like tornadoes. Lewis said that accessing the email account (w-iwx.webmaster@noaa.gov) is a burden to meteorologists, so the delay can be significant. It’s such a problem that Lewis advised spotters who send email to also call the WFO to alert it to look for the message.
So what does the IMO SKYWARN quadrant director recommend? Get a Twitter account and use it but also send every report on ham radio, so other spotters will hear it immediately. Twitter lets you send spotter reports from any cell phone that supports text messaging. And if you have a smartphone, you can shoot a photo and use a Twitter app to share the photo with the WFO. Of course, if you’re at an Internet-connected computer, you can use it to send a report via Twitter.
But remember, spotters who monitor our radio nets depend on hearing each others’ reports. So if you use another method to report, put it on the radio too. Just make sure the net control station knows you already sent it via another method.
Reporting Criteria
Lewis presented the following new set of reporting criteria for 2013:
·         Hail, regardless of size. Lewis advised, however, that redundant hail reports (same size in a nearby location) are not particularly helpful. If you’re uncertain whether your report is redundant, send it anyway.
·          
·         Measured wind speed greater than 50 mph. Lewis cautioned spotters to make sure they’ve calibrated their equipment. And he suggested referring to the Beaufort wind scale to see if the wind is doing damage consistent with the measured wind speed. If not, be suspicious of your anemometer.
·          
·         Wind damage·          
o   Report an estimatedwind speed based on the Beaufort wind scale
o   Report the size (diameter) of broken branches and fallen trees
o   Report the number of trees damaged
o   Report Impacts(power outages, impassable roads, specific structure damage, etc.)
    
·         Funnel Clouds or Tornados. Remember that rotationmust be present with either feature. Also, do not report a tornado if you can’t see debris being lifted (for any reason … it might be a tornado but if you can’t see the debris because of a tree line, call it a funnel cloud).
·          
·         Flooding.Don’t drive or wade into the water to measure its depth!
·          
Those are highlights of this year’s training session. Feel free to contact w9lw@arrl.netwith any questions or post them in the comment section below.

NTS traffic handlers can be so picky!


They want you to send everything in just the right order and just the right way. Why? Adhering to standard message transmission procedures helps ensure message accuracy, because the receiving station always knows what to expect, when and how. That’s why the NTS has very specific directions about exactly what you should say when you transmit a radiogram. That includes things like when to say “break” (and when not to), how to transmit an acronym, etc.

This is the first of a series of short columns on traffic handling that I’ve submitted to the weekly Kosciusko County, Ind. ARES newsletter. Kosciusko County Emergency Coordinator AB9ZA invited me to provide the information and I figured I could kill two birds with one stone and post the same article here!

Pay Attention to Special Weather Statements



In the December issue of Allen County HamNews, I hinted at a possible change in reporting criteria for SKYWARN spotters. During a conference call with leaders of IMO SKYWARN, NWS Warning Coordination Meteorologist Michael Lewis discussed a goal for spotter reports. Lewis wants reports to be based more on weather impact than on measurements such as wind speed or hail size. For example, if the weather does damage or causes injury, Lewis wants to know about it, even if conditions do not meet traditional reporting criteria.

In addition, Lewis wants net control operators and spotters to pay attention to a text product that the NWS issues when meteorologists are concerned about conditions but don’t have enough data to issue a warning. That text product is called a Special Weather Statement.
During periods of severe and/or near-severe weather, Lewis wants spotters to report conditions in areas covered by Special Weather Statements, even if the conditions don’t meet traditional reporting criteria. In other words, spotters should interpret a Special Weather Statement to mean that the NWS needs their help deciding whether to issue a warning for the area described in the statement; even if that means reporting that nothing is happening there.
When the NWS issues a Special Weather Statement, spotters and others can find it on the NWS website. Just look at the forecast page for your area. If a Special Weather Statement is in effect, a link to it will appear in the “Hazardous Weather Conditions” area below the forecast graphics and above the textual “7-Day Forecast.” You can also go to (and bookmark) this Web page: tinyurl.com/bdlf9dp. That page lists every Special Weather Statement issued by the Northern Indiana NWS office, for any county in its coverage area. As I write this, the page contains Special Weather Statements related to dense fog. There are also several services that will send email or text messages when Special Weather Statements are issued, so you don’t have to keep checking the Web to see if a new one has come out.
Finally, a few months ago I wrote an article that was intentionally a little provocative. It dealt with NWS interest in receiving spotter reports via Internet social media and whether such channels would make ham radio reports obsolete.
Derek Augsburger, AB9SO is ARES emergency coordinator for Adams County and leads ham radio SKYWARN operations there. He responded to my article with an email message in which he described Adams County spotters who became hams after they’d been avid spotters for a while. These folks had been using cell phones to communicate and maintain situational awareness, but of course, they could each talk to only one other spotter at a time (or perhaps two other spotters with a 3-way call). After these spotters became hams, “they realized that an entire group was in communications at once and information was passed quickly to everyone at the same time,” Derek wrote. “Basically it became a weather spotting ‘party’ and not just a bunch of single people doing their own thing,” he continued. “They realized it was a coordinated effort and ham radio made that possible.”
Derek makes a good point about the value of ham radio to serious storm spotters. Nonetheless, NWS is continuing its efforts to involve more non-hams in the warning decision process, via reports those folks send on media like Twitter and Facebook. Look for more on that in another article.
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