National Weather Service Press Release
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE March 14, 2016
INDIANA SEVERE WEATHER PREPAREDNESS WEEK, MARCH 20-26
******** STATEWIDE TORNADO DRILLS MARCH 22nd ********
Syracuse, IN – So far, 2016 severe weather does not compare with the tragic March 2012 tornadoes to strike southern Indiana. Is that a sign for fewer tornadoes this year? “Indiana has tornadoes every year,” said Michael Lewis, Warning Coordination Meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Northern Indiana. “But events like the deadly tornado of March 2012 point to the importance of being ready and responsive in the face of increasing hazardous weather events. Being resilient is part of the vision of the National Weather Service (NWS) as we grow toward becoming a Weather Ready Nation,” added Lewis.
The National Weather Service, in cooperation with the Indiana State Department of Homeland Security, Indiana State Police, Indiana Department of Education, the Indiana Broadcasters Association, the American Red Cross, and the amateur radio community, will conduct a Severe Weather Preparedness campaign March 20-26, 2016.
The 38th annual statewide test tornado drills will be conducted on Tuesday March 22 at 10:15 am and 7:35 pm EDT. Wednesday March 23 is the make-up drill day if severe weather postpones Tuesday’s drill. The drill will be initiated by TEST Tornado Warnings issued by NWS offices serving Indiana, triggering programmed electronic devices and activation of many outdoor warning sirens.
“Every family, every school, and every business should take time now to review or create a weather safety action plan,” said John Erickson, Public Information Officer of the Indiana Department of Homeland Security. “Having and practicing a plan increases your chances of surviving the storm,” added Erickson.
For further information, you may refer to: www.weather.gov/ind also:
The 2016 Central Indiana Severe Weather Symposium, hosted by the Indianapolis office of the National Weather Service (NWS) and the Indiana chapter of the American Meteorological Society, provided a full day of interesting presentations. Below are a few highlights.
Squall lines made cooler
John Kwiatkowski of the NWS Indianapolis office provided a presentation on Quasi-Linear Convective Systems (QLCS). Early in his talk, Kwiatkowski explained that this is the same type of storm that meteorologist formally called a “squall line.” Kwiatkowski joked that the new name sounds much cooler and that using it will impress members of the opposite sex.
QLCSs are much more common in Indiana than are supercell thunderstorms. Yet, as Kwiatkowski explained, spotting a QLCS in the field can be more dangerous than watching a discrete supercell out in the plains. Part of a QLCS can produce very damaging straight-line winds without appearing any different to a field observer than any other part of the storm. It can also produce essentially invisible, rain-wrapped tornadoes which, while small and brief, can easily overturn a spotter’s car. Kwiatkowski advised staying home and reporting damage after the storm passes.
It’ll never happen to me (and if it does, I can handle it)
Dr. Laura Myers, a research scientist at the University of Alabama’s Center for Advanced Public Safety, provided a presentation titled “Weather Psychology of the Public: Integration of Social Science Research Results in Products and Practice.” She pointed out a variety of issues regarding how (and whether) people respond to weather warnings.
Myers said that a significant challenge of the weather enterprise is to make people understand that the benefits of safe behavior outweigh the costs and inconvenience.
Among the many discoveries she presented were some that will likely surprise weather enthusiasts:
Most people either don’t believe severe weather will ever affect them (it will always happen to someone else), or they believe that they are uniquely able to handle it.
Not everyone has a single, good warning modality, but people should have more than two.
Upon first learning of a weather alert, people often waste time seeking secondary confirmation, sometimes leaving insufficient time to take adequate shelter.
Most people don’t know what county they are in, even if they live there.
The tone, seriousness and message of broadcast meteorologists can make a difference in how people respond to threats.
Words like “emergency” in weather communications prompt more action but must be used sparingly.
During the 2012 derecho, severe thunderstorm warnings did not lead people to understand how dangerous the storm was. Many told surveyors that they would have behaved differently, had they known what the storm would do.
Storm spotters, chasers and other weather enthusiasts are in a unique position to help change how people respond to severe weather threats. As I’ve written before (see “Storm spotters as advocates“), we are often the trusted weather experts in our families and social circles. We can take advantage of that position to help those people understand how to stay safe.
Mobile home! Duck!
Well-known storm chaser Jeff Piotrowski discussed how he chased the 2013 El Reno tornado, the widest tornado in recorded history. His presentation included a great deal of compelling video of the storm.
At one point during the chase, a mobile home flew over Piotrowski’s car close enough to knock off a roof-mounted camera and antenna. Piotrowski saw it coming just in time to tell his wife to duck.
Piotrowski told the crowd that second-by-second situational awareness — including looking at the sky, not just a radar — is the only reason he survived the tornado. He said that during a chase, he never shuts off his car’s engine. And he reminded the audience that debris can travel four miles from tornado.
A peek behind the curtain
NWS Meteorologists Amanda Lee and Marc Dahmer provided a behind-the-scenes look at how the their Indianapolis office works during severe weather, complete with entertaining video shot in the forecast office.
They showed how the NWS WarnGen software creates warnings based on choices the warning meteorologist makes.
They also showed how the general public can access data from post-event damage assessments, sometimes within minutes of data entry in the field. The public-view version of the NWS Damage Assessment Toolkit is at https://apps.dat.noaa.gov/StormDamage/DamageViewer/. It requires Adobe Flash, which makes it inaccessible on iOS devices.
Building a Weather-Ready Nation
Dave Tucek, warning coordination meteorologist for the Indianapolis NWS office, provided an introduction the the agency’s “Weather-Ready Nation” (WRN) initiative. His talk included information on severe weather climatology and the value of organizations becoming WRN Ambassadors. Although the Ambassador designation is not available to individuals, Tucek pointed out that “We all have a part in spreading the weather-ready message.”
No green screen
Chris Wright of WTTV TV-4, Indianapolis, spoke about his career as a weather broadcaster. Interesting tidbits from his presentation included:
His station uses no green screen. Instead of chroma key, his weather graphics appear on a bank of nine video monitors.
During severe weather break-ins, it’s not unusual for a superior to tell him to keep talking. Wright told the crowd that if they see a weather break-in that lasts for more than 30 seconds, it wasn’t the weather person’s decision.
News anchors often don’t watch the weather segment of a newscast. That’s why the weather person recaps the forecast as part of his hand off back to the anchors.
Social media has significantly increased the workload in TV weather departments. Wright said that keeping up with Twitter, Facebook, blogs, etc. sometimes requires having two people per shift.
At colleges, students aren’t always the biggest emergency management challenge
Carlos Garcia, emergency manager for the Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis campus, talked about how the campus prepares for severe weather.
He said federal law requires universities to warn their communities of threats in a timely manner. He pointed out that college students are adults, who need to accept responsibility for their decisions in emergency situations. But he also indicated that students aren’t necessarily the biggest challenge with regard to appropriate response to notifications. That’s one reason the campus invested in software for all campus computers that can automatically display alerts. The software will even interrupt a professor’s PowerPoint presentation, displaying a notification to everyone in the classroom of the situation.
During the Central Indiana Severe Weather Symposium, March 5, 2016 in Indianapolis, an attendee asked how spotters, particularly those who are hams, can report to appropriate National Weather Service (NWS) weather forecast offices (WFO) while traveling away from home.
There are several good answers to that question. It helps to know that each WFO has its own area of responsibility, which the NWS calls a county warning area (CWA). It is defined by a list of counties (or parishes) for which that WFO issues weather warnings. Generally speaking, every county in a given WFO’s CWA is closer to that WFO’s doppler radar station that to any other WFO’s radar. This is why CWAs often cross state lines.
If you want to make a spotter report while traveling, therefore, you need to know two things:
Which WFO’s CWA you’re in.
How to contact that WFO.
By far, the simplest way to accomplish both steps above is to register with SpotterNetwork.org and install compatible position-reporting software on a smartphone or similar GPS- and mobile- data-equipped mobile device.
In my case, RadarScope (when properly configured and activated) continually transmits my iPhone’s GPS coordinates to SpotterNetwork.org servers. If I need to make a report, I just log into my account on SpotterNetwork.org’s home page with any Web browser (including the one on my phone), and then select the “Submit Severe Report” link.
Because SpotterNetwork.org knows where I am, it displays at the top of the reporting page the three-letter identifier of the WFO whose CWA I’m in and the best telephone number through which to make a report to that WFO (in most cases, it’s the “bat phone” number that’s reserved for spotters). Then, I can call that number (the best choice for life-threatening situations, like a tornado) or enter my report into the SpotterNetwork.org website and let SpotterNetwork.org send it to the proper WFO electronically.
You can determine the appropriate WFO for any location in the country by using the NWS home page, www.weather.gov. Just click anywhere on the U.S. map. Near the top of the Web page that appears, you’ll see a headline that indicates the name of the WFO in whose CWA you clicked. If you scroll to the bottom of that page, you’ll find a phone number for that WFO. Unfortunately, it’s the main office phone number, not the special spotter report number. Depending on the time of day and how the WFO set up its phone system, you might not be able to reach a WFO staff member on that number.
Once you get on the appropriate WFO’s website, however, you should be able to easily find a weather reporting Web form, the WFO’s Twitter handle or even a link to the WFO’s Facebook page, all of which provide alternatives to calling.
If you don’t have mobile Internet, you can use weather.gov before your trip to make your own list of the WFOs through whose CWAs your route will take you.
You can call 911 to report life-threatening weather. The phone system will automatically route your call to an appropriate public safety answering point (PSAP) for your location, where a staff member will know how to relay your report to the appropriate WFO.
Disadvantages of this method include:
During times of severe weather, PSAPs are often too busy taking incoming calls to relay any information to the NWS.
The PSAP call taker might not appreciate being told about one-inch-diameter hail, even though the WFO would want to know about it.
Amateur (ham) radio
Learning how to make spotter reports via ham radio while out of your normal area can be challenging. You’ll have to determine which frequency is used by hams in your current location. Even if you’re successful, you might not be able to reach the WFO or someone who can relay your report to the WFO.
Some listings in the ARRL directory and on repeaterbook.com indicate that a listed repeater is used for weather-related activities. When that indication is available, such repeaters are good places for ham-radio-equipped spotters to start. You might, however, need to try multiple repeaters within range to find one on which a SKYWARN net operates. It’s therefore a good idea to communicate with local hams as you enter an area, so that you’ll already know about local on-air SKYWARN practices before you need to call in a report. This is especially important, because the local SKYWARN net might not permit participation by outsiders.
Call your home WFO
As a last resort, you can always use the “bat phone” number for your home WFO. Be sure to tell the call taker early in the call that you’re outside their CWA and that you’re requesting them to relay your report to the appropriate WFO.
The warning coordination meteorologist of the Norman, Oklahoma NWS office did a very interesting presentation at a national storm chaser convention earlier this year. Rick Smith spoke about what goes on at his office during severe weather events and how chasers and spotters can be of greatest assistance. While some of the information was specific to his local office and does not apply to the northern Indiana office, it was nonetheless a fascinating presentation. You can watch it on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t1CNFSkcagw or on the embedded video below.
Should a Facebook page run by amateur storm chasers promote itself as the best source for weather information? I can’t help but wonder how many (if any) naïve Facebook users foolishly rely on such pages for time-critical safety information, in lieu of the National Weather Service (NWS).
Recently, a Facebook page distributed the graphic above. I’ve blurred out identifying information, because who it was doesn’t matter to the point of this article. But the headline, “The #1 Source for National Weather” certainly caught my eye.
I’ve tried multiple times to contact the owners of the Facebook page that published that graphic. I sent a Facebook message and sent an email message to the email address on their website. I’ve received no response. So, all I know about them is what I see online.
From what I see, both the Facebook page and associated website are published by a group of amateur storm chasers, none of whom appear to have a meteorology degree.
In the U.S., only one source of weather information has the authority to issue the official watches and warnings that trigger weather radios, etc.
Don’t read what I’m not writing! There’s nothing wrong with an amateur-run Facebook page or website distributing interesting or important weather information. I do it all the time on Facebook, this blog, Twitter, etc. What I don’t do, however, is claim that my information is any better than others’.
Why? Because I don’t want anyone to assume that my blog, Facebook page or Twitter feed (or anyone’s for that matter) is a safe and reliable way to get timely, live-saving weather alerts, especially NWS warnings. Not even the NWS’ own Facebook and Twitter feeds are timely enough for that (yet).
That’s also why I consistently encourage readers – for their safety – to maintain timely access to NWS products (e.g. via NOAA Weather Radio, smartphone apps triggered by NWS products, Wireless Emergency Alerts, etc.).
All of us who publish weather information on social media and other Internet channels have a responsibility to inform and remind readers that in the U.S., only one source of weather information has the authority to issue the official watches and warnings that trigger weather radios, etc.: The National Weather Service. Likewise, we must not publish anything that could potentially mislead readers into believing that our social media feeds can keep them as safe as do directly received NWS warnings.
Our readers’ lives could depend on it!
What do you think? Use this blog’s comment function to let us know.
If you follow the the northern Indiana office of the National Weather Service on Twitter (@NWSIWX) and if your smart phone beeps at you every time the office tweets, you might want to change your settings before tomorrow.
The office plans to send more than 100 tweets to mark the 50th anniversary of the April 11, 1965 Palm Sunday tornado outbreak that killed 145 people in Indiana. No other tornado outbreak in the state’s history has killed that many people.
The NWS office plans to send tweets in real time, as if it were live tweeting during the actual outbreak. Every tweet will include the hash tag #PalmSunday50. This will give followers a feel for how NWS received information that day and the warnings it issued.
You can follow along, whether or not you have a Twitter account. The tweets will be visible at either of the following Web URLs:
The NWS office has also created a special website that provides detailed information about the outbreak, including photos like the one at the top of this post and first-hand accounts that witnesses provided the NWS.
“… an important step toward moving to a day when we have zero deaths from severe weather events…”
Some members of Congress want the National Weather Service (NWS) to devote a larger portion of its research budget to improving forecasts of tornadoes and hurricanes and increasing warning lead times. H.R. 1561, the “Weather Research and Forecast Innovation Act of 2015″ would Impose that requirement on the NWS, if it becomes law. The Science, Space, and Technology Committee passed the bill late last month.
Bill co-sponsor Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.) said in his blog, “The Weather Forecasting Innovation and Research Act is an important step toward moving to a day when we have zero deaths from severe weather events, such as tornadoes which can be devastating in my home state of Oklahoma. By prioritizing funding within NOAA’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, we can advance critical technologies and capabilities to vastly improve weather forecasting in the United States and save lives and property.”
Bill author Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) said, “The United States needs a world-class weather prediction system that helps protect the American people and their property. Unfortunately, for the last few years, our leadership in weather forecasting has slipped and we now play second fiddle to the European forecasting offices, who often predict America’s weather better than we can. The bill before us today will help us reclaim superior weather prediction and forecasting capabilities. Our citizens deserve this.”
if you agree, as I do, that the NWS, while doing a good job now, needs the ability to better forecast and warn us about severe weather, contact your own congressman and ask him to support H.R. 1561. The Open Conress website makes this easy.
Do not be alarmed. Despite what you might have read on Facebook or Twitter, no big winter storm is forecast to strike the Midwest or Northeast this weekend.
As WANE-TV meteorologist Greg Shoup writes in a his blog, “There are no significant weather patterns this weekend across the entire eastern United States.”
Apparently some attention-starved social network users are forwarding information about a winter storm that happened March 12 of 2014, but without the critical information that it was last year!
Greg correctly points out in his blog that we should not believe everything we read on social media sites. Even when weather information on Facebook and Twitter is current (versus a year old), much of it comes from amateur meteorologists who share worst-case scenarios based on the outputs of single numerical models of the atmosphere, hoping they can claim to be the first to advise the world of some major weather event.
I prefer to get my weather information directly from the National Weather Service (NWS). The NWS is completely taxpayer-funded. Unlike other sources of weather forecasts, the NWS does not crave attention, nor rely on advertising (which relies on viewership) to stay in business. In my experience, if the official NWS forecast does not mention a big weather event, it’s because there’s a good reason that NWS meteorologists lack confidence that the event will occur.
You’ll never see me write my own forecasts here on this blog, on Facebook or on Twitter, because I’m not a meteorologist. I share information from true professional meteorologists who I trust, mostly NWS employees and occasionally very credible broadcast meteorologists, like Shoup and his colleagues at WANE.
So, don’t believe everything you see on social networks and please, don’t share weather information with others unless you know and trust the source.