Tag Archives: National Weather Service

NWS plans Twitter commemoration of Palm Sunday tornado outbreak

The famous Palm Sunday twin tornado photo, taken along U.S. 33 by Paul Huffman of the
The famous Palm Sunday twin tornado photo, taken along U.S. 33 by Paul Huffman of the “Elkhart Truth”

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.

Presentation slide from northern Indiana NWS office.
Presentation slide from northern Indiana NWS office.

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:

https://twitter.com/search?f=realtime&q=%22%23PalmSunday50%22&src=typd

https://twitter.com/nwsiwx

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.

Bill in Congress would expand NWS research to improve severe weather forecasts

Photo of tornado with words superimposed: H.R. 1561: "... zero death from severe weather events ..."

“… 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.

Bogus winter storm “forecasts” spreading on social networks

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.

 

Tweet responsibly during severe weather

Tornado clip art with Twitter bird logoDuring periods of severe weather, the micro-blogging service, Twitter often explodes with information. Some tweets are helpful, others are less so.

The “Virtual Operations Support Group” blog posted an excellent article last year, “How to Tweet Responsibly in Severe Weather” that every Twitter user should read before the next severe weather event happens.

Highlights include:

  • Include the Twitter handle of your local NWS office when reporting weather.
  • Include a time stamp with on any tweet about an NWS warning and any tweet that contains a severe weather report.
  • In weather reports, also include:
    • What you saw.
    • Where it happened.
    • A photo, if possible.
  • Even if you normally prohibit Twitter from knowing your location (for privacy), enable location services while tweeting about severe weather.

Learn about severe weather with NWS storm spotter training

The National Weather Service (NWS) will conduct live, in-person SKYWARN storm spotter training in Fort Wayne Feb. 17 at 7 p.m. at the Public Safety Academy/Ivy Tech South Campus, 7602 Patriot Crossing (off Lafayette St. south of Tillman Rd.).

The NWS relies heavily on trained, volunteer storm spotters. Ham radio operators have strongly supported the SKYWARN program for decades and recently more and more other volunteers, who are not ham radio operators, have joined in. An important part of supporting the program is to receive NWS training and to keep that knowledge up to date.

I want to be as helpful as possible to the NWS and, thereby my community. That’s why I attend SKYWARN training every year, even though the NWS only expects spotters to attend at least once every three years. I find it helpful to refresh my memory from the previous year and to make sure I’m aware of any new information.

If you’ve never attended the training, and you live in the Fort Wayne area, this is your chance to do so without traveling out of town. If you have attended in previous years, this month’s training will be a good refresher. If you don’t live in the Fort Wayne area, you can find a list of other classes taught by the northern Indiana NWS office here.

If you know anyone who is curious about what storm spotting is, invite them to attend. Remember that while a ham license is helpful to spotters, it’s not at all necessary, especially in these days of smartphones and mobile Internet.

The NWS considers the in-person training to be supplemental to online spotter training available on the MetEd website (https://www.meted.ucar.edu/). It recommends that all spotters complete the online training in addition to the in-person training and ideally, before the in-person session.

Finally, the NWS sincerely requests that all individuals register in advance for in-person training sessions. I have already honored that request, by registering for the Feb. 17 session. You can register online for the Fort Wayne class at http://allen-in-spotter.eventzilla.net/ or you can register by phone by calling the Allen County Office of Homeland Security at 260-449-4663.

Indiana severe weather remains possible today

Well, the map on today’s “Day One Convective Outlook” looks pretty much the same as yesterday’s day two outlook. It continues to indicate a slight risk of severe weather today in almost all of Indiana.

The text of the outlook indicates that a low is forecast to move eastward across northern Missouri, with a warm front extending eastward from the low across central Illinois, northern Indiana, northern Ohio and into Pennsylvania (the warm front is depicted as a stationary front on the surface chart below).

Forecast models suggest that scattered thunderstorms will initiate this afternoon along and to the north of the warm front, with more isolated storms possible south of it. The environment should support severe storm development south of the warm front. Damaging wind gusts appear to be the main threat, with some hail also possible.

The Northern Indiana NWS weather forecast office seems to concur, as its Hazardous Weather Outlook (HWO) indicates that spotter activation is not anticipated in its county warning area (CWA). The HWO that the Indianapolis office issued this morning, however, indicates that spotter activation is possible in its CWA late tonight or early tomorrow morning.

New NWS videos provide important weather safety info

The National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office in Norman, Oklahoma has produced three YouTube videos to help keep people safe during severe weather. These videos are aimed at the general public, so if you’re a SKYWARN spotter, share them with your friends and family members and watch them yourself for some valuable reminders.

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.

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.

NWS Announces Plans for Local SKYWARN Training


In early December, Michael Lewis, Warning Coordination Meteorologist, Northern Indiana Weather Forecast Office, National Weather Service (NWS), sent an email message outlining updated plans for SKYWARN spotter training in 2013.
Lewis confirmed that in 2013, NWS will not conduct in-person, face-to-face training.
“We had to weigh the options,” Lewis said, “conduct spotter trainings, or reserve travel for possible storm damage surveys, or other Disaster Response Services. In general, one storm damage survey consumes travel and personnel costs equivalent to approximately four spotter talks. We had to decide where to put our resources. We chose to reserve our budget for possible disaster response/recovery.”
The so-called “fiscal cliff” is the reason NWS had to make such a choice. At the time of this writing, Congress had not passed a bill to prevent the automatic austerity measures included in the Budget Control Act of 2011. Unless Congress does so, the federal government must cut spending on Jan. 1 by $200 billion, which means across-the-board cuts, including at NWS. This situation required our local NWS office to plan as if it won’t have enough money for both in-person spotter training and the other activities Lewis mentioned above.
The NWS office therefore plans to conduct spotter training at various sites around its area of responsibility via live, Internet presentations. Spotters will gather at such sites to view — as a group — presentations provided remotely from the NWS office. The current plans do not include opportunity for spotters to view the presentations elsewhere, e.g. their homes or offices.
Lewis said the program will represent a complete rewrite of presentations that have been used for in-person presentations of the past. NWS expects a 90 minute program, including a 15 minute break. “We are doing everything possible to make this a dynamic learning process for the attendees,” Lewis said.
NWS is coordinating with county emergency management agency directors to set up host sites at which spotters may gather to view the online presentations. At the time of this writing, NWS had not announced the specific sites. After all host sites have received their remote presentations. NWS plans to make a recorded presentation available for individual viewing.
Lewis said the new remotely led training will cover less meteorology and radar interpretation than previous in-person training has included. Instead, the new training will focus on the following:
  • Why to report
  • What to report
  • How to report (including telephone, ham radio, etc. and new tools like social media)
  • Where to obtain the reports of others (for situational awareness)
Because the online spotter training will not contain much meteorology, Lewis strongly recommended that all spotters take advantage of available online independent study training courses. “These courses are well-prepared and provide the student the opportunity to go back and review the material at their convenience,” Lewis said. He referred specifically to the following:
Lewis said spotters should complete the above independent study course before attending remotely-presented spotter training.
Lewis said NWS does not have any authority to prevent others from creating their own, local spotter training programs. “There are plenty of people willing to step up and present whatever they think is best,” he said. Lewis warned, however, “This will result in inconsistencies, and conflicting information, and likely result in confusion.”
Lewis said he hopes to have a “train the trainer” program in place for the 2014 spotter season and beyond. Such a program would train volunteers who are not NWS employees to provide NWS-authorized spotter training in their communities.
As I receive more information about NWS plans, I’ll keep you posted. In the interim, I recommend that you encourage any spotter or potential spotter you know to complete the above-referenced online, independent study course.