A large part of Indiana has a level two (out of five) risk of severe weather today (April 20, 2017) and this evening, according to the National Weather Service (NWS) Storm Prediction Center. The primary threat today is damaging straight-line winds or gusts of 58 mph or greater, but an isolated tornado cannot be ruled out in much of northeastern and east-central Indiana.
That makes now an especially good time for Hoosiers (and everyone else who lives in an area that ever receives severe weather) to make sure they have good ways to know about any warnings their local NWS offices issue.
So, here’s my list of the best ways to get tornado, severe thunderstorm and flash flood warnings. Continue reading →
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 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.
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.
It’s amazing how much information I can get on my smartphone, especially weather information. The app stores have dozens — maybe hundreds — of weather apps. They offer much more than today’s forecast. Some even claim to tell users when it will start raining at their locations.
Regardless of how valid or accurate is the information such apps provide, I wonder if they’ve led people to (incorrectly) believe that technology has the weather covered — that there’s little need anymore for human input, such as that provided by trained, SKYWARN® storm spotters.
Do people assume that the same technology that tells them what time the rain will begin can also automatically sense such hazards as tornadoes and severe thunderstorms?
If so, that could help explain why registration is down this year for free National Weather Service storm spotter classes in northern Indiana, northwestern Ohio and southern Lower Michigan.
For example, as of Jan. 25, fewer than 10 people had registered for spotter classes scheduled in Columbia City, Ind. and Glandorf, Ohio. This, despite frequent promotion on social media and other channels by the northern Indiana NWS office and others.
The entire severe weather warning system continues to rely heavily on the first-hand reports of trained spotters.
The truth — as any meteorologist will tell you — is that the entire severe weather warning system continues to rely heavily on the first-hand reports of trained spotters. Why? Because they can see things that radar and other technology cannot.
Radar, for example, can detect rotation in a storm, hundreds to thousands of feet above the ground. But it cannot tell meteorologists whether a funnel cloud has formed or whether a tornado is on the ground. Also, technology cannot tell meteorologists what damage a storm is doing. The NWS needs eye-witness reports from trained spotters for that.
If you’ve ever looked up a scary-looking cloud and wondered if you should worry;
If you’d like a better understand of severe weather to help allay fears;
If you’re a weather enthusiast and would like to apply that interest in a way that provides a life-saving service to your community;
Consider taking the free storm spotter training. You can find a session near you on the website of your local NWS office (type in your ZIP code at www.weather.gov and then look for the link on the forecast page that follows the phrase, “Your local forecast office is”). Some sessions begin as early as next week, so don’t put it off until storm season begins!
As good as weather technology is, it has not replaced they eyes of trained, volunteer storm spotters. Your community needs you!
Jan. 5, I wrote about annual SKYWARN storm spotter training beginning in less than a month in some parts of Indiana. Today, I’d like to share other educational opportunities for spotters and others who’d like to take a deeper dive into severe weather meteorology.
Central Indiana Severe Weather Symposium, Indianapolis
This day-long event, hosted by the central Indiana chapter of the American Meteorology Society and the National Weather Service Indianapolis weather forecast office, always provides lots of fascinating information of value to storm spotters. If you want to attend, register early, because it often “sells out” well before the day of the event.
Saturday, March 5, 2016, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Reilly Room, Atherton Union, Butler University, 704 West Hampton Drive. Information and registration: http://www.weather.gov/ind/2016CISWS. Twitter tweets about this event carry the hash tag #CISWS.
DuPage County Advanced Severe Weather Seminar, Wheaton, Ill.
This all-day event in one of is one of the best advanced spotter training opportunities in the Midwest. I’ve attended at least twice. It’s in a western suburb of Chicago, so it’s a bit of a drive for many Hoosiers! DuPage College’s meteorology professors usually speak and they’re both great presenters.
This annual event might be of interest to storm spotters who live in southern Indiana and points south. I’ve never attended, but a friend has been impressed with it. As you can see in the flyer image above, one of this year’s speakers is well-known broadcast meteorologist James Spann.
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.
“… 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.
Sandals, especially flip-flops, which are so popular when the weather is warm, are poor choices for severe weather days.
My feet get warm easily. I have a pair of Chacos brand sandals that I wear almost every day during warm weather. But not on days that I might need to serve as a storm spotter.
If severe weather is coming our way, I usually change into a sturdy pair of ankle-supporting hunting boots I bought on sale at Cabela’s, even if I’ll be staying home during the storm.
Why? On word: debris.
After a storm passes, I might have to walk through storm debris, which can include pieces of trees and pieces of buildings. The walking surface might be uneven. Some of the debris might have sharp edges.
I choose to protect my feet from all that, a practice I learned back in the 90s when I served as an emergency medical technician and communications technician on a Disaster Medical Assistance Team. It’s how I dressed my feet every day, even in tropical weather when assisting the victims of Hurricanes Andrew and Marilyn.
My advice: If you’re a storm spotter or storm chaser, get yourself a good pair of boots to wear anytime you’re in the field, even on hot, humid days. And no matter who you are, if you ever have to take shelter in your house from a coming storm, take the most protective footwear you have with you to the basement, interior room, etc. Put them on after the storm, before you step outside to survey the damage. Your feet will be much safer.
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.