Tag Archives: tornado

University demonstrates questionable understanding of tornado warnings

It’s really important that anyone who is in charge of the safety of an institution — a university campus, for example — maintain an updated, working knowledge of how weather warnings work. Tweets sent today by Indiana University today could lead one to believe that its campus safety staff could benefit from some education in that area.

At 1:19 p.m. EST, the Indianapolis office of the National Weather Service (NWS) issued a tornado warning that included a portion of southern Monroe County, Indiana.  The warning came with a polygon that clearly showed that the IU campus was not included.

Polygon associated with Nov. 5 tornado warning near Bloomington, IN. The National Weather Service issued the warning only for the area inside the red polygon.

In addition, the text of the warning indicated that “a severe thunderstorm capable of producing a tornado was located 12 miles northwest of Bedford, moving east at 30 mph.” In other words, the storm was not moving toward Bloomington or the IU campus (which is why NWS meteorologists drew the polygon as they did).

Six minutes after the NWS issued the warning, IU sent a tweet at 1:25 regarding what it called a “tornado warning for Bloomington.”

Cody Kirkpatrick, an IU lecturer in atmospheric science, attempted to clarify IU’s tweet:

The IU Twitter account replied:

Dr. Kirkpatrick knew what he was talking about. Those sending tweets on behalf of IU demonstrated ignorance of the National Weather Service’s “storm-based warning” system. When the NWS implemented that system a decade ago, it replaced the county-wide warnings to which IU’s tweet refers, with warnings based on polygons that indicate where the actual risk is.

In subsequent tweets, Dr. Kirkpatrick attempted to point that out, as well as the fact that IU’s original tweet was ambiguous. IU’s response:

But is warning people who are not at risk really better than warning only people who are truly at risk? Is doing so truly “safe,” or does it exacerbate existing challenges with getting people to respond appropriately to warnings?

The people at any institution like IU, who are in charge of disseminating public safety information, would do well to take full advantage of the informational resources that exist among their own faculty. Doing so could lead to better weather safety communications in the future.

What residents need to know about their new outdoor warning siren

Tornado siren. Outdoor warning sirens are not intended to be heard indoors.

Blogger’s note: Below is an article I submitted to the “The Waynedale News,” a neighborhood newspaper in Fort Wayne, Indiana. If refers to the installation of an outdoor warning siren in a neighborhood that had been without one for years. The newspaper published the article July 7, 2017.

The new outdoor warning siren that’s coming to Waynedale brings with it some true risks that area residents might not have considered. Chief among those risks are over reliance and desensitization. Continue reading

Remembering a lesson on a derecho anniversary

An NWS graphic showing the path of the 2012 derecho

Today is the fifth anniversary of a “derecho” thunderstorm that did widespread damage in northern Indiana and locations to the southeast.

“At the peak of the event,” writes the northern Indiana office of the National Weather Service, “the Fort Wayne International Airport observing equipment observed a peak wind gust of 91 mph.”

“Winds were as strong as an EF-1 tornado over a widespread area,” the NWS web page continues, “which resulted in immense damage along the storm’s entire path.” (Emphasis added by W9LW.)

One of the best lessons of that storm should be that we can have massive damage without a tornado. This was a particularly dangerous severe thunderstorm, but there’s no such thing as a “particularly dangerous situation” thunderstorm warning, so we need to pay attention to all severe thunderstorm warnings, even though such warnings are not uncommon.

See an extensive discussion of the 2012 derecho on the NWS northern Indiana website: https://www.weather.gov/iwx/20120629_derecho

Top 5 ways to get severe weather warnings

Indiana map showing Risks of severe weather between 9 a.m. ET Thurs., April 20, 2017 and 8 a.m. the following day. Source: National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center
Risks of severe weather between 9 a.m. ET Thurs., April 20, 2017 and 8 a.m. the following day. Source: National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center

This post was updated at 9:40 a.m. April 20, 2017

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

Georgia tornado relief volunteer need increases

Operation Blessing Albany, Georgia tornado relief
Operation Blessing photo

The people of Albany, Georgia continue to need volunteer assistance to recover from last week’s tornado outbreak. One of my favorite relief organizations sent today the email message below, which explains why the need for volunteers from outside the area has increased. Please share this information with any congregations or others who might be interested in helping.

Operation Blessing International Logo

IMPORTANT: Please note that if you need lodging, please do not leave your home until you have received a CONFIRMED RESERVATION. Our field team cannot accept anyone who does not have a CONFIRMED RESERVATION

As we move into “Week 2,” we often refer to it as “Phase 2,” because the local volunteer response begins to drop dramatically as businesses reopen, schools reopen and residents return to work. These factors significantly lower our volunteer numbers, which means that we need out-of-town volunteers even more now. We are writing you today to ask you to consider bringing a team to help us help these precious residents over the next 2 – 3 weeks.

Operation Blessing is accepting volunteers daily at 8:00 AM (Monday – Saturday) at New Birth Fellowship Church in Albany, GA. We have two orientation times each day. Orientation begins at 8:30 AM and 1:00 PM. Operation Blessing will provide everything you need – work assignments, tools, and lunch. All we ask is that you provide your own transportation to and from the work sites. No reservations are needed for daily volunteers.

New Birth Fellowship Church
2106 Radium Springs Road
Albany, GA
Onsite Volunteer Line: 757.374.0944

Volunteer Housing NOW OPEN (CONFIRMED Reservation is Required): Operation Blessing provides FREE volunteer housing in Albany. Operation Blessing will provide your lodging, meals, tools and work assignments, free of charge. All we ask volunteers to provide is their own transportation to and from the worksite each day. Volunteers must be 18 years old or older and serve in teams of at least 2 people. To get more information and to register for volunteer housing, please contact our National Volunteer Manager, Trudy Rauch, at 757.226.3407 or send your name, phone number, date you would like to come and number of volunteers in your team to volunteer@ob.org. We will call you back within 24-48 hours. We require that all volunteers needing overnight housing register 24-48 hours in advance. Please make sure you receive your email confirmation before heading to Albany because our field teams will not be able to accept anyone who does not have a CONFIRMED RESERVATION.

Volunteer Opportunities: Volunteers are needed to help residents sort their belongings to keep what is salvageable, help with debris removal (a lot of wheelbarrow work), chainsaw crews, serving and preparing meals in our mobile kitchen and installing tarps on damaged roofs.

Please feel free to call me with any questions you have and to register your team for overnight volunteer housing.


Trudy Rauch
National Volunteer & U.S. Programs Manager
U.S. Disaster Relief
Operation Blessing International
977 Centerville Turnpike | Virginia Beach, VA 23463
office: (757) 226-3407|
fax: (757) 277-0231 | web: www.ob.org

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Illinois man video-records tornado hitting his house, survives against all odds

Against all odds, Clem Schultz somehow survived a direct tornado strike on his Fairdale, Illinois home, while video-recording the storm. His video (above), while dramatic, provides a poor example. He needlessly decreased his chances of survival.

A story in the Arlington Heights, Illinois “Daily Herald” hints that Mr. Schultz was aware of a tornado warning and indicates that he did not believe the tornado would strike his village. It indicates that “there was no time for the 85-year-old to hurry back downstairs to the kitchen” where his wife was.

From the the first video frame in which we see the tornado, however, until the frame in which the utility pole begins to fall, nearly two minutes elapse. That should have been plenty of time for everyone in the house to seek shelter. The National Weather Service’s tornado warning provided the Schultzes even more time. It was issued 14 minutes before the tornado hit the village.

“There was no point in getting in the cellar,” the “Daily Herald” story continues, “which was basically a hole barely big enough to hold their furnace.”

Unfortunately, Mrs. Schultz did not survive, becoming one of the storm’s two deaths.

We’ll never know whether the outcome would have been different had Schultz and his wife gone to the safest place that their house afforded as soon as the NWS first issued the tornado warning. If there was no room for them in the furnace cellar, that might have meant going to the most interior room on the first floor, as experts routinely advise.

Sometimes people die, even when they follow expert tornado survival advice. But the sensible thing to do is to put the odds in your favor. When a tornado warning includes your home, take shelter as best you can.

Don’t gamble with your life by following follow Schultz’ example. Give yourself the best possible chance of survival.

Know anyone who’s still confused by watch vs. warning?

Wizard of Oz witch tornado watch warning meme
Meme creator unknown

The U.S. National Weather Service has been issuing tornado and severe thunderstorm watches and warnings since 1965. More than 50 years later, however, people still fail to fully understand the difference between a watch and a warning. You probably know some of them, I certainly do.

As my contribution to the second day of Indiana’s Severe Weather Preparedness Week 2016, I’ve written this blog to share with your friends and family members who remain confused.

A watch is essentially a forecast

Map showing tornado watch for a large part of Indiana and Michigan for 11:20 a.m. to 8 p.m. Nov. 17, 2013.
Map showing tornado watch for a large part of Indiana and Michigan for 11:20 a.m. to 8 p.m. Nov. 17, 2013.

In fact, before 1965, the NWS called what we now know as “tornado watches” “tornado forecasts.” A tornado watch indicates the possibility of tornadoes forming, just as a rain forecast indicates the probability of rain. Similarly, a severe thunderstorm watch indicates the possibility of severe thunderstorms forming. A watch does not mean these things are already happening, it means they could happen.

Like a forecast, a watch covers a period of many hours and usually covers a large area of at least several counties, if not several states. We should watch for possible dangerous weather in the near future.

A warning is an indication of immediate danger

Polygon indicating the area covered by a tornado warning for the Kokomo, Indiana area Nov. 17, 2013.
Polygon indicating the area covered by a tornado warning for the Kokomo, Indiana area from 3:17 p.m. to 3:45 p.m. Nov. 17, 2013. Click the image to see a larger version.

It’s a call to take shelter now, because the tornado or severe thunderstorm is already happening. Depending on where you are, you might only have couple of minutes to protect yourself and your family. Or, you might have 10 or 15 minutes, if you’re at the far edge of the “warning polygon.” If you want to survive a tornado or a severe thunderstorm, don’t waste time seeking more information. When a warning comes out, take shelter immediately.

Because dangerous weather has already formed and is on its way, a warning usually covers a period of less than an hour and a small area that’s sometimes smaller than a county. The time to watch is over. It’s now time to heed the warning and take shelter.

Want even more lead time?

If you’re really interested in weather, or want to know even earlier whether severe weather is possible, there are two other NWS products to check out.

The NWS Storm Prediction Center (SPC) usually issues a “mesoscale discussion” before it issues a watch. This product lets you know that the SPC is thinking about (or planning to) issue a watch, the geographical area of concern and the reasons. Some of the text of a mesoscale discussion can get pretty technical, but anyone can figure out from this product whether a watch is likely to be issued. If any mesoscale discussions are in effect, you can find them on the SPC website.

For even more lead time, the SPC issues “convective outlooks” that indicate the amount of risk of severe weather as much as eight days in advance. You can also find these products on the SPC website.

Has technology led people to believe storm spotters are no longer necessary?

Storm spotter capturing image of developing tornado with cell phonesIt’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!

Tornado season begins

NWS northern Indiana tornado climatology graphic
NWS northern Indiana climatology graphic

Tornado season has begun. No, really.

In northeastern Indiana, northwestern Ohio and southern Lower Michigan, more tornadoes happen in October than in all but three other months (see graph above).

So, even though spring is the peak season for severe weather, it’s a good idea for storm spotters to review their training at this time of year.

A good way to do that is to go through the online spotter training at https://www.meted.ucar.edu/training_course.php?id=23.

Even if you’ve already been through the online and live training, it’s probably been a while and we had a slow spring severe weather season that provided few opportunities to practice spotter skills.

Make sure you’re ready for October.