Taking Action During Severe Weather Is Up To Us

Image via Huffington Post

Image via Huffington Post

JEFFERSON PARISH, LA – A Severe Thunderstorm Warning is in effect….A Severe Thunderstorm Warning is in effect….  We hear this alert quite often each year.   But to some, it becomes numb to the ears.   Many of these warnings are issued each year.

When hail is greater than one-inch in diameter or winds exceed 58 miles per hour, a severe thunderstorm warning is issued.   Not all severe thunderstorm warnings carry their weight.   In other words, some of them are a typical average thunderstorm that rumbles through with a small area receiving gusty winds and not much more.

The problem is, you can’t always be sure.

With each storm that misses your home, there will be one that doesn’t.   And should your roof wind up in the neighbors swimming pool, it may feel like a tornado but it might have been that severe thunderstorm warning.   The same warning that you stopped paying attention to.   The weather radio sounded one too many times.   Finally, you unplugged it.   Enough.

About six months ago, while co-presenting some weather information to a Kansas State University communications class via Skype, we posed the question, “How often do you take action when you hear that a severe thunderstorm warning has been issued?”

While we could not visually see students raise or not raise their hands, the analysis proved its point.   We were told by Dr. Steve Smethers who presided over the class that only about 3% of students signaled they would seek shelter or take some sort of action when a severe thunderstorm warning was issued.   Tornado warnings received a different response.   Far more of those in the class said they paid attention and would head for shelter.

The National Weather Service has taken steps to differentiate one severe thunderstorm warning from another.  In fact, some severe thunderstorm warnings get tagged with “tornado possible” or “potentially dangerous situation”.  It is the government’s way of emphasizing that not all severe thunderstorm warnings are treated equally.

The way that we, the media, relay these details highlighted in warnings is critical.   It might result in the way they are perceived by the public.  For instance, “…take this warning seriously, the National Weather Service says this severe thunderstorm is packing winds of 80 to 90 miles per hour.   It is causing widespread damage, so to move to shelter and treat it like it is a tornado…”

Much like Monday’s severe storm in Louisiana, we saw again that significant damage can occur in a good old-fashioned severe thunderstorm warning.   A slow moving railroad train was blown off of a tall bridge about 10 miles east of New Orleans.  Some of the railroad cars were empty and were tipped over like toys.  Winds were estimated at 70 miles per hour.   Thankfully no one was hurt.

The bottom line is that you may never get everyone to pay attention when a severe thunderstorm warning is issued.   But once one is issued, it is up to all of us to take personal responsibility for ourselves and our family.

In the end, it doesn’t matter whether it is a flood, earthquake, tornado or typhoon.   If we don’t take personal responsibility, no warning can save anyone.





Severe Weather Threat May Bring Tornadoes to Plains

Image via Storm Prediction Center.

Image via Storm Prediction Center.

KANSAS CITY, MO – It’s no surprise that in late April, an area of the Plains is targeted for severe storms and possibly tornadoes.   That is the case for Friday, when conditions may pull together for active weather.

A strong upper level disturbance lifting out of the southwestern U.S. will pull into the nation’s heartland.   When combined with rich gulf moisture and a low pressure system, supercell thunderstorms with tornadoes are likely in areas like central and eastern Kansas, Oklahoma and northern Texas.

Over 45 million people will be affected by the severe weather event.   It’s a good time to review your family’s tornado safety plan in the event of an emergency.

Rare Tornado Hits Southern California Desert

Image courtesy of NBC Los Angeles

Image courtesy of NBC Los Angeles

RIVERSIDE COUNTY, CA – The National Weather Service confirms that a tornado touched down Tuesday just north of a desert town in Riverside County.

Forecasters believe it was a strong thunderstorm with just the right ingredients that occurred between 3:45 and 4:00 p.m.

The twister did not do any significant damage and remained in open desert, therefore it was rated as an EF-0.


Second Hurricane Name Removed Forever

imagesNEW YORK CITY, NY – Just last week the World Meteorological Organization announced that “Isis” was booted from the 2016 list of hurricane names.   Its association with the brutal Islamic State militant group is why the name was replaced with “Ivette”.

But, that’s not all.

A second name, “Odile” will not be used in 2020 and was removed at Mexico’s request.  Hurricane Odile battered the Baja Peninsula in September of last year and was one of the most powerful to hit Baja in history.   11 people were killed as a result of Odile.

Other famous storms that have been erased include Sandy in 2012, Katrina in 2005 and Mitch in 1998.


Isis Removed As A Hurricane Name

NEW YORK CITY, NY – The United Nations has made the decision to remove “Isis” from its list of future hurricane names.  Time Magazine reported that the downloadU.N. deemed it inappropriate because of the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria militant group.

Clare Nullis is the spokesperson for the U.N.’s World Meteorological Organization.   She said it’s not unprecedented for the group to make such a change.

The list rotates every six years and if hurricane names are removed, it is often because they caused too much damage and too much death.

The WMO Hurricane Committee doesn’t take a vote, but decides by consensus.

Isis could have been a named storm in the Eastern North Pacific in 2016.   Isis has been replaced with Ivette.

Severe Weather Slams New Orleans Area

wms-inwspng-79716fb338ed4972NEW ORLEANS, LA – NOLA.com reports that a tornado warning was issued for parts of southeast Louisiana, including northwestern St. Bernard Parish and southwestern Orleans Parish.

Large hail pummeled the northern half of Kenner county.  The storm also produced downed power lines, trees and caused some flooding.

A Flash flood watch is in effect through Friday evening across the New Orleans area.


Tornado Flips Cars in Oregon

Lane Community College in Eugene, Oregon.

Lane Community College in Eugene, Oregon.

EUGUENE, ORE – Officials at the National Weather Service say that a tornado of “unknown intensity” touched down on Tuesday afternoon in the parking lot of Lane Community College.

KATU-TV reports that the twister, which was wrapped in rain and hail, flipped two vehicles and damaged three significantly.

“You could see the funnel cloud.  It touched down and picked up that blue Toyota Corolla, landed it on top of the red Durango, flipped it back over, and at that point, I took off, said Sgt. Lisa Rupp, a school public safety officer.

No one was injured.

Sam Smith (Not the British Singer) Becomes Unexpectedly Famous

imagesNORTHERN ILL – Usually, it is a tornado chaser that has an up-close shot of a twister doing EF-4 damage.   Not this time.  A man who was traveling southbound on Interstate 39 found himself in the middle of a monster tornado.

Sam Smith told The Washington Post that he was near the town of Lindenwood which is located between Rochelle and Kirkland, two cities who were hit hard by the tornado.  As other drivers pulled off the road, Smith assumed it was because they were avoiding heavy rain.

When hail the size of golf-balls started falling, he found an overpass to hide under and protect his truck.   When the road became crowded, he ventured further to avoid a collision.   That’s when he got face to face with Mother Nature.


Smith said he was on the phone with his son who encouraged him to capture video of the twister.   As it moved his way, he hung up on his son without saying goodbye.   Smith knew things were about to get bad.  His hope was this his son would think they just got disconnected.

Tornado experts aren’t sure how the storm’s inflow winds didn’t suck in Smith’s truck.   The vehicle lifted.  It shifted.  But the tornado spun away.

Smith said, “At one point, I could feel the truck lift and thought that was it.”



Donors Come Forward To Assist Zoo Hit By Tornado

Image via CBS Chicago.

Image via CBS Chicago.

BELVIDERE, ILL – The Chicago Tribune reports that an online fundraiser has raised thousands of dollars to help a family-owned farm and zoo which was heavily damaged by a tornado on Thursday evening.

Sommerfield Zoo, which is located in Belvidere, Illinois, lost three animals in the storm.  Zoo owner Tammy Anderson said sheds, barns and fencing were also destroyed.

Anderson said that the zoo lost two emus and a fawn.  She estimates that damage from the storm will cost $20,000 to fix uninsured fences.  The shed where reindeer lived was ripped away by high winds, but the animals appear to be uninjured.

An online fund has been set up to help Sommerfield Zoo and can be found at gofundme.com.

Dual-Polarimetric Detection of the Rochelle, Illinois, Tornado

Yesterday, 4/9/15, a destructive tornado impacted the towns of Rochelle and Fairdale, Illinois. I was monitoring the ongoing situation and watching live feeds from the television — situational awareness is always important. The KLOT WSR-88D southwest of Chicago, Illinois, detected extremely heavy precipitation downshear from the hook echo, where a fast storm motion of 45MPH out of the southwest was widely observed across the region last night. The classic supercell structure was well defined on doppler radar scans, and visually as well through images and video on live television.


KLOT WSR-88D scan from 7:13pm CDT, 4/9/15. Image is a product of RadarScope.

The hook echo, which is clearly defined on the southwest quadrant of the supercell, showed a well defined hail core as the low-level mesocyclone rotated rapidly in response to interaction with the kinematic and thermodynamic environment near the warm front. The vorticity maxima in conjunction with the Mesoscale Convective Vortex propagating orthagonal to the cold front, where an area of rather robust cyclonic shear vorticity existed, resulted in this long-lived supercell producing a long-track, violent tornado. Dual-polarimetric radar helped in the wording of the warning text, resulting in a Particularly Dangerous Situation Tornado Warning, as a debris signature was detected on the correlation coefficient. The way dual polarized radar operates from a cut-and-dry standpoint, is the radar emits beams microwave energy. These beams of microwave radiation oscillate horizontally and vertically; whereas, the vertical scans are like a pod of dolphins jumping out of the water in the ocean, and the horizontal scans are like a rattlesnake slithering through the high plains. As a result, you obtain a vertical, three dimensional view of a supercell in this case. Below is a horizontal and vertical scan from the correlation coefficient radar scan from the Rochelle, Illinois tornado.


Horizontal and vertical correlation coefficient scans from the KLOT WSR-88D southwest of Chicago, Illinois, of the Rochelle, Illinois tornado from 4/9/15. This image is via Meteorologist Daniel Lamb of the NWS Jackson.

Correlation Coefficient dual polarimetric values range from 0.20 to 1.05, and are unitless I will add. It is a measure of how similarly the horizontal and vertical polarized pulses are interacting within a pulse scan. Not to veer off topic, but Correlation Coefficient, or CC, is noted in AWIPS (Advanced Weather Interactive Processing Systems) and RPG (Radar Project Generator), and is the same as rhoHV in scientific/research missions that the National Severe Storms Laboratory and other divisions of NOAA may conduct i.e. the DOW or OU RaxPol. For those who use GRLevel Analyst, it is noted as RHO.

Now, how do we understand what the unitless values mean for Correlation Coefficient and how do we interpret them? I will discuss that here. Values <0.9 usually indicate non-meteorological phenomena, such as bats, birds, insects, etc. The horizontal and vertical pulses that the radar retrieves act very differently from one another. CC values between 0.85 to 0.95 usually indicate non-uniform pulses, such as hail, grauple and other mixed precipitation — the pulses behave in a somewhat similar way to one another. High CC values, usually >0.95 indicate uniform meteorological phenomena, such as rain and snow, and the pulses are relatively uniform throughout. These numerical values can be seen on the color bar with the Correlation Coefficient radar setting. On the CC scan shown above, there are fairly diverse pulses surrounding the blue/green values, which are between 0.20 and 0.80 in this case. The dual-polarimetric radar scan was detecting debris from the tornado impacting near Rochelle and Fairdale, Illinois, of which debris was sucked roughly 30,000FT into the atmosphere, or roughly 5-6 miles high.

The use and implementation of dual-polarimetric resulted in confirmation of the tornado through radar alone. Of course, confirmations also came through pictures and images clearly showing a tornado on the ground. I think the main purpose of this discussion is to not only educate, but let’s look at it from this perspective: What if it was dark and no one could get a “clear” visualization of the tornado? The dual-polarized radar would have confirmed the tornado through the CC detection values.

– Student Meteorologist Harrison Sincavage, Penn State University