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.