Tornado Preparedness? In December? Yep!

Hi friends. For those who might not be aware, the STM team is actually now based in two different areas – the Northeast, where we were founded, and the Southeast, where one of our team members now lives! Unsurprisingly, we now deal with very different weather-related issues. For example, at the time of this writing, I know that those of you living in New York are dealing with a winter storm all day today (December 17). On the other hand, yesterday I was able to go for a run in a tank top because the high temperature in my town was 75 degrees! Unfortunately, no location is perfect, and the southeast is known for it’s secondary severe weather season beginning in the late fall, sometimes lasting through early winter. In fact, on December 16, 2000, a powerful EF-4 tornado tore through Tuscaloosa County, killing 11 and injuring over 100. The tornado was on the ground for 18 miles, all within Tuscaloosa County. The tornado path was estimated to be 750 yards wide at its maximum intensity. Although the warnings were excellent for this tornado, the public perception still wasn’t where it should be.

Damage to houses from the December 16, 2000 tornado.
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Dallas Fort Worth October 2019 Tornado

While spring and summer are undoubtedly the most active times for severe thunderstorms across the United States, autumn also brings an increased risk of severe weather outbreaks. Dr. Gregory Forbes, a recognized severe weather expert, identified the second half of October and “especially November” as a notable time period for strong storm systems to develop. “In many ways, this is the counterpart to spring, when strong fronts and upper-air systems march across the United States. When enough warm, moist air accompanies these weather systems, the unstable conditions yield severe thunderstorms and sometimes tornadoes,” Forbes said. His statement came after he examined storm statistics and found six of the largest 55 known tornado outbreaks on record had occurred in the fall. Over 1,000 tornadoes impact the United States each year, and more occur in Texas than any other state.

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A Look Back at Hurricane Michael

Three hundred and sixty-five days have passed since Hurricane Michael crashed into the Florida Panhandle, causing utter devastation. Michael made history as the first Category 5 hurricane (the highest category of the Saffir-Simpson scale with winds over 157 miles per hour) to make landfall in the Unites States since Andrew in 1992. It was also the first Category 5 hurricane on record to impact the Florida Panhandle.

Hurricane Michael beginning to make landall on October 10, 2018. Courtesy NASA
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Turn Around, Don’t Drown

This is it. We are in the peak of hurricane season. So far, we have had 12 named storms. We all know to prepare for and be wary of strong hurricanes, but even “weak” tropical systems can wreak just as much havoc. It’s important to remember that a tropical system’s strength is categorized solely by wind speed, but that flooding associated with a system (regardless of winds) can cause catastrophic impacts as well.

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Hurricane Dorian: A study in hurricane impacts

At the time of this writing on Tuesday, September 2, Hurricane Dorian is currently bringing heavy rain, winds and storm surge to the Bahamas as it makes its slow trek towards the eastern U.S. coastline. This storm has proven to be very difficult to forecast, in part because of its rapid intensification and slow speed. Let’s look back and see how this dangerous situation evolved and where the forecast impacts are expected in the next 3-5 days.

Satellite imagery of Hurricane Dorian over the Bahamas, September 1, 2019.
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Weather Recap: August 2019 Severe Weather in Upstate New York

For those of us who live in upstate New York, it may seem like the weather has been exceptionally active during the last two weeks. You are not imagining things; August 2019 has brought numerous rounds of severe weather and damaging winds to the region. Let’s look look back at the last two or three weeks to see what happened:

Wind damage in Albany, New York. Courtesy: Spectrum News.
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National Parks and Severe Weather

At this point in midsummer, it is hard NOT to have the outdoor bug, and many of us in the U.S. will head to our National Parks to enjoy the outdoors in a variety of ways. Did you know that Yellowstone was the first National Park, established in 1872? President Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909) is possibly the most well-known supporter of the development of the National Park System; during his terms in office, the number of National Parks doubled. The legislation known as the Antiquities Act, which he signed into law, gave him and future presidents the ability to declare historic landmarks and national monuments, many of which are part of the National Park System today. At our wide array of National Parks, Seashores, Reserves, Battlefields, Monuments, and Historic Sites, visitors can learn about the history and culture of our country, as well as enjoy and appreciate the huge variety of climates and beautiful scenery that exist in the United States.

Canyonlands National Park. Credit: NPS/Neal Herbert.
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Surveying the Storm

Imagine that it’s late in the evening, the sun has set, and you’re a meteorologist or the National Weather Service (NWS) exhausted from working a 13–hour day providing forecasts and warnings for a significant severe weather event that moved through your forecast area. Although the powerful storm system has exited the region, the event is not completely over. As severe weather reports filter into the office, it becomes evident that the storms caused significant damage and you’ll be heading out to conduct a damage survey first thing in the morning. Get some rest…another long day lies ahead.

Damage survey team members (Jim Belles and Benton County officials) inspect homes destroyed in the December 23, 2015 tornadoes in northern Mississippi. Credit NOAA WRN
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Lightning Science and Safety

Did you know that Benjamin Franklin conducted his famous experiment in which he flew a kite during a thunderstorm during this week in 1752? Benjamin Franklin was looking to demonstrate the connection between lightning and electricity. In fact, we know today that lightning is a discharge of static electricity from the atmosphere. Lightning can strike from cloud-to-cloud, cloud-to-ground, and even intra-cloud (inside one cloud) discharges can occur. Let’s look back into history to see how this experiment worked…

Courtesy: Franklin Institute.
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