Recap: New York State Severe Weather Awareness Week

If you follow us on Facebook , you may have noticed our series of severe weather safety posts this week. This week is Severe Weather Awareness week in New York State. With the season changing, early May is a great time to review safety practices for a variety of severe weather which can occur during the spring and summer months.

One very important practice is to have a reliable source from which to get your weather information. Did you know that the National Weather Service (part of NOAA, or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) issues severe weather and other warnings for your specific area? These warnings are disseminated via a variety of outlets, including radio, television, and online. There are many weather apps which you can download to your mobile devices that will push NWS warnings right to your phone in real-time. In addition to having a weather radio at your place of residence, it is also important to have access to warnings when you are out and about.

Day 1 convective outlook for 4/30/2019. Courtesy NOAA/SPC.

If you have plans to be outdoors and are looking for a general thunderstorm forecast, NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center issues convective outlooks for the entire continental United States out to three days (with an additional day 4-8 outlook for the longer term). The colored areas highlight the risk of general thunder (light green) and severe thunderstorms (dark green and above). The risk categories are outlined as follows:

It is important to remember that ANY thunderstorm has the potential to cause serious injury, because even if the ‘severe’ criteria are not met, lightning and heavy rain can occur in any thunderstorm.
Once the time window for any potential severe weather decreases to hours (vs. one or more days in the future), the SPC will then begin issuing severe weather watches. Here is an example of a Severe Thunderstorm Watch which was issued for parts of Oklahoma and Texas:

Although tornadoes can occur when a Severe Thunderstorm Watch is issued, generally the SPC will issue a Tornado Watch if confidence is higher for tornadoes to develop. Notice in the example above that the Watch is valid from 1:00 PM to 8:00 PM, a several hour time period. The radar image overlaid on the watch indicates that thunderstorms had already begun to form at the time of issuance. At this point, Warnings may be issued by local National Weather Service offices if any of the thunderstorms become severe and include strong winds, large hail, or tornadoes.

Severe Thunderstorm and Tornado Warnings issued by the NWS in Norman, Oklahoma.

As you can see above, there were numerous warnings on individual storms (red/orange) issued within the watch area (pink), and in fact some storms did merit tornado warnings. Trained spotters and emergency managers provide an invaluable service to NWS forecasters by reporting severe weather on the ground as it occurs. You can see in the below image that there were several reports of high winds, large hail, and even a few tornadoes within the Severe Thunderstorm Watch area.

In addition to ensuring you and your loved ones have reliable access to NWS weather warnings and preparing ahead by looking at the forecast if you have outdoor plans which may leave you vulnerable if severe weather strikes, there are many things you can do to stay safe should you find yourself in a severe weather situation. Let’s break it down by hazard type:

High winds

The tornado sheltering guidelines given in the infographic below are useful to remember if you find yourself in any situation where severe thunderstorm winds may be affecting you. The main idea is to remain away from windows which can be broken by flying debris, and if you are on the road to stay away from underpasses, which can act as ‘funnels’ for winds and debris. Always choose the most safe place you can when considering where to take shelter.

Courtesy: NOAA/NWS

Lightning

Did you know that lightning kills an average of 47 people each year in the United States, and injures many more? If you are at an outdoor activity in an exposed, open area (such as sports stadium or field, golf course, or picnic area), it is extra important to stay aware of changing weather conditions because lightning strikes can occur many miles away from where the main area of rain is during a thunderstorm. If you find yourself outside and thunderstorms are approaching (even those without severe weather warnings!), immediately leave the open area, stay away from water bodies and tall trees, and take shelter indoors or in your car until the threat passes.

Courtesy NOAA/NWS.

Flooding

ANY thunderstorm, even non-severe, has the potential to produce torrential downpours and thus create localized areas of flash flooding. Even when a ‘Flash Flood Warning’ is not in effect, it is important to stay aware of changing conditions on roadways when thunderstorms are in the area. Only 12 inches of moving water across a roadway is sufficient to carry a small car in its current. Thus, when you see ponded or running water across a roadway, it is always better to follow the guideline “Turn Around, Don’t Drown”.

Courtesy NOAA/NWS.

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