NWS request ALERT on Saturday.
I hope this finds you well and enjoying the spring weather and the flowers that greet you, reminding you that no matter how hard the winter is, the Spring always comes.
With spring come our April Showers and storms of spring, which is Prime Time for ALERT and the Skywarn Community. I hope you have taken advantage of the training sessions that the NWS has provided for potential storm spotters and have brushed up on your emergency preparedness skills.
There are a few reminders that should be pointed out.
First, that while the NWS endorses and encouraged Storm SPOTTING, they do not endorse and encourage Storm CHASING.
Now, I will be the first one to admit that the dividing line between the two can be blurry.
Spotting with binoculars from the front porch with your bathrobe and bunny slippers is clearly spotting. Prepositioning oneself on a ridge ahead of a storm to report the conditions is spotting. Rushing 95 MPH to reach that ridge is borderline, and running folk off the road in an SUV with blinky lights, a roof sprouting a dozen antennae, anemometers and covered with home made “National Weather Service Official Storm Chase Vehicle” stickers is definitely over the edge.
There are many valid reasons why the NWS discourages storm chasing. It’s just too dangerous in Alabama to try. Even for those with experience, let alone the eager souls who know just enough to be on the dumb side.
A measure of the danger involved is the fact that neither Jefferson County nor Shelby County “dispatch” storm spotters. This is due to liability reasons. Those who do deploy do so “at their own risk”.
The terrain, the roads and the environment all work against storm chasing. Especially in the city, as you have to fight traffic, traffic lights and weirdly shaped streets.
Add to this the fact that most of our tornadoes are rain wrapped, and you run the risk of having to answer the question “Ok I’ve just caught one, now what do I do with it?”
Here are a few Golden Nuggets Of Wisdom to chew on if you intend to get up close and personal with a storm.
- The best viewing angle for spotting a tornado, assuming the storm is moving in the usual SW to NE axis is from the SE looking NW.
AT A SAFE DISTANCE.
- Studies indicate that 80% of a tornado’s debris falls on the left side of the storms path. That’s not meaning old report cards and record albums either. If you are watching a storm vacuuming up 6th Ave South and you are sitting at 3rd Avenue South, you could be greeted by flying Fridgidaires, sailing Steinways or get hit by a Trane – air conditioner that is.
- You don’t want to approach a storm from the North, as you will be guilty of “Core Punching” and will drive through the heart of the storm. Unless you like slipping and sliding in blinding rain, being pelted by hail or perhaps being caught by the storm you are chasing, I would avoid doing this. Take it from someone who has done so. (Innocently trying to get to the NWS and managing to have perfect location and speed to have to cut through the heart of every storm in a 30-mile long squall line.)
- If the streets are flooded don’t assume that there is actually a street still there. Also, don’t assume that just because the Volkswagen in front of you made it across, that you can also. Sitting there three hours waiting for a tow truck to arrive is no fun, especially if you have just come from the NWS & the radio is still spurting “don’t cross waters of unknown depth. Been there, done that.
- Beware of straight-line winds. Straight-line winds can blow siding, arcing power lines and all sorts of various crap and crud at you in an uncomfortable fashion, if you are in the wrong place at the right time. Been there, done that too. Dangerous, it is.
(At this point I’m supposed to assume a British accent and say “but, danger and I are old companions”.)
- Never be on the right side of a right turning thunderstorm.
- If you on the road, beware that you may encounter a debris field. In addition to nails, broken glass, lumber & siding, there may be live power lines down.
- If you happen upon a community that has been struck, you will not be prepared for what you will encounter. Remember that all of the pictures you see on TV of tornado damage are taken AFTER the coroner has done his work. At the risk of being completely gross, they don’t show bodies and body parts scattered all over creation. Again, you are not prepared for the gore you could see. Also, unless you are a trained First Responder and know how to deal with the injured, you may be hurting rather than helping. So you will do all involved a favor by just staying out of the area.
- If you do enter a disaster zone, remember that the people there have been traumatized. There are certain things you should not be saying, innocent though it may seem.
“I know how you feel”. Unless your barn was once blown to Bogalusa, no you don’t.
“Whoa dude! Look at the devastation! Dude this totally reeks of awesomeness!” Some beefy guy whose house was blown away may not appreciate the enthusiasm and might “thump” you.
“The Finger of God has moved mightily through this community, Praise Be”. Folk don’t appreciate hearing their 5 year old asking “daddy that funny looking man said Jesus blowed Grandma away. What for to did Jesus blow Grandma away?”
Sounds silly, I know, but these things do actually do happen.
For more information on do’s and don’ts see:
Storm Chaser Ethics by Alan Moller http://www.cimms.ou.edu/~stumpf/cethics.html
Storm Chasing With Safety, Courtesy, And Responsibility by Charles A Doswell III, National
Severe Storms Laboratory http://www.cimms.ou.edu/~doswell/Chasing2.html
All this said and done, remember ALERT members main contribution to the Skywarn community is done at K4NWS and with the Spotterchat system. The Spotterchat is usually covered, but we need help at K4NWS. We need members to respond to callouts. We need members to be willing to respond, respond eagerly, and respond rapidly.
Will you help?
Ever wonder how forecasts are made?
After much investigation and covert surveillance the following was sent to HQ:
The Romans called April “Aprilis”, probably from the word “aperire”, which means, “to open”. This time of year being when buds open. It was originally the second month of the Roman calendar, before Roman King Numa Pompilius added January & February in 700 BC.
April’s Full Moon is “Pink Moon” in Native American folklore.
April is less wet than March & rain becomes more localized and less widespread in nature. The sun heats the lower atmosphere near the ground and since the upper atmosphere is still cold, the warm air rises, reaches the dew point line, forms clouds & then it may rain. April is the first time in the spring season that favors local convective activity, which is why you have “April Showers”.
April is peak tornado month, with wide scale outbreaks possible. There are 2 ½ times the number of tornadoes as in March. 25% of the year’s tornadoes will have occurred by April 28.
From April 1959 to 2006. 5376 tornadoes were reported with 15 F5, 113 F4, 329 F3, 1059 F2, 1856 F1 & 2004 F0 tornadoes, causing 1193 deaths
Some notable Alabama tornados in past Aprils include:
April 18, 1953 F3 Lee & Russell County 6 dead 195 injured
April 18, 1953 F3 Shelby County 8 dead 495 injured
April 15, 1956 F4 Jefferson County 25 dead 200 injured “McDonald Chapel Tornado”
April 18, 1969 F4 Montgomery, Bullock ,Butler & Crenshaw Counties
2 dead 15 injured
April 3, 1974 F5 Lamar, Marion, Winston, Lawrence & Morgan Counties
30 dead 230 injured “1974 Super Outbreak”
April 3, 1974 F4 Pickens, Tuscaloosa, Fayette, Walker & Cullman Counties
3 dead 178 injured “1974 Super Outbreak”
April 3, 1974 F5 Limestone-Madison 28 dead 260 injured “1974 Super Outbreak”
April 3, 1974 F3 Cherokee 0 dead 20 injured “1974 Super Outbreak”
April 4, 1977 F5 Jefferson County 22 dead 130 injured “Smithfield Tornado”
April 1, 1998 F3 Russell County 2 dead 23 injured
April 8, 1998 F5 Tuscaloosa &Jefferson County
32 dead 259 Injured “Oak Grove Tornado”
The April 3 & 4, 1974 “Super Outbreak” produced at least eight tornadoes, including four extremely intense and long-lived storms that swept the state killing eighty-six persons and injuring 949. The Huntsville area had an F3, F4 & an F5 tornado. The F4 tornado struck a half mile from where they were still digging out from an F3 tornado that had struck earlier in that day. Guin was literally wiped off the map, as was Xenia Ohio. The entire Eastern US and Southern Canada was affected during “The Day of 100 Tornadoes”, which in total produced 148 tornadoes including 30 F4 and 6 F5 tornadoes, killing 315 people and injuring over 5,000 people.
This month’s meeting will be on April 13 at 7PM at the National Weather Service Forecast office at the Shelby County Airport.
Hope to see you there!
Mark / WD4NYL