Severe Weather Tips & Insights

There have been just a couple of episodes so far this spring of severe storms in North Central Wisconsin, however with June right around the corner, the odds for damaging wind, hail and possible tornadoes will be reaching its peak. Over the past 5 years, I can't remember a single June that didn't have at least memorable severe weather. Back in 2005, there was almost an entire week (June 4th-11th) of either thunderstorm or tornado warnings in the local area. Of course in 2007 we had the tornado outbreak on June 7th, which included the second largest hail ever reported in the state falling in Wisconsin Rapids at 5.25" in diameter. Last year, we may have been spared the worst of the storms and a couple of tornadoes that were reported in southwest and South Central Wisconsin in the first couple of weeks of June, but still there were storms locally with large hail and strong winds. Climatologically, our best chances for severe storms are in June and July, but the season typically stretches from late April all the way into early October.

As I mentioned here on the blog a few weeks back, now is as good a time as any to be prepared for what to do when the next slate of severe thunderstorm or tornado warnings are issued. So to get things rolling this week, here are answers to some common questions we get in the weather lab in relation to these dangerous weather scenarios.

Q: If I am at home or work, where should I go if a tornado warning is issued for my area?

A: Let's start with being at home. First and foremost, you want to be inside, way from any windows in an interior room on the lowest level of your home. So if you've got a basement, head there and be sure to find a secure place, preferably in the middle of the basement that you can protect yourself. Getting under a secure piece of furniture and covering your head are the best options, or perhaps getting under the staircase that heads down into the basement if that's an option. If you don't have a basement, then head into an interior bathroom or closet. The key here is to have as many walls between you and the outside of your home in the instance the roof gets ripped off, if debris flies through the walls or windows, so that you will have the most protection. Some folks have an action plan that includes putting on a helmet or if in the bathroom, getting into the tub and pulling a mattress over their heads. If you live in an apartment and are on a second or third floor, get to the lowest floor and huddle in an interior space on that lowest level in the hallway or perhaps laundry room.

If you're at work, you should have a plan of action of where to go. Many factories and plants have people who monitor the weather on threatening days, and also coordinate drills to guide folks to certain safe spots. If you work in a smaller setting, the best place to be is on the lowest floor in an interior area, like a restroom, small office, or break room, if not the basement.

Q: What are some things I SHOULD NOT do if a tornado is heading my way?

A: There are many myths floating around out there of what to do that aren't necessary and in the end could cost you precious time or even you life. So let's set the record straight.

DO NOT run around your house opening windows to "equalize the air pressure". There is absolutely no reason to do this, especially because if a tornado hits, winds are going to knock out your windows and the air pressure is going to rapidly fall regardless as the twister approaches.

DO NOT take shelter in a large room like an auditorium, movie theater, lobby with lots of windows, or a mobile home. Instead head to an interior place or in the case of a mobile home, get out and head for a sturdier structure.

DO NOT attempt to outrun a tornado by car if one is approaching, or stay in your car as a means of shelter. Instead if you are on the road, abandon your car and get into a ditch or sheltered spot close to the ground. You want to avoid getting hit by any flying objects and once again cover your head. If there is a building like a hospital or other well constructed structure close by, head inside.

DO NOT take shelter under an overpass. This is not a safe place to be as strong winds can create a wind tunnel effect and literally sweep you out from under the overpass. More so, if a tornado hits that type of structure, there will be a lot of metal, roadway materials and possibly cars flying around that could hit you.

Q: How do I know if a tornado warning is issued and how much time will I have before it hits?

A: Probably the most obvious aspect that a tornado may be approaching is the sky turning very dark during the daylight hours, perhaps to an odd shade of black or green, along with copious lightning or a rapidly increasing winds. Needless to say if you experience this, troublesome weather is approaching. As for knowing when a warning is in effect for your area, there are many ways to know. First off, some towns in North Central Wisconsin do have tornado sirens that are sounded when a tornado warning is issued, others do not. The best way to find out is to call your local municipality. Another way is to have a NOAA weather radio set up to alert you if a warning has been issued. This is especially important at night when you may be asleep and this will act as an alarm to threatening conditions. You can also set up your cell phone to receive a text message or call in the event of severe weather warnings being issued for your location. Of course the best way to know a warning is issued is to have your tv tuned to our 24/7 Weather Channel, Newschannel 7 or radio turned to our radio partner at 550 AM WSAU. Not only will you be informed of the warning, but we'll be here to give you live, up to the second information on the location of the storm and how soon it may be approaching where you live.

In general, from the time a warning is issued to when a twister could hit can range from just a couple of minutes to as much as 15 minutes. The bottomline is to have a plan of action ready to execute in the event a warning issued, day or night.

There are more topics to be covered and I'll continue in upcoming blogs.

Meantime, there's an interesting project taking place for the next 4 weeks in the Midwest to better understand tornadoes, called Vortex 2.  This is a joint effort of members between the National Weather Service, National Science Foundation, and University professors and students to literally storm chase, while in the process collect data on how tornadoes form, move and impact areas. In addition, a meteorologist from The Weather Channel (TWC) is also embedded with this group out on the road and you can see updates on their web page and on TWC during the evening hours. Most interesting, when outbreaks are happening, they will be doing some live web streams while on the scene. These folks are all very knowledgeable of the weather and also have doppler radar on wheels which they use to track storms. So needless to say, don't try this at home unless you are a meteorologist or skilled certified storm spotter by the National Weather Service.

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