Spring in North Central Wisconsin features the return of longer daylight hours, warmer days, and the risk for strong to severe storms. This year, we got an early round of damaging storms and tornadoes in the region, not to mention an EF3 twister that slammed northern Marathon County and southern Lincoln County, including Merrill. With June & July being climatologically the most active months for severe storms, odds are good there is going to be more active weather in the future. This time of the year is also when the local National Weather Service (NWS) in Green Bay and La Crosse go around the region holding training courses for folks to learn how to better understand the development of severe storms. This includes what to look for in the sky as the clouds are building, where a tornado could form in a supercell storm, along with how to report what you see to the National Weather Service. These great courses are known as Skywarn training.
This past Thursday, the NWS Green Bay stopped by Wausau to hold their class at the UW Extension Building on River Drive. As tends to be the case, the room was full with nearly a hundred folks in attendance. Even though I am a degreed meteorologist and have a Certified Broadcast Meteorologist seal from the American Meteorological Society, I always pick up a new thing or two. The main reason is because each year there is another episode of severe weather that we learn from, along with the advancement of technology that lets us get documented photos and radar images of storms. Just consider the EF3 to EF5 tornadoes that hit Alabama. As Doppler radar was showing the most obvious hook echoes you'll ever see, skycams mounted in various parts of the impact zones showed live, in real-time, visual evidence of what was going on. If that doesn't drive home the point that residents in the path of these deadly storms should have taken cover, I don't know what could, outside of the massive destruction that was left in the wake of the storms.
That said, here are a few interesting tidbits from the Skywarn session. First off we are already ahead of the pace of an average year of tornadoes in Wisconsin. Through May 6th, there have already been 14 tornadoes confirmed. The average for a season is 21. Just last year, we tallied up the 2nd most twisters in the Badger State with 46. The most for a year was 2005, when there were 62.
Some more specific stats for the NWS Green Bay coverage area, which in our viewing area includes most of the counties along the Highway 51/39 corridor from Vilas County south into Wood and Portage Counties on to the east.
-In 2010, there were 261 severe storm warnings (the highest ever in NE Wisconsin). The average number issued are 165.
-2010 featured 156 severe weather storm reports, which was a bit above the average of 134.
-In northeast Wisconsin were just 4 twisters, which were on the range of EF0-EF2. The worst tornadoes were found in the southern part of the state in 2010, with the big outbreaks on June 21st and July 22nd. Here's a full breakdown of Wisconsin tornadoes in 2010.
As a whole the severe storms in Wisconsin produce damaging winds 60% of the time and large hail over 1" in diameter with 35% of storms.
Needless to say, without the help of the trained storm spotters providing details of storm damage, our job of providing live coverage of storms and tornadoes would be more difficult. Sure we can analyze the radar and illustrate the threats with a storm, but visual confirmation of large hail, downed trees or a tornado on the ground provides needed context and may also save lives for those folks in the path of any given storm.
A lot was covered during the Skywarn training, and with that in mind the NWS Green Bay as many resources and additional training modules online. First off, the remaining classes scheduled for the area are winding down, with upcoming dates in Wautoma and Stevens Point. If you are in our western or southern counties, check out the schedule from earlier this spring from the NWS La Crosse.
For more detailed information on how to become a Skywarn Storm Spotter, including a brochure, online courses and links to NWS forecast outlooks, check out the Severe Weather Spotters info.
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