Credit: Steven Vanderburg / NOAA
This past week was Lightning Safety Awareness Week, and it is always important to be aware of your surroundings and know what your plan is when lightning strikes. As the saying goes, “When thunder roars, go indoors!”. According to the National Weather Service, over 25 million cloud-to-ground lightning strikes typically hit the United States each year. Over the last few years there have been approximately 50 lightning-caused fatalities each year. Being one of the top storm-related killers in the United States, lightning is a weather phenomenon that is necessary to be aware of. It is important to be sure to wait 30 minutes after the last rumble of thunder before going back outside.
Lightning occurs after thunderstorms develop, as tall cumulonimbus clouds form an anvil shaped cloud, and rain begins to develop within the cloud. This causes the formation of the thunderstorm, in which ice particles within the cloud exhibit positive or negative charges. Typically, negatively charged particles are located at the base of the bottom of the cloud, and positively charged particles are located at the top of the cloud. Because there are negative charges located at the bottom of the cloud, positive charges develop on the ground, to attract these negative charges. Lightning then occurs when leaders extend from the negatively charged portion of the cloud and connect through a channel with the positive charges of electricity rising up from the ground, causing a lightning strike to reach the ground. This is called cloud-to-ground lightning. Anvil-to-ground lightning can also occur when a leader extends from the positively charged top portion of the cloud and connects with a negative charge rising up from the ground. This can cause lightning that strikes areas from a great distance of 25 miles away, and these strikes can be known as “bolts from the blue”.
Despite what many believe, lightning does not need to be that close to your location to strike. Lightning can strike a location from over 15 miles away, and often will strike before the thunderstorm is near overhead. Whenever you hear the sound of thunder, it is imperative that you go inside immediately. The period of time as the thunderstorm approaches and dissipates is the window that represents high danger with the greatest threat of lightning activity. If you cannot get indoors immediately, the next best option is to get inside a car with a metal frame such that the metal can conduct electricity as the lightning strikes and allow the strike to reach the ground. This is why being inside a sturdy structure or building with electrical cabling is the absolute best option to protect you during lightning activity. Any location that is open on any sides is not safe during lightning strikes and should be avoided. It is also very important to avoid contact with any wires, plugged in electronics, water and plumbing, concrete, and all metal surfaces. Even while safe inside, these objects are great conductors of electricity and could prove fatal if lightning were to strike your location. With summer thunderstorms underway, be sure to be lightning aware and always rush indoors at the first rumble of thunder.
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©2019 Weather Forecaster Christina Talamo
DISCUSSION: When it comes to Spring and Summer-time weather, there is little to no debate that one of the premiere issues which comes into play during all days which are conducive for strong to severe thunderstorm activity is the inherent threat for lightning activity. Most people around the world understand the fact that lightning is a uniquely dangerous component of severe weather threats because from a fundamental standpoint, lightning is an electrical current which upon hitting a water-based or a metallic surface will conduct and transfer the corresponding high-end electrical energy through a given surface. Thus, one of the many reasons for why a lightning strike is so dangerous is the fact that it can quite literally create a life-threatening situation in a split second.
To be exact, although lightning is most often found to strike within a reasonable proximity to ongoing convective storms, there have been many recorded instances in which lightning has struck the surface of the Earth at distances up to 10 or even 15 miles from the outer edge of a given thunderstorm. Hence, this just goes to prove the reality of the fact that even though you may at some point find yourself positioned at a fair distance from a given thunderstorm event, this does not by any means allow for one to be relaxed to any extent.
Regardless of whether you are very close to or very far away from a given thunderstorm event, one such example of why it is so important to respect the natural power of lightning during any given thunderstorm event is what recently happened over at the U.S. Women’s Open event back in the first week of June 2019. You can see in the video above how even as a thunderstorm threat was clarified to the people on the given golf course, there were still a substantial number of people moving about just as a classic cloud-to-ground lightning strike occurred. Thus, this just reveals the fact that even with adequate warning it is always critical to respect the natural power of thunderstorm since they can often behave and unfold quite unexpectedly. Henceforth, reinforcing the importance of always being vigilant and remaining updated on near to short-term weather forecasts so you can be a step ahead as much as possible.
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© 2019 Meteorologist Jordan Rabinowitz
As summer begins, it is important to remember that prolonged exposure to heat, especially when humidity is high, can have some serious health consequences. But why is this? Your body cools itself off on a hot day through the evaporation of sweat. The energy required for the liquid water in your sweat to evaporate and become water vapor comes from the heat in your body, thus regulating your body temperature and keeping you from overheating. However, when there is a lot of water vapor in the air, the air is close to saturation – the point where the atmosphere cannot hold any more water vapor. The more water vapor is in the air, the less water vapor can evaporate from your skin, which slows down your body’s cooling mechanism and makes it less effective. Below is a chart from the National Weather Service that shows heat index, or the temperature that it feels like outside with increasing humidity, as well as the level of danger associated with each heat index value.
The longer you spend outside in hot and humid conditions, the more vulnerable you become to heat-related illness. This is because your body does not have a chance to cool itself, as the previously mentioned cooling mechanism of sweat evaporation cannot work. When outdoors during the summer, remember to drink water and spend time periodically in the shade or in an air-conditioned building. Symptoms of heat-related illness include nausea, flushed skin, rapid breathing and heart rate, and a headache. If you or another person are experiencing any of these symptoms, seek shade, water, and medical attention right away.
It is also important to remember that young children, the elderly, and pets are particularly vulnerable to heat-related illness. Young children’s bodies do not regulate temperature as well as adults’, and they may not remember to drink enough water while playing outside. Older adults’ ability to notice change in body temperature decreases with age, and they may have other health conditions that make them more susceptible to heat-related illness. Pets, on the other hand, do not sweat like we do – therefore, they cannot get rid of excess body heat.
Remember to be on the lookout for symptoms of heat-related illness in yourself and others as you enjoy time outdoors during warm summer months!
For more about weather safety, visit https://www.globalweatherclimatecenter.com/weather-safety-educational-topics
©2019 Meteorologist Margaret Orr
Image from the National Weather Service
As the start of summer fast approaches, many people will be beginning their summer vacations. Those vacations are likely to include many trips to the beach and coasts across the country. While enjoying the sand and the surf, it is important to keep in mind a few safety tips as summer kicks off!
The astronomical start of summer is June 21st however, beaches tend to open the last weekend of May. A common danger while at the beach is rip currents. A rip current is defined by the National Weather Service as a current of water that flows away from the shore at surf beaches. Rip currents are narrow and often perpendicular (90 degrees) to the shoreline. Rip currents extend from the shore line through the area between the high tide level on the beach and the seaward side of breaking waves. This area is known as the surf zone. When a wave breaks near the shore, the water piles up between the breaking waves and the shore.
Rip currents can be deadly if one does not know how to be prepared for them. A rip current can pull someone off shore and due to various factors like fear, exhaustion, panic, or lack of swimming skills they can cause a person to be unable to make their way back to shore. If the right wave and beach conditions are present, the speed of a rip current can become dangerous very quickly. Rip currents can be as narrow as 10 feet or as wide as 20 feet. If caught in a rip current, following some simple steps can help save your life. Officials recommend when caught in a rip current, to stay calm and don’t swim against the current. Swim out of the current and back to shore, but if you cannot escape float on your back or tread water. Call out for help by yelling and waving. Rip Currents won’t pull a person underneath the water. Remembering these tips can help make the water much safer.
Summer is a time to enjoy the nice weather and the water. Before you head out, check the National Weather Service beach forecast to see what conditions are like in your area. Make sure that you are heading to a swimming area that has posted lifeguard stations and lifeguards on duty. Try to swim with or travel to the beach with another person in case anything happens.
For more information on beach hazards and safety be sure to check out the National Weather Service page here
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© 2019 Meteorologist Shannon Scully
You’ve probably seen watches and warnings for severe weather on TV or posted on social media by the National Weather Service. Watches and warnings are intended to help people know and prepare for the different types of severe weather that might impact them. But what is the difference between a watch and a warning? There are slight differences between a watch and a warning for different types of weather hazards. It is important to know the difference between them in order to be ready for weather threats.
Let’s start with severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. A watch is issued when the conditions are right for one of these to occur. This means that there is sufficient atmospheric instability, lift, moisture and wind shear (changes in wind direction with height, or rotation) present for severe thunderstorms and/or tornadoes to develop. A severe thunderstorm warning is issued when a severe thunderstorm, capable of producing one-inch hail or wind speeds of 58mph or greater has developed and been spotted on radar. A tornado warning is issued in two cases: either when a tornado has been spotted, or radar has indicated rotation that is the signature of an imminent or developing tornado.
Flash flood watches and warnings are similar. A watch is issued when current atmospheric conditions make flooding likely to occur. A warning is issued when flash flooding is occurring.
Hurricane watches and warnings work a little bit differently, because of the level of preparation that it takes to be ready for a hurricane’s impact. A hurricane watch indicates that sustained winds of 74+ miles per hour are possible in the area under the watch. It is issued 48 hours before the onset of tropical storm force winds (39+ mph). This allows people the time necessary to prepare for the oncoming storm, whether this is buying canned foods and one gallon of water per person per day, or evacuation. A hurricane warning is issued 36 hours before the onset of tropical storm force winds. At this point, all preparation should be completed, and evacuation should occur if directed by local officials.
Winter storms are multifaceted, with a number of different hazards. Watches are issued for winter storms and blizzards, where a blizzard involves low visibility (0.25 miles) and winds of 35+ mph. Like with severe thunderstorms, a watch means that atmospheric conditions are favorable for a winter storm or blizzard to occur in the area. Winter storms have an intermediate step between a watch and a warning, called an advisory. A winter weather advisory is issued when 3-5” of snow in 12 hours, less than 1” of sleet, freezing rain with sleet/snow, and/or blowing snow is expected in an area. A freezing rain advisory is issued when ice accumulation of less than 0.25” is expected. Finally, there are three types of warnings associated with winter weather. A winter storm warning is issued when 6” of snow in 12 hours, or 8” in 24, is expected. An ice storm warning comes when ice accumulation greater than 0.25” is forecasted, and a blizzard warning is issued when blizzard conditions are forecasted to last at least 3 hours in the area.
While these different types of watches and warnings can be confusing, an easy rule to remember is that a watch means conditions are favorable for a weather event to occur, while a warning means that the event is either currently happening or on its way. Remember to use this information to guide you in preparing for any of these weather hazards!
©2019 Meteorologist Margaret Orr
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Image: Stock Photo
DISCUSSION: When it comes to preparing and being ready for hurricane season, there is nothing more important in being completely ready and having a plan in hand. Whether it’s being aware and knowing exactly where you’re going to go and when you’re going to leave for a given destination, or even knowing what supplies you’re going to need on hand at the last minute, there are a myriad of different things that anyone would need to prepare for to be ready for an incoming tropical storm of any intensity.
First and foremost, before any hurricane season gets into full swing, is most important to always have an emergency evacuation plan. The context of an emergency evacuation plan will often depend upon how close you are into a given coastline and how far away from the given coastline you need to get to be in a location that is deemed to be sufficiently safe in the event of a major tropical cyclone making landfall. For example, if you live along an immediate coastline or even near a mangrove forest or swamp land region, you may need to get substantially faraway serves neither location will provide sufficient coverage and protection from the incoming wind and corresponding storm surge induced by a tropical cyclone. Moreover, organizations such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (or FEMA) are responsible for establishing and maintaining the divisions of regions which are deemed to be flood zones in coastal states (and/or regions) across the United States of America. So, knowing whether you happen to live in a flood zone or not is a major first step in being prepared for any scenario which may come about at a given point in time.
Another major factor which is critical to be sufficiently prepared for a threat from an approaching tropical cyclone involves knowing all the food, medications and other personal items you may need with you if you are away from your home for a prolonged period. Often, after a major hurricane makes landfall in a given region, it can often be days, weeks, or even months until you may be able to return to your home city in some cases. Therefore, it is absolute critical to be prepared for the worst but hope for the best in all situations when it comes to tropical cyclone threats. So, regardless of whether you have never been impacted by a tropical cyclone your life or if you have had a tremendous amount of experience with tropical cyclone impacts from the past, you should NEVER take any experiences for granted and always remain vigilant of any future potential tropical cyclone threats and tropical cyclone forecasters are indicating as such.
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© 2019 Meteorologist Jordan Rabinowitz
NOAA & USAFR Bring WP-3D and WC-130J in Efforts to Increase Hurricane Awareness Ahead of Hurricane Season (Credit: NOAA)
DISCUSSION: Many places throughout the mainland United States, experiencing a late bout of winters fury with snow in the forecast and verification of such in late April. Well over a month into Spring, now is the time to prepare for the summer and what it has to offer. While we are expecting temperatures to increase, and trees to bud, now is an optimal time to begin the preparation process in advance of the Atlantic hurricane season which occurs June 1st to November 30th, and May 15th to November 30th in the Eastern Pacific. With the thought of preempting the season, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in conjunction with the United States Air Force Reserve (USAFR), have developed a tour to increase awareness of early preparation for hurricane season.
Beginning May 6th-10th NOAA and the USAFR will visit 5 eastern U.S. cities to boost awareness. These cities include: Quonset Rhode Island, Middletown Pennsylvania, Roanoke Virginia, Charlotte North Carolina, and Brunswick Georgia. The tour will allow the public and media to tour aircraft used in critical data collection for scientists, often these aircraft are dubbed, “hurricane hunters.” The NOAA provides a WP-3D Orion while the USAFR will have a WC-130J aircraft on site. While the tour will be available to all, the concepts that NOAA are posing are that now is a crucial time to plan for the upcoming season.
Hurricane season comes as no surprise to those living in the most prone areas of the United States, however with the recent retiring of past hurricane names, and the increase of Hurricane Michael to attain category 5 status on the Saffir-Simpson scale, NOAA is pushing for the public to understand the gravity of early preparation for the 2019 hurricane season. In addition to the drive toward the public to plan ahead, NOAA stresses the importance of these aircraft to the fleet to send real-time data for analysis to forecasters to provide the public with data to make clear decisions given information on storm intensity, track, and associated hazards, which are not limited to watches and warnings.
For more information on hurricanes visit the Global Weather and Climate Center!
© 2019 Meteorologist Jessica Olsen
NOAA & Air Force Reserve 'Hurricane Hunters' to visit East Coast on preparedness tour. (n.d.). Retrieved April 29, 2019, from https://www.noaa.gov/media-release/noaa-air-force-reserve-hurricane-hunters-to-visit-east-coast-on-preparedness-tour
Spring is tornado season, and with the recent series of tornadoes in the eastern U.S., it seems to be an opportune time to discuss tornado safety. Tornadoes are extremely dangerous and still relatively unpredictable, making them a devastating threat to people in the US during spring, particularly to those in the middle of the US. The following points are important pieces of advice that one should follow in the event of a tornado:
These tips are important to remember in case of a tornado emergency. In general, the best place to be is in the lowest level of a sturdy building. As a disclaimer, some of these tips are only to be followed in case of the worst possible scenario, such as being trapped in the middle of nowhere in a car. Tornadoes are very dangerous weather phenomena and knowing what to do in case of an emergency will save lives.
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© 2019 Weather Forecaster Cole Bristow
Weather Spotters: The Eyes and Ears of the NWS
During a severe weather event, be it a tornado or a hurricane, a flash flood or a severe thunderstorm, many find themselves glued either visually or auditorily to a news station. There they eagerly await the latest weather update from their local meteorologist to be informed as to whether they and their possessions will be affected by the impending weather. In times like these, up to date and real-time information regarding a severe weather event is critical in helping to provide “warnings for the protection of life and property,” per the mission statement of the National Weather Service. Though, how is this real-time information relayed to the NWS who then disseminate it amongst TV and radio broadcast stations to inform the public?
One of the greatest resources the NWS has for garnering reports during a severe weather event is volunteers. These volunteers for the NWS are called “Weather Spotters,” and hold the important task of informing their local NWS branch of hazardous and severe weather conditions in their area. With these volunteer reports, the NWS may then warn and inform the surrounding public of dangerous conditions within the area, so that appropriate action may be taken to protect life and property.
As a weather spotter, these volunteers have the responsibility of reporting during severe weather conditions what they have seen, when and where they have seen it, and to identify themselves and their location. By providing this information, the NWS can then use this to help identify the severity of the threat to surrounding communities alongside radar and satellite reports. Many times, these weather spotters can be sources of real-time confirmation for certain weather phenomena indicated on radar. For example, in the event of radar-indicated rotation, weather spotters may be able to visually confirm this to the NWS if the storm rotation happens to be within their vicinity. Some examples of what kinds of weather phenomena spotters may report to their local NWS branch includes things of high priority such as tornadoes, flash flooding, and funnel clouds, to lower priority events such as winds in excess of 40mph or hail of ½ an inch in diameter or greater. Depending on ones geographic location, what is classified as high versus low priority may change depending on their locally-defined criteria.
As some of the front lines in reporting severe weather conditions, Weather Spotters alongside the excellent work of NWS meteorologists do help save lives. They are often the first to see and experience alarming or dangerous conditions out in the field that meteorologists in the office may only be seeing as radar and satellite reports. These volunteer reports help to convey the gravity of a situation and enable meteorologists and broadcasters to diffuse important data and information much more effectively to the public. Many NWS branches offer free online courses to the general public in order to become trained as a weather spotter, no experience needed. Simply a desire to help the community and an ability to communicate hazardous conditions is needed to become trained as a Weather Spotter!
To learn more about weather safety and preparedness be sure to click the link: https://www.globalweatherclimatecenter.com/weather-safety-educational-topics
© 2018 Weather Forecaster Alexis Clouser
Image credit: weather.gov
Whether it’s rain, snow, freezing rain, sleet, or even freezing drizzle, knowing what precipitation is occurring is extremely important to understand. This is especially vital during the winter where temperatures can often hover right around the freezing mark, and precipitation can change from snow to rain very easily. During the winter months in the Northeastern region of the United States, temperatures tend to fluctuate quite often between freezing and above freezing. This location specifically is a hot spot for mid-latitude cyclones to come across the country where the combination of both warm and cold frontal boundaries can pass over an area within a matter of hours. This creates many opportunities for a wide range of precipitation to fall and it’s important to a forecasting meteorologist to be as accurate as possible when looking at what to expect from an atmosphere that can be quick to change its course.
A great way to look at possible precipitation is by analyzing the layers of the atmosphere starting from the top and working down to the surface. This can be done by looking at a sounding that looks at a vertical profile of the atmosphere showing how the temperature is changing with height. Below is an example of common types of precipitation formed dependent upon certain conditions.
A typical rule to follow is that if you have air warmer than -10 degrees Celsius, there won’t be any ice initiation, or ice forming around a rain drop within the layer. If air is colder than -10 degrees Celsius, then there definitely can be ice initiation. The follow up questions would be, is there icing occurring in the upper layers? Is there a warm layer where snow could fall into and melt? A hydrometeor, or any product of atmospheric water vapor that falls as precipitation, typically stays as snow if the layer is below 1 degree Celsius and can melt into liquid water in a layer that’s above 3 degrees Celsius. Considering the wet bulb effect of a warm layer can also be helpful because it can tell you how much water vapor is present in the air based on the evaporation of water, and how that can decide the type of precipitation as well. For example, if the wet bulb temperature is below -10 degrees Celsius in a cold layer, and the surface is above around 1.5 degrees Celsius, then you could get sleet as precipitation.
In the event of a Nor’easter, precipitation can vary greatly depending on the time of year it occurs. Even the sea salt in the oceans can have an effect on the type of precipitation and act to enhance ice nuclei to activate the snowflake process.
Something to note is that these tips are NOT an entirety of depicting the characteristics of the atmosphere, as precipitation type forecasting is not an exact science. The analysis of multiple variables and layers of the atmosphere is required, proving to be a significant challenge in forecasting. The different techniques to approach this add to the complexity of this method as well.
It’s also important to know what is currently happening outside regardless of the forecasting situation. Using the current conditions to predict minute-by-minute events is utilized in situations where the atmosphere is changing rapidly than models and forecasters can grasp.
It is too often it seems that the difficulty of forecasting the precipitation type has been a cause of major accidents and hazardous situations that catch the public off guard. Having such variable temperatures in mid-latitude cyclones can lead to the melting and freezing of water on roadways that can cause ice jams in rivers as well as flash freezing on highways. Freezing drizzle, for example, may seem like a minor event, but even a trace of it with below freezing temperatures at the surface can become a very dangerous event.
Often, meteorologists can be too focused on the “big events” and neglect to recognize how much of an impact the change in temperature by a couple of degrees can affect people that need to walk and drive to get to where they need to go. People walk down their driveway, slip and get very injured due to black ice, and cars and buses go off the roads, which is why it’s so vital to be aware of these events. It can be a very tough decision for forecasters as well as administrators when trying to keep children safe on their way to school. Meteorologists and forecasters understand the weight of their decisions and believe in focusing on the small details that can make or break a forecast. Therefore, understanding the precipitation type is a valuable skill to have during any weather event, and helps us understand the atmosphere even more as it unfolds in front of us.
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© 2019 Weather Forecaster Christine Gregory