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.
To learn more about other interesting weather safety and preparedness educational topics, click here!
© 2019 Weather Forecaster Christine Gregory
DISCUSSION: During any given Winter-time season, there are millions of people who are seasonally impacted by substantially to severely cold weather and/or major snowstorms which can slow down or even halt ground and air travel networks across various parts of North America, Europe and beyond. Moreover, one of the more “annoying” parts of classic winter storms for many people living in these areas is the infamous process of “post-storm cleanup.” Despite the natural power and beauty contained within the most classic snowstorms in recorded history, there are still major threats which exist well after the snowstorm has released its final snowflakes to the surface of the Earth. Some commonplace examples include (but are certainly not limited to) weighted and/or downed trees and power lines, black ice create dangerous (or even life-threatening) road and airport conditions for prolonged periods well after the conclusion of any snowstorm, bone-chilling conditions which can bring about frostbite and/or hypothermia if anyone is not sufficiently well protected from the outside weather elements.
However, one such natural hazard which most people do not usually think of (or take into legitimate consideration) right away is the natural danger involved with having large amounts of snowfall left on the tops of automobiles of any size. The primary reason for why this is such a dangerous issue to contend with is the fact that when snowfall is left atop automobiles, it will often compact as the pressure of the accumulated snowfall presses down upon itself and effectively forms a solid “snow slab.” This is especially dangerous (and even life-threatening under the right circumstances) since (as shown in the Tweet embedded above courtesy of the AMHQ at The Weather Channel in Atlanta, Georgia), solid snow slabs atop automobiles of any size can easily become airborne projectiles when an automobile accelerates to greater speeds on local or state-wide highways. When this happens, it can quickly threaten the safety and well-being of all passengers traveling in vehicles of any kind which are following the vehicle with the snow left atop of it.
Therefore, as explained in the brief video clip (by Meteorologist Jen Carfagno of The Weather Channel) attached above, there is no debate that it is ALWAYS imperative to clean all the accumulated snow and ice of your car. This way, you can be more certain that your driving will not endanger the lives of others around or behind you on the open road.
To learn more about other weather safety and preparedness educational topics, click here!
© 2019 Meteorologist Jordan Rabinowitz
Discussion: As much of the nation is into the heart of winter, there are many weather conditions that can affect your vehicle and the way you drive. Driving in snowy, foggy, or icy conditions can give even the most experienced motorist a challenge on the road. According to the Department of Transportation, there are approximately 1.2 million vehicle accidents related to weather, which leads to on average 6,000 fatalities and approximately 445,000 injuries due to these dangerous road conditions. So, what do you need to know to get to your destination in tricky winter weather safely?
Knowing your weather forecast before you leave the house helps tremendously. As of last fall, the National Weather Service has started to issue snow squall warnings which notify the public when a quick burst of snow that can cause limited visibility and hazardous road conditions. Snow squalls are defined as intense, limited duration periods of moderate to heavy snowfall, which are accompanied by gusty surface winds. A snow squall is associated with strong cold front passages. Snow squalls approximately last a half hour to an hour in duration. They are common in the winter and can produce sudden whiteout conditions. If temperatures rapidly fall while a snow squall is occurring, surfaces can become very dangerous to travel on. These weather conditions can cause accidents if motorists are not careful when caught in one.
If caught in a snow squall while traveling, it’s important to take safety precautions to keep safe. Reduce your vehicle’s speed and turn on your headlights and hazard lights. In addition, if on a slick surface don’t slam your vehicle’s brakes as that could cause a loss of control of the vehicle. Always have a car emergency kit in your trunk, as you never know when you might get stuck. In addition, make sure your vehicle is prepared to handle the weather and is in top shape. Make sure to tune into your local weather service office and local meteorologists for the latest winter weather advisories and warnings. For more information on Winter Weather and Safety be sure to click here!
©2019 Meteorologist Shannon Scully
Historic Cold Temperatures Across the Midwestern United States (Credit: National Weather Service, NWS Central Region, NWS Chicago)
Discussion: As the nation heads into the end of January, many parts of the Midwestern United States are set to see the coldest temperatures of the winter so far. According to the National Weather Service, an arctic high-pressure system is set to move south from Canada, bringing life threatening, dangerously cold air with it. Many regional National Weather Service offices across the Midwest have issued windchill warnings, as windchill temperatures in some areas may experience the feeling of as much as -40 or -50 below zero. A windchill warning is issued when there are dangerously cold windchill temperatures occurring or expected to occur. The combination of this frigid air and strong winds can cause frostbite to occur on any exposed skin in a matter of minutes. Windchill temperatures are determined by the rate of heat loss due to exposed skin from the wind and the cold.
For many cities, forecasted temperatures will meet or break the record lows recorded decades ago. These could be all-time record-breaking temperatures. In Chicago, Illinois, the last time the city experienced temperatures this cold was back in 1994. These cold temperatures will break or have already broken many daily record coldest high and low temperatures. Most of the region is expected to experience daytime temperatures below zero, combined with windchills of 40 and 50 below. With these hazardous temperatures and windchills, it is important to stay safe both inside and outside. Dressing in layers and covering all exposed skin while out can help prevent frostbite and hypothermia. Car batteries can’t withstand these cold temperatures and can die leaving people stranded so it’s crucial to have a winter weather emergency kit in vehicles. With this cold weather, outdoor activities are not the only issues to watch out for; many indoor problems can arise. Extremely cold temperatures can cause pipes inside of houses to freeze and burst. Carbon Monoxide poisoning is another danger, as people misuse secondary heating sources to stay warm. In addition to keeping friends and family safe and warm, it is important to check on your elderly neighbors as this weather can be much more life threatening for them. Lastly, bring your pets inside, and when letting them outside stay with them and bring them in quickly.
For more information on weather safety and preparedness be sure to click here!
© 2019 Meteorologist Shannon Scully
Now that winter is in full force, it’s important to prepare for mother nature’s wrath it throws at us in the upcoming months. Driving in the winter can be an absolute nightmare, and it seems every year people have to educate themselves on what it takes to remain prepared and safe on the road. However, the fact of the matter is that traveling in snow, ice, fog or rain can be a major challenge for even the most experienced motorists. Everyone could use a little refresher when it comes to navigating the slick roads this winter.
The initial step you must take is to ready your vehicle. This includes checking the battery, wipers, coolant, tires and other systems that are most affected when the temperature drops in your vehicle. You have to make sure your tires have good tread, otherwise it’s prone to sliding around the roadways. When you know your vehicle is ready for the road, clear off any snow that is piled up on your car. It becomes a safety hazard to others on the road if you don’t remove it, and can also land you in legal trouble in many states. This also includes removing ice and dirt from your windows as well. It is also important that you stock your vehicle with a winter supply kit. This supply kit includes a phone, charger, batteries, blankets, flashlight with extra batteries, first-aid kit, high calorie non-perishable food, small can with matches, sack of sand or cat litter for traction, shovel, windshield scraper and battery booster cables. The final and most important step is to check the weather forecast ahead of time before you hit the roads. Your drive will be much safer if you know what to expect ahead of time, and you should change plans if travel is forecast to be hazardous.
If you do need to hit the roadways when winter weather hits, you must make sure to stay alert. You must make sure to keep your gas tank over half full and keep a close eye on road conditions, which can change rapidly. If you are on a long drive, make sure to take breaks often so you can stay focused on the road. It’s important to drive slower than normal and leave more room between you and surrounding vehicles. You should not use cruise control, brake quickly or make sharp turns as you will slide even with barely any snow or ice on the ground. Finally, you should never use your phone while operating your vehicle under any means, especially in these conditions. Anyone can manage to drive through a snowstorm, if needed, if they educate themselves and follow these steps. At the end of the day, stay off the roads if you can to allow plows to remove snow and ice. It’ll keep you as well as everyone else out of harm’s way.
For more information on weather preparedness and safety, click here!
© 2018 Weather Forecaster Michael Ames
DISCUSSION: With Winter-time quickly approaching, there is no doubt that many people both across the United States and around the world will be needing to prepare their house, car, and overall lifestyle for the various issues which come along with the Winter season. Whether it is considering putting some financial investment into an external power generator, insulating your doors and windows from outside influences, cleaning your furnace and/or fireplace, or even cleaning out your gutters from rain and snow event run-off, there is a lot of importance in being prepared.
To get into more detail, it is incredibly important to always prepare your home for what may come as the cold days of Winter arrive. One of the many things which should always be done under any and all circumstances is to install smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors as shown in the graphic above since this can be a life saving measure for both you and your family. In addition, after installing them, they should be tested for any flaws or imperfections to make sure they are in full operating order in case of a fire or carbon monoxide leak of some kind during the Winter months.
Another issue which cannot be understated is the importance of remembering that health and well-being of family pets. Although many animals such as dogs and cats have thicker furs, much like humans, exposure to colder temperatures for a prolonged time can often lead to various compromised health conditions for the animal(s). Thus, always remember to not leave them outside for a prolonged time in cold weather and even more importantly when it is snowing or icing since when their fur gets wet, it can make them even more vulnerable to the cold temperatures outside.
Of the many other things which are important to prepare for during the coldest days of Winter, it is always important to remember to take care of yourself. More specifically, to remember to dress in layers and dress warmly to ward off various potential cold-weather health conditions such as frostbite, hypothermia, or pneumonia. This can easily be done by always wearing insulating clothing as well as changing your clothes as soon as possible when they do get damp or wet from outside activities of various types.
To learn more about other weather safety and preparedness topics, be sure to click here!
© 2018 Meteorologist Jordan Rabinowitz
The Crucial Value of Respecting and Preparing for the Power of Storm Surge (Video credit: The Weather Channel and Meteorologist Brian McNoldy)
DISCUSSION: It goes without saying that even in the weeks since the coastal, semi-coastal, and further inland areas of North Carolina and South Carolina felt the full force of Hurricane Florence, there are still many lessons to be learned. Another major lesson which is crucial to take away from the impacts as well as the aftermath of Hurricane Florence were the storm surge impacts. Attached above is both a neat video courtesy of Meteorologist Erika Navarro from The Weather Channel as well as a short video briefing wherein there are some personal thoughts discussed (courtesy of Meteorologist Jordan Rabinowitz) on the dangers of storm surge. Furthermore, there is also a discussion on how and why it is so important to respect the power of storm surge as well as flooding in both current and future storms.
To learn more about other weather preparedness and preparedness educational topics as they pertain to high-impact weather events, be sure to click here!
© 2018 Meteorologist Jordan Rabinowitz
Hurricane Florence recently dumped between 23 to 33 inches of water on areas of coastal North Carolina. Mandatory evacuations of the Carolina coasts took place before the storm hit, and river flooding has caused evacuations in more inland areas. The damage associated with Florence has been called catastrophic and devastating.
But Florence was “only” a Category 2 storm at landfall.
The Saffir-Simpson scale assigns tropical systems a category based on wind speeds, as shown in this table:
Many Americans, especially those who live near the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, are familiar with this scale, and assess the danger of a storm based on its category. A Category 4 or 5 storm causes much more alarm than a Tropical Storm or a Category 1 hurricane. So understandably, when Florence went from a Category 4 to a Category 2 as it approached the US, many people believed that the storm had been overhyped or poorly forecasted, and that it wouldn’t be nearly as bad as meteorologists were claiming.
Therein lies the problem with the Saffir-Simpson scale. The scale is only based on wind speed, with no regard for rainfall, flooding, or storm surge. These were the true threats associated with Florence, and with 2017’s Hurricane Harvey, which did much of its damage as a Category 1 hurricane and a tropical storm. Yes, winds are a major component of a hurricane and can do a lot of damage. Water, however, is more dangerous than wind. Flooding destroys homes and the personal items within them. Moving floodwater, especially powerful storm surge, can sweep away people, cars, even homes built close to the shoreline. Trees in wet soil are more likely to be uprooted and fall over, crushing buildings. Mudslides can occur in hilly or mountainous terrain.
Between Harvey and Florence, it has become clear that a new, more detailed hurricane classification system is necessary. In the meantime, broadcast meteorologists and the public alike must remember to look beyond a storm’s category. Just because a storm is a Category 1 doesn’t mean it won’t bring large, destructive amounts of water with it.
It is important for water impacts to be better communicated as part of hurricane coverage. Perhaps a new scale will be developed in the future. In the meantime though, make sure to pay attention to rain totals and expected storm surge should you find yourself in a hurricane situation.
©2018 Meteorologist Margaret Orr
Photo Credit: NOAA/NESDIS https://www.nesdis.noaa.gov/content/hurricane-florence-nears-east-coast
Rainfall total source: https://abcnews.go.com/US/hurricane-florence-numbers-latest-power-outages-rain-totals/story?id=57819104