Category: StormReady


Rick Atterberry is blog post author.

appforthat

We’re almost three weeks into meteorological Winter and just a few days from the start of the season in the astronomical calendar.  And, while much of the country has experienced record setting warmth in the last three months, snow, ice, sleet, wind and cold are inevitable for many of us.

With that in mind, Extension colleagues at North Dakota State University have created a Winter Survival Kit Phone App for both Android and IOS phones.  This app helps users find their location if they become stranded, call 911, notify friends and family and calculate how lo9ng they can run their vehicle to stay warm before running out of fuel.

Capture NDSU“The Winter Survival Kit app can be as critical as a physical winter survival kit if you find yourself stuck or stranded in severe winter weather conditions,” says Bob Bertsch, NDSU Agriculture Communication Web technology specialist.

Users can store important phone numbers, insurance information, motor club contacts and more within the app.  The app includes a timer function which reminds motorists to check the exhaust pipe for snow buildup so as to avoid a high concentration of carbon monoxide.

The app features a large “I’m Stranded!” button which can be easily accessed in an emergency situation.  Parents may find the app a useful tool for young drivers who are very familiar with their smart phones, but less familiar with winter driving.

The kit app was developed by Myriad Devices, a company founded by students and faculty at NDSU’s Electrical and Computer Engineering Department and College of Business in the school’s Research and Technology Park Incubator.  The NDSU Extension Service provided design and content input.  Funding was via a U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture Smith-Lever Special Needs grant.

 


Julyderecho

July 13, 2015 derecho radar image from NOAA.

Early this week, on July 13, a possible derecho, or at least what the National Weather Service is currently calling “a Derecho-like event,” raced across the middle of the country. It began in Minnesota and swept mostly southward through Wisconsin, Illinois, parts of Indiana and into Kentucky.

The Weather Service describes a derecho as “a widespread, long-lived storm. Derechos are associated with bands of rapidly moving showers or thunderstorms variously known as bow echoes, squall lines or quasi-linear convective systems.”

The “bow echo” refers to the characteristic appearance of a linear storm on weather radar when that storm bows out due to high wind. Storms represented by bow echoes are not always derechos unless they last for a long time which is rarely the case. In fact, large derechos are relatively unusual. Generally there are only one or two a year in most of the country.

The Weather Service has an extensive derecho page.

Weather Underground

Weather Underground

Derechos can be extremely damaging. By definition a derecho must travel 240 miles and include wind gusts of at least 58mph along much of its length and several gusts of over 75mph. Many are much stronger. A derecho that crossed Illinois from northwest to southeast in the late 1990’s included winds measured at over 100mph at the Clinton nuclear power plant and caused extensive damage to a marina at the associated cooling lake.

Effects can be long lasting. On July 4th and 5th in 1999 a derecho crossed the Boundary Waters Canoe area in northern Minnesota/southern Ontario. It devastated a forest there. Wildfires in more recent years have been fueled by the debris from that storm.

Because of their length and the intensity of the straight line winds, derechos can be an extremely costly event. Casualties are rare, but do occur, usually caused by falling trees or other debris and occasionally by watercraft caught by the rapidly moving storms.


NOAA Archives

NOAA Archives

The July issue of Chicago Magazine serves as the inspiration for today’s post on killer heat. It features a recap, told in the words of residents, first responders, morgue workers and politicians of the July 1995 heatwave in the City of Chicago…twenty years ago next week. I recommend it.

Heat remains consistently the deadliest natural disaster in most years in the United States. The National Weather Service estimates that about 175 people die of heat related causes during an average year. Some years are much worse. The official total of dead attributed to the 1995 event in Chicago stands at 739. Officials argued about which deaths belonged in the count at the time and continue to do so today, but in any event the extent of the disaster cannot be denied.

On Wednesday, July 12, 1995, the temperature in Chicago reached 95-degrees. Certainly not uncommon. But on Thursday the 13th, the high was 104 at O’Hare Airport and 106 at the more urban Midway Airport. To compound the stress, the dewpoint at times exceeded 80-degrees which is rare. That would make the heat index between 120 and 130-degrees.

chi-95heatbody20120706072407

Chicago Tribune

By Friday, July 14, with a high of 102, paramedics and police officers knew there was a major problem. The number of fatalities rose to the point that the system was overwhelmed. Refrigerated trucks were brought to the morgue and mortuary students worked non-stop for two days assisting the morgue staff in handling the bodies of victims.

 

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Chicago Tribune

The urban heat island effect was in full operation. Buildings and pavement held the heat at night, especially in the humid air so there was no relief. Many of the victims were elderly, young and those with existing medical issues. The situation was especially dire in poorer neighborhoods where residents either had no fans or air conditioners or were reluctant to use them given the cost of electricity. In addition, some victims were fearful for their safety and kept windows closed and locked. One of the city’s major hospitals lacked air conditioning in most of the building even in 1995! Surgical staffs were rotated frequently.

Since the effects of extreme heat tend to be cumulative, people continued to succumb for days after the heat began to subside on Saturday when the high was “only” 98.

heat_1The Chicago Heatwave of 1995 was a well-documented event, but similar heatwaves are common. Just this past week much of Western Europe had unusually high temperatures and in June perhaps as many as 1,500 people died of the heat in Pakistan. In May of 2015, 2,500 people died in a heatwave in India.

 

The National Weather Service has a number of safety tips, including:
Avoid the Heat. Stay indoors and in air conditioning as much as possible
Check on neighbors and the elderly.
Wear loose fitting clothing. Light colors reflect heat and sun.
Drink plenty of water and natural juices. The body loses water faster than it can absorb it. Avoid alcohol and caffeine.
Avoid large meals. Eat smaller portions and more frequently.
NEVER leave children or pets in a vehicle even for a few minutes.

In addition, the weather service has a heatwave brochure available for download.


We’ll keep things short this week as your author needs to hit the road for visits to our Chicago-area Extension offices.

In some parts of the country, this is Lightning Safety Awareness Week.  The following passage is from the Peoria Journal Star on Monday, June 22, 2015:  … the motorcyclists were traveling side-by-side when lightning hit a taxi van and then the motorcyclists. The driver of the van was injured, but survived, after going into a ditch, but the motorcyclists, who were burnt and suffered heart attacks, died at the scene.  This freak accident occurred in Decatur, Illinois and points to just how unpredictable and dangerous lightning can be.

berryd4

–Douglas Berry via NOAA

Severe storms are forecast in a large part of the Great Lakes region and points east early in the week, so I’d like to share a National Weather Service link that tells you just about everything you need to know about lightning safety.


From time to time on Weather Wednesday we will step away from purely meteorological topics to address preparedness. This week we’ll discuss one of the most basic preparedness items, a personal or family Go Kit.

A Go Kit should be assembled and customized according to individual needs following some general guidelines from FEMA. Be sure to look under the tabs for additional suggested items.

AP_fairdale_tornado_14_sk_150410_16x9_1600Let’s look at some of the items which should be included:

Water, one gallon per person per day for three days for drinking and sanitation. For long term storage the crystal clear containers hold up better, but water and food stocks should be rotated out regularly.

Food, a three day supply of non-perishable food. If using canned food, be sure to include a can opener. Specialty meals designed for use by campers are also a good option. Check preparation instructions to be sure you have all of the necessary equipment.

Battery powered, hand cranked and/or solar powered radio capable of receiving NOAA All-Hazards Weather Radio and standard broadcast. Carry extra batteries.

Flashlight and extra batteries. Batteries will generally last considerably longer in LED flashlights.

Washington, DC, July 22, 2008 -- A Red Cross "ready to go" preparedness kit showing the bag and it's contents. Red Cross photograph

Red Cross via FEMA

First aid kit. A good basic kit will suffice unless special needs are involved.

Whistle to signal for help. A small air horn is also a good addition, but you can’t beat a whistle for convenience. It takes less volume of air to blow a whistle than to yell which can be important if one is trapped by debris. A whistle or horn also has a better chance of being heard over heavy equipment.

Dust mask.

Plastic sheet and tape if asked to shelter in place.

Local maps. Remember, familiar landmarks may be destroyed in some disasters.

Cell phone with chargers, inverters, solar power, charging packs, etc. Note, avoid using accessories such as the built in flashlight which tend to run down the battery rapidly.

Prescription medications and glasses. Setting aside medication can be problematic so work with your physician and pharmacist to see what can be done.

Cash and change. If the power is out or communications lines down, ATMs will be out of service.

Copies of insurance papers, account numbers, etc. Do keep these in a special place in the kit so you can keep track of them.

Infant formula, diapers, pet food, etc if applicable. Include a leash for your pet and count their water needs as well.

Change of clothes. Err on the side of warmth and waterproof items.

A couple of items recent experience has shown to be very valuable. Sturdy shoes or boots. Sandals and flip flops are not at all useful when walking through debris. If you have identified a shelter area in your home, you might want to keep the spare shoes/boots there.

Bicycle helmets or hard hats may also be useful if easily accessible to your shelter area.

Remember a Go kit should be able to do just that, pick up and go, should the need arise. It is important to temperate the desire to plan for all contingencies with the practical need to perhaps carry the kit for some distance. Kits are also available from retailers, but make sure to customize to your needs.


It’s been an eventful week on the weather front, so let’s highlight a few points.

KSFY_damage_van_kb_150511_16x9_992

-Damage near Van, TX — KSFY

What started out as a very quiet first quarter of the year as regards the number of tornadoes has become much more active since mid-April. There have been several widespread, damaging and deadly outbreaks, especially over the last ten days or so.

The organization U.S. Tornadoes has begun to compile a rolling list of the highest incidence of tornadoes in 2015. One can see that May is headed toward reversing the early year trend of below normal activity.

storm-thumb-051015In addition, the storms over the past weekend (May 9 and 10) included extremely high rainfall rates in some areas which led to flash flooding and necessitated swift water rescues. Some of the rescues were broadcast live by television stations in Dallas and retransmitted to the entire country via The Weather Channel.

2015-05-09_10-snowfall

— NWS

And if that wasn’t enough, a late season snowstorm on the same weekend buried parts of the Rocky Mountains into the Dakotas. The heavy, wet snow damaged buildings and had to be shoveled out of Coors Field before the Colorado Rockies could host their Sunday afternoon game against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

tropical-storm-anaAnd to top it all off, Tropical Storm Ana, brought gusty winds and copious amounts of rain to the Southeast.


62 years ago this month, April 9, 1953, about 3 miles from where I am sitting, a tornado was caught by radar for the first time. Scientists and electrical engineers at the Illinois State Water Survey at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign had modified a former WWII airborne radar for use in estimating amounts of precipitation falling from storms.

Don Staggs, an electrical engineer, was preparing the radar for later field tests. He started to notice what we now call “hook echo” returns in the scans of the storm. As afternoon turned to evening, a strong thunderstorm developed just north of Champaign, about ten miles from the radar site at the university-owned Willard Airport. The storm image included a pronounced hook on the bottom rear flank much as we see hook echoes on modern Doppler radar.

first radar image of a tornado

Illinois State Water Survey via The News Gazette

Still photos and a 16mm film of the images on the scope captured that moment. A team of meteorologists and technicians were able to study the image capture. Later, Dr. Ted Fujita the creator of the tornado strength measurement scale that bears his name, sketched over 200 of the frames of the film in his own hand. All of this can be seen in a terrific article from Colorado State University.  Note especially the photos of the tornado and the well-developed wall cloud.

We now know that the radar captured the early stages of an F3 tornado that eventually traveled about 160 miles and dissipated near Albany, IN. There were two fatalities and about $4-million in property damage in Illinois. The path of the storm took it across mostly rural areas.

Next week, we’ll discuss current use of radar and what may be the next generation of this important forecast tool.


On this Tax Day edition of Weather Wednesday, we’ll revisit last week’s tornado outbreak in Illinois. Statewide, 11 tornadoes have been confirmed in the April 9th event. The earliest, which caused very little damage, was reported just northwest of Peoria in the afternoon hours. By early evening, strong thunderstorms were crossing far northern Illinois and eventually spawned the first EF-4 tornadoes ever reported in DeKalb and Ogle Counties (records kept since 1950) and the strongest tornado in the National Weather Service Chicago Office County Warning Area since an EF-5 devastated Plainfield, in the southwest suburbs, in 1990.

AP_fairdale_tornado_14_sk_150410_16x9_1600

AP

Two people were killed in the unincorporated town of Fairdale where nearly every structure, more than 70 in all counting outbuildings, was either damaged or destroyed. 22 injuries were reported in the outbreak. The tornadoes eventually approached the far western suburbs of Chicago but missed three population centers near their path. Damage was widely scattered in a multi-county area.

PBrooksPhotography_Ashton

PBrooks Photography

This outbreak was well forecast and there is general agreement there was plenty of warning. The Storm Prediction Center (SPC), as it did with the EF-3 and 4 tornadoes in Illinois on November 17, 2013, mentioned possibly tornadic storms at least four days in advance.

The National Weather Service Chicago Office updated their summary of the tornadoes just this morning. This is one of the most complete such documents I’ve ever read and includes some of the few satellite images of a tornado’s path I’ve ever seen. Read it all the way to the bottom and you’ll see the SPC guidance in the week leading up to the storms.

LarissaSebree_HillcrestIL

Wedge tornado and wall cloud near Hillcrest, Illinois. Larissa Sebree via NOAA.

A couple of these tornadoes were extremely well documented via video (note:  Strong language toward end) and live streaming and some of the visuals of the rotating wall clouds were just about textbook. The low sun angle contributed how well the tornadoes were captured.

There was also a significant side issue involving a motorist by the name of Sam Smith who was shooting video. That footage was widely shown on television and the driver was taken to task for getting too close to the storm, even if accidentally.  (There are now licensing issues with the video so we won’t link to it here.  However, it is widely available on You Tube.)

There were a couple of takeaways from his experience which are good reminders to all of us who may encounter storms. First, if a funnel cloud or tornado does not appear to be moving, it is either headed straight for the observer or dead away from the observer. To be safe, get out of that area immediately by driving at right angles to the storm. Second, this motorist backed up to take shelter in his vehicle under a bridge. Although many people have done that and survived, experts say that is a bad idea because wind speed may actually be amplified as it is compressed into that confined space.  There have been fatalities of people under overpasses.


This is Severe Weather Preparedness Week in several states. Others may have just observed the week and still others may be doing so soon. Over the next several posts, we’ll cover several topics related to severe weather in greater depth.

NOAA

NOAA

As outdoor baseball and soccer practice, along other activities such as golf, gardening, boating will be on the upswing in coming weeks, we’ll start our coverage with lightning. Of course, the threat of being struck by lightning has been known for centuries. The History Channel recounts a particularly devastating lightning strike that killed 300 people.

The National Weather Service has a very good lightning resource page including actions you should take to protect yourself and others.

As our understanding of how lightning works, the different kinds of lightning and other aspects of the science involved improves, best practices have been refined and much more attention is being given to protecting participants and fans at outdoor sporting events.

NOAA

NOAA

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has developed some guidelines for when to clear the practice field and when to ask fans to leave a stadium. Some institutions have modified these to be even more conservative based on estimates of how long it would take to empty a stadium of fans and where the closest safer shelter is. During the 2014 football season lightning delays and even suspensions were fairly common.

Many states require the installation of lightning alarms at recreational facilities and sports venues. Participants and fans should follow the local guidelines when those alarms are triggered. However, as always, alarms are never a substitute for personal responsibility. There are a variety of smartphone apps that link to databases of recent lightning strikes. They can be a good tool, but be aware that there may be a delay in the process of detecting the strikes, assembling the data and posting in the app. So it is best to assume that the data may be a few minutes old and act accordingly.

As mentioned in the content in the links above, a good rule of thumb is that a 30-second lag between sighting the lightning bolt and hearing the thunder means the bolt was roughly six miles away. And at six miles, you should be headed to a safer place immediately.

Additional resources from eXtension.org are good reads.