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Why You Should Take Severe Thunderstorm Warnings Seriously

tornado_BHM_030116

Tornado captured in southern Jefferson county near McCalla, AL Tuesday, March 1, 2016. courtesy AL.com

A severe thunderstorm watch was in effect for parts of Alabama and Georgia in anticipation of expected storm development Tuesday, March 1, 2016. Then, quite suddenly, one of the storms intensified southwest of Birmingham and spawned a tornado. Four people sustained injuries in McCalla and Bessemer. Some may have been confused because there wasn’t a tornado watch in effect in advance.

However, the fact that a severe thunderstorm watch was in place means that dangerous storms could develop. Those storms can and in this case do produce tornadoes. In fact, this little paragraph is included at the bottom of the wording in a severe thunderstorm watch, which many may never read:

REMEMBER...A SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WATCH MEANS CONDITIONS ARE
   FAVORABLE FOR SEVERE THUNDERSTORMS IN AND CLOSE TO THE WATCH
   AREA. PERSONS IN THESE AREAS SHOULD BE ON THE LOOKOUT FOR
   THREATENING WEATHER CONDITIONS AND LISTEN FOR LATER STATEMENTS
   AND POSSIBLE WARNINGS. SEVERE THUNDERSTORMS CAN AND OCCASIONALLY
   DO PRODUCE TORNADOES.

Quite often, when I make presentations to civic and community groups and business associations, I ask people how many times they take action after hearing a severe thunderstorm watch or warning is in effect. Very few hands go up. Then I ask them if they take action when a tornado warning was issued. Nearly all hands go up. Why is there such a difference?

It’s probably because most people think the loud thundering and frequent flashing of lightning isn’t that dangerous if there isn’t a tornado warning in effect. By definition, all thunderstorms contain lightning so that makes it a threat. When the winds exceed 58 mph and the hail is larger than the size of a quarter, the National Weather Service defines the storm as severe and issues a warning. A 60 mile and hour wind can knock a tree over and if it falls on your house, what difference does it make if it there wasn’t a tornado?

Here’s what happened on March 1. The National Weather Service severe thunderstorm watch is indicated in blue.

SVA_030116

Severe thunderstorm watch #34 issued March 1,  2016

Then, a tornado formed, as seen in the photo above and the alert meteorologist at the NWS office in Birmingham issued a tornado warning, indicated in red:TOR_BHM_030116_nowatch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The bottom line is to be aware whenever a severe thunderstorm or tornado watch is in effect and be sure you have multiple ways to get notified whenever warnings are issued for your area. One effective way is WeatherCall, which calls you, sends a text or email when your exact address is in the NWS warning. Get this service by going to: try.weathercall.net/signupnow.

 

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