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March 19th, 2016

Keeping Ahead of Severe Storms

This post shows you how to obtain weather information in a timely way which minimizes stress and disruption when severe storms threaten.

Thunderstorm Outlooks

Information available online allows me to obtain severe weather outlooks up to five days in advance — and any watches or warnings — very efficiently.   Did you know that convective (thunderstorm) outlooks from the Storm Prediction Center are available several days ahead of time?   The two images below provide an example of how this type of forecast often will be made more specific during the day of a severe weather event.  (Clicking on any of these images will allow you to view at a larger size.)

Thunderstorm Outlooks

Thunderstorm Outlooks

These forecasts are usually quite accurate.  Hail reports from Tuesday March 14th coincided very well with the enhanced risk area from the Day 1 outlook shown above.

Storm Warnings

Any needed warnings are issued by local National Weather Service forecast offices — of which there are 122 across the United States.  I really like this national map which shows any watches, warnings, and advisories with color coding (note the color key at the bottom).  Even more useful is the local map with county outlines which appears when I click on the national map at any location for which I need more details.

Storm Warnings

In this situation, a warning covered portions of four counties. This image clearly represented the portions of those counties most at risk. (Image from NWS website.)

This example of such a local map came from North Carolina on March 14th   Notice that the portion of each county included in a severe thunderstorm warning (orange) is shown — an example of a great online advantage, as this depiction clarifies the exact locations covered by the warning!

My weather radio will sound an alarm for warnings (sent by my nearby station in the NOAA Weather Radio network), and many local television stations now have excellent on-air meteorologists with excellent severe weather coverage.   While I consider the weather radio alarm an important safety feature like a smoke alarm (more on this in coming weeks), and televised information can be essential in certain situations, most of the time I prefer obtaining  warning details online.  A second reason this is so?  When storms become widespread I avoid a long list of warnings, advisories, and other repetitious programming.  Instead, the specific information for my own county is viewed directly.  I can also see at a glance what is happening in nearby counties which allows me to track the worst weather as it approaches my location.

Storm Reports

Because Storm Reports are collected by the Storm Prediction Center, I can look at this map to see where severe hail and wind, and any tornadoes, have occurred so far today.

Severe Storm Risk Categories

In General, the higher risk categories indicate increased potential of more numerous and/or more intense thunderstorms.

The chart to the left explains the risk categories now used in the Storm Prediction Center outlooks.  In future spring blog posts, I will revisit these categories in greater detail.

As this post finishes, I would like to ask for your opinion.  What information do you find most helpful before and during severe storms?  Please email your replies to the address below.  Your comments will help me toward my goal of providing information which is the most useful for you.  

Other questions…

  • What is your preferred source of severe weather information?
  • What is the biggest difficulty you find when seeking or using severe weather information?
  • What is the aspect of severe weather forecasts or warnings about which you most would like to learn more?

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