It looks as if the area is finally out of the snow zone. Trees are budding out, and things are greening up. It was a snowy winter overall, and the handful of big snowstorms created quite a challenge in keeping roads clear and people safe. On the whole, we got through it just fine.
And now comes the next season of potential severe weather. April, May and June typically bring the heaviest thunderstorms and the greatest chance of tornadoes. That can be deadly. In an average year, about 70 Americans die in tornadoes and about 1,500 are injured, according to Missouri’s State Emergency Management Agency.
About one thunderstorm in 10 grows strong enough to be considered severe – that is one that produces hail of three-quarters of an inch or more, winds or 58 mph or more, or a tornado. Lightning kills people, too, sometimes far out ahead of the wind and rain.
So it’s the time of year to be watchful. Check the radio or the Internet as conditions warrant. A NOAA weather alert radio – the ones that come on when an alert is posted – is a great investment. There are lots of good apps for your phone.
Here’s the thing about advances in weather science: Meteorologists can get a good grasp, many hours in advance, of when things are setting up for bad storms. If you flip on the weather radio first thing in the morning, it’s common that the National Weather Service is in a position to say, hey, folks, today looks dicey, so be on alert. There might be a tornado watch or warning coming later on.
Speaking of which, a little meteorological jargon is important to know:
• A tornado watch means conditions are right for a tornado. A watch is usually posted over a fairly large area – maybe half of the state, maybe half of the Midwest – and for several hours. A usually precedes a warning.
• A tornado warning is much more specific. That means it’s time to take shelter, and don’t pause to step outside and snap a few pictures of the funny-looking clouds. It means either radar or a trained weather spotter have detected a funnel or rotation in a cloud. It means there’s a bad storm coming, and these days – thankfully – forecasters can do a pretty good job of pinpointing when a storm with a tornado is likely to hit a given city. (The watch/warning distinction applies to thunderstorms.)
When the tornado warning comes, head for cover. Get downstairs if you possibly can. The lower you are, the better your chances of survival. At the very least, get to an inside space. Get away from windows. Take a radio, and wait for the all clear. Simple actions – being alert, being in the right spot – save lives.
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