Chris Oaks spoke with Chris Vickers, meteorologist for WTOL-TV.
Q: This is Ohio Spring Severe Weather Awareness Week. The terminology for storms is largely the same regardless of the season, but, over the years, the timing of those alerts has changed.
A: That’s true. It used to be, for example, that a tornado warning would only be issued after a verified sighting. That made them very accurate, of course, but also too late for many people to protect themselves.
Now, modern technology has allowed us to more accurately detect storms before they form, which in turn gives more time to seek appropriate shelter.
But as you say, the terms are familiar. The most common are watches, which are generally issued well in advance across broad areas, perhaps even an entire state, that is meant to act as a heads-up that conditions are favorable for the development of severe weather.
A warning, on the other hand, means that severe weather of some type is happening or about to happen in a much more specific area. When you hear that word, it’s time to take action.
Q: Tornadoes are the big fear, but in Ohio, they’re certainly less common than thunderstorms. What’s the definition of a severe thunderstorm?
A: We average about 17 tornadoes a year in this state, so you’re right, they are much less common than thunderstorms, which are classified as severe by the National Weather Service when winds reach 58 mph and hail registers one inch in diameter, or when conditions are such that a tornado could develop.
Obviously, that’s a fairly high threshold, so it’s an important point that there are many different types of storms that can be very dangerous even if they aren’t deemed to be severe.
Q: If there’s no basement to take shelter in, we’re told the safest place is an interior room away from windows on the lowest level of the home. However, in our home, for example, that would be a storage area where the electrical breaker box is located, which would seem to be rather dangerous. Would we be better off to find another room instead?
A: Each circumstance is going to be a little different, but you have to deal with what you have to work with. If that’s the most interior space on the lowest level, away from windows, it probably still offers the best protection. Generally speaking, those factors trump all others.
Q: What about a crawlspace? Would that be better than an above-ground room?
A: Certainly, if it’s accessible. A part of your preparedness plan now would be to clear away any obstacles that would allow you to get there quickly, and to prepare an area you may not normally use, such as a crawlspace, to make it habitable for a period of time so that it could serve as that storm shelter.
Q: Is the fact that we’ve had such a harsh winter an indicator that the spring may be equally stormy?
A: Not really. Seasonal connections between weather patterns are rare, and there are very few indicators we can examine to make any kind of prediction as to how many spring storms we might have or how strong those events might be.
We’re just not at that level of scientific capability yet to be able to predict a seasonal activity level.
That said, it does appear the current cold weather pattern is likely to continue for some time yet, and, if that’s true, it may push the storm season back a little bit. Whereas, we typically begin to ramp up in late April and May, and can peak in June, I wouldn’t be surprised if that time frame was delayed by a few weeks.
“Good Mornings!” with Chris Oaks airs from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. weekdays on WFIN, 1330 kHz. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at 419-422-4545.
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