Whit’s Weekly Weather Wisdom: Tornado Safety

In the aftermath of the destruction and tragedy that has been left in Oklahoma this past week, I’d like to use this forum to bring something good into all of this: education. For this week’s weekly weather wisdom, let’s take some time to talk about Tornado Safety.

To those of you who think “I’ll never see a Tornado in my life”, “it’ll never happen to me”, or “we don’t get that kind of weather here”, I have another saying I’d like to share with you: “You never know”. Everyone, and I mean everyone, should take a few minutes to educate themselves about tornado safety.

It’s understandable for people to panic when something like a tornado comes roaring their way; it’s a deadly storm that has the capability of leveling houses, tossing cars through the air, destroying schools, and killing hundreds of people. Overall, tornadoes are very scary things to face. However, a little know-how before facing a twister could save the lives of you, your family, and your friends.

Where?

Let’s start by quickly talking about where you might encounter a tornado. First off, tornadoes have been seen in every state in the US (including Alaska and Hawaii). While this holds true, let’s pin-point where you’re most likely at risk. As shown in the graphic below, the areas with the most tornado activity are in the Mid-West and Great Plains, with moderate risk along the entire Eastern sea-board as well. Again, tornadoes have no boundaries, so be mentally prepared to see one some day.

When?

First of all, tornadoes can occur at any time of day, and are common in the afternoons, evenings, and at night. While tornadoes have occurred in every month of the year, “Tornado season” starts to kick up around April, with the peak of the season occurring during early summer and last through August. Additionally, tornadoes are commonly associated with two specific weather events. Twisters are most commonly seen during Severe Thunderstorm events, as instability of the atmosphere makes a perfect breeding ground for twisters. Hurricanes have also been known to produce tornado outbreaks, most notably the 53 confirmed tornadoes that spawned along the outer bands of Hurricane Katrina as it made landfall.

What to do

Let’s move on to what to do if you are aware of a tornado possibly headed in your direction… Curiosity may have killed the cat, but when it comes to the weather I’m constantly peeking outside to see what’s happening; it’s human nature to want to look outside during any kind of unusual weather event. Regardless, once you’ve assessed the threat it’s time to take action:

If you’re at home, get to a basement or bottom floor, and head to a small centrally located room. Padding such as blankets, mattresses, sleeping bags can provide some protection if things fall on top of you. If you’re at work, retail location, church, etc. the same principles apply. Do not use elevators to access lower floors, and avoid windows as much as possible.

If you are outdoors try to locate a nearby shelter. If none is nearby, find a low-lying ditch and get as low to the ground as possible. Stay far away from trees, power lines, and other objects that may be blown toward you.

If you are in a car, only attempt to out-drive a twister if it is far away and you have a clear route in the opposite direction. If not, leave your vehicle and head for shelter. If none exists, follow tips above for outdoor tornado strategies.

Before a Tornado

The Boy Scouts got it right… Be Prepared! Practicing a tornado drill with your family is never a bad idea; make sure everyone is informed and ready in case of such emergency. As for supplies I like to keep a gallon or two of water as well as some granola bars stashed in a bin down in the basement in case of such emergencies. Flashlights, radios, walkie talkies, and sterile rags/bandages are also a smart addition to such a kit.

For more information about Tornado Safety, consult the following resources:

National Weather Service

Tornado Project

Red Cross

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DC Seasons: Never a Dull Moment

First off, apologies for the delay in posts. Secondly, the changing of the seasons is upon us…

A Spring to Cherish

For those of you whom are particularly enjoying Spring, consider yourselves lucky, as this one was tame by DC standards. Average high temperatures for the month of April are typically in the mid to upper 60s, while May showcases highs between 70 and 80 degrees. So far this Spring, we’ve seen 27 days in the 60s and just 10 days creep up above 80°F. We’ve also seen about half as much rain as we normally do here in the DC Metro area. Overall, it’s been a prolonged cool dry season, differing from many past DC Springs that felt more like a leap straight from Winter to Summer.

The Change…

But recently things have changed a tad. Muggy, humid days have become more noticeable, and the thermometer has now reached 80+ degrees 5 times in the past week. What does it mean? Summer is on the horizon…

And as we close in on summer we come to the scarier part of late Spring, involving Thunderstorms, Pop-up Showers, Flash Floods, etc. DC, Maryland, and Virginia aren’t known for much Tornado activity, but that’s not to say they don’t happen here. In fact, MD reported 17 tornadoes last year (2012), while VA tallied 16. While residents in these areas won’t likely see anything as severe as the EF5 storm that barreled through Oklahoma earlier this week, the danger is still there. Here’s a quick reference for Tornado safety- Storm Prediction Center

What to expect in the coming weeks

Short-Term: an air flow from the Gulf has brought our region some really humid conditions over the past week. Expect this pattern to come to a wild conclusion tomorrow night, as instability in the atmosphere begins to stack up. Some area residents will see a few scattered storms Wednesday evening, but the real headline maker will be Thursday… An advancing cold front will bring a more serious line of thunderstorms across the majority of the region. Overall intensity will depend on how warm we get during the day, but expect storms to be moderate to severe overall. As usual, heavy downpours and higher winds could be associated with this line of storms.

Long-Term: the pattern over the Mid-Atlantic region will cool off as soon as the thunderstorms pass (early Friday morning). Highs this weekend will range from the upper 60s to the mid 70s, with plenty of sunshine. Things will then warm up again, bringing more precipitation to the area towards the middle of next week. Expect this cycle to continue repeating through the next few weeks.

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Whit’s Weekly Weather Wisdom- Wind!

Wow, really got that alliteration in full gear this week. That’s right folks, we’re talking about wind this time around. As we’ve seen our fair share of breezy days here in DC over the past few weeks,I thought it would be a good time to briefly talk about the wind and its causes.

Wind is simply defined as air in motion. We typically describe it by its speed and the direction from which it blows. Wind is also commonly associated with an apparent lowering of temperature, as a nice cool breeze feels good in the summer, but makes a cold winter day that much more frigid. Overall, temperature differences are the driving force that cause wind to blow. Ever hear the term “hot air rises”? This holds true in thermodynamics, as warm air rises, cooler air naturally moves in and replaces that space. In terms of wind speed, pressure differences are the deciding factor. The tighter the pressure gradient, the faster the winds. This is why winds are so fierce in and around a hurricane.

Normally when I think of wind, I am reminded of a trip I took to the windiest place on Earth… Mount Washington.

For those of you who have either never visited or have never heard of Mount Washington, it’s the highest peak in the Northeastern US (6,288 ft). It’s also widely recognized as the home of the world’s craziest weather, with weather including rime ice several inches thick, hurricane force winds, lightning storms, and even 4 feet of snow in under 24 hours. The combination of ice, snow and wind sometimes makes the peak of the mountain look like another planet, as seen in the above photo. Here are a few additional Mt. Washington stats to get the weather nerds a little excited:

– Highest recorded wind gust in Northern Hemisphere = 231 mph
– Winds exceeding Hurricane force winds an average of 110 days per year
– Averages 26 FEET of snow per year
– Record lows of -59°F
– Experienced wind chills of -103°F in 2004

In the Fall of 2005, I got the opportunity to hike up the mountain with some friends. It was a great challenge, so much so that about half way up I really starting ruing my decision to neither ride up on the Cog Railway, nor the steep, winding road for automobiles. Nevertheless, we made it to the peak and it was a truly awesome experience. A beautiful Fall day turned to winter near the top with temperatures 30 degrees cooler and winds substantially breezier, but the views could not be beaten.

I have a few friends who have worked on the mountain and say it’s a remarkably fun and fascinating experience. In fact, they have an unofficial Century Club that people can “join”; all you have to do is walk around the observatory deck while winds are sustained at 100+ mph… the only catch is that you can’t hold onto anything while completing the feat. Piece of cake right?!

Overall, this majestic New England mountain is home to some truly wild weather, and earns its title of “Home of the World’s Worst Weather”.

Whit’s Weather will have several more “Wisdom” Blog posts on wind in future weeks, so check back to hear more about wind related phenomena such as See-Breezes (not not the drinks), Chinook Winds, and also learn if Chicago should really be called the “Windy City”. Thanks for stopping by, have a breezy day!

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