By Glenn Haege
(All rights reserved)
Know when storms are coming
Outdoor activities take precedence for most people in the summer. But with those pop-up storms that are part of the Michigan summers, you hope the weather doesn’t ruin your chance to enjoy that round of golf, backyard barbecue or day on the lake.
First, every home should have a weather alert radio that signals when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issues severe weather watches or warnings. Of course, another good way to know a storm is coming is monitoring TV and radio news reports, since they provide the latest information from meteorologists that use some very sophisticated systems.
“Radar is a meteorologist’s most important tool when tracking storms, because radar shows you the actual precipitation itself. You can actually see inside the storm,” said Paul Gross, a meteorologist for WDIV-TV. “And our Doppler radars show us more than just the rain. Now, we can see the wind inside the storm.”
Gross added that when a storm is just starting to develop, but rain hasn’t developed yet, satellite imagery is critical. Storms are generally guided by the winds about 10,000 feet aloft. As those winds bend and turn, so do the storms’ paths. That’s why a storm that looks certain to hit your area could change course.
Gross said there is some confusion for the average person between a storm with thunder versus a severe thunderstorm. “A thunderstorm is considered severe when it produces wind gusts at or above 58 miles per hour, or hail 1 inch or larger in diameter,” he said.
According to the National Weather Service website, weather.gov, a tornado or severe thunderstorm watch indicates these situations are possible in your area. A tornado or severe thunderstorm warning means these weather situations are occurring or likely to occur.
In addition to news reports, one of the best ways to know if severe weather is in the area is through the outdoor warning system sirens that are activated whenever severe weather is imminent.
Peter Locke in Macomb County’s Office of Emergency Management and Communication explains these sirens are alerting residents to more than tornadoes. The outdoor warning sirens are meant to alert people that an immediate threat is imminent in the community.
“The system is activated for a variety of weather situations, including a tornado warning or severe thunderstorm warning accompanied by winds of 70 miles per hour or greater as issued by the National Weather Service for our area,” he said. “It can also be activated if a tornado or funnel cloud has been sighted and verified by a reputable source such as the National Weather Service.”
While there are plenty of official sources to identify severe weather, he said it is important for the public to alert the local and county officials if someone sights a funnel cloud or tornado.
“We have gotten complaints that there was a tornado in the area and we didn’t sound the sirens, but tornadoes have to start somewhere and can pop up quickly and we won’t know about it unless someone calls 911 to report it,” he said. “We really need the public’s help if they see a tornado, because they shouldn’t assume we have been alerted.”
Locke reminds everyone that when you hear those sirens, you should go inside or take cover immediately.
“When the siren sounds it is a serious weather situation and you shouldn’t run outside to see if you can spot the tornado or approaching storm,” he added.
To determine the threat, he advises going to a news radio station or the local TV news stations after you hear the siren.
As for apps to use when tracking weather on your smartphone, Gross said the radar on WDIV-TV’s free Local4Casters app is more than sufficient for most people, and this radar works anywhere in the United States and even in Europe. There are also a variety of free or paid weather apps for both Apple and Android devices, including AccuWeather, Dark Sky, NOAA Weather, WeatherBug , the Weather Channel and Yahoo! Weather.
Gross also said many professional meteorologists use a paid app called RadarScope because it provides all of the various Doppler radar products that they need to assess storm characteristics. “We have specific training in interpreting this data, so even if we are away from work and without access to our weather computers at the office, we can still monitor severe weather,” he said.
So the next time you are planning an outdoor activity, do your homework with the variety of ways to track the weather so you don’t end up getting washed out. And remember when you hear the sirens, take the alerts seriously and move indoors.