How would you respond to the awful tornadoes that devastated Joplin and Tuscaloosa or the flooding in Texas and Oklahoma? Ever think about that? Whenever I read of severe storms causing damage, I immediately think of the emergency managers response before and after the storm.
Over the years, I fine tuned my approach to preparing for severe and winter weather based on personal and other professionals’ experience. This led to proactively using resources and tools for any weather events. But first my disclaimer, I am not a meteorologist by any means, only using the available tools to meet the needs of the job. If you are interested, great resources are available for learning in depth about models, CAPE, outflow boundary, and other forecasting topics. Check out MetEd and the National Severe Storms Laboratory which are class orientated while the Weather Underground Blog covers current events.
Back to storms. I have seen severe thunderstorms create damage requiring multiple days of cleanup and power outages causing isolated but problematic issues for residents with medical needs. These were the common severe thunderstorm warnings with extremely surprising severity. I began changing my procedures to responding to watches and warnings, tweaking as each experience taught me the possibility of the surprise weather impacts and the dynamic needs of people after storms.
Also I had the privilege to attend three Weather and Society * Integrated Studies workshops where I found like minded individuals seeking to improve the weather warning and response process. From these workshops, it solidified in my mind how Emergency Management (EM) can translate weather information into specific impacts and actions for our partners and the public. The folks at the National Weather Service (NWS) work extremely hard to provide the best information, but it is impossible for any of them to know all of the intricacies and problems of each jurisdiction.
From all of these experiences, I changed my daily routine just slightly so I was proactive and not reactive to weather. If you are responsible for sharing weather information and preparing for possible storms, you may find this helpful if you are trying to figure our your game plan. In addition, this is just a basic start of the resources I used, there
In addition, this is just a basic start of the resources I used, there is a plethora of weather resources depending on your role and interests. Depending on your hazards, this process is tweaked, for example with hurricanes I utilize different resources such as the National Hurricane Center products. In future posts I will discuss how you can utilize the information gathered for the benefit of your partners and the public.
Anyway the first free weather resource is . . . .
1) NWS Automated Hazardous Weather Outlook
At 5:00 am in the morning, with bleary eyes, I would often read this outlook while giving a bottle to our little sweet pea. This little email would let me know if I needed to rearrange my schedule for the day or possibly in the next couple of days.
Here is a snippet of one hazardous weather outlook (underlining added)
.DAY ONE…TODAY AND TONIGHT
THERE IS A MODERATE RISK FOR SEVERE WEATHER OVER CENTRAL AND NORTHEAST WISCONSIN LATER THIS AFTERNOON AND EVENING. SCATTERED STORMS AND SHOWERS WILL DIMINISH THIS MORNING…THOUGH THUNDERSTORMS ARE EXPECTED TO REDEVELOP DURING AFTERNOON. THESE STORMS WILL HAVE THE ABILITY TO PRODUCE DAMAGING WINDS AND VERY LARGE HAIL. GIVEN THE STRENGTH OF THE WEATHER SYSTEM CROSSING THE REGION…ISOLATED TORNADOES ARE ALSO POSSIBLE. THE MOST LIKELY TIME FOR THE SEVERE WEATHER APPEARS TO BE BETWEEN 4 PM AND 8 PM. RAINFALL AMOUNTS FROM THE STORMS IS ALSO EXPECTED TO BE HEAVY AT TIMES. THAT WILL RESULT IN AN INCREASED RISK OF FLOODING… ESPECIALLY NEAR RIVERS AND STREAMS.
I underlined key pieces of information that would make any Emergency Manager concerned. Some follow-up questions for the local NWS office are what is the estimated wind speeds for damaging winds, the potential hail size and finally the potential rainfall amounts in an hour? While much of this information is available in the warning products, it is not in the outlook since the storms are still a possibility. All of this weather information begins creating a picture of the possible impact and actions for the community.
So where do you sign up? This automated outlook is currently for the emergency management community (contact your local Weather Forecast Office). For everyone else you can go to your local NWS website then Current Hazards and then either Outlook or Local Hazard Weather Outlook depending on the site. Some alerting providers may provide the hazardous weather outlooks listed below under point #3.
Once you know there is potential for this type of severe weather you can check out the . . .
A picture speaks a 1,000 words. I am a visual person so I want to understand the entire area at risk and where does my location fit into the bigger picture. After reading the hazardous weather outlook if I have a concern, I navigate to the Storm Prediction Center’s Convective Outlook and can quickly see how the weather pattern is potentially shaping up. Also, I can see what is the probability of severe weather for the region. Below is a graphic from the Storm Prediction Center explaining the categories and risk.
As Emergency Managers, we can take this risk information and determine what does this mean for our area of influence? Any outdoor events happening during this time? School trips or sporting events? Camping areas at risk? Major road construction areas that could impact water drainage? How are the river levels running? The list can keep going on and on.
If you are an Emergency Manager for a university, your concern for risk is limited in area, but you have an in-depth understanding of the risks for your area of influence. A county/parish Emergency Manager has a larger area of concern however the level of depth in the details of risk can be limited by capacity and time.
3) Weather Alerts
Though watching the radar is fun (it really is for us weather geeks), I do have a lot of work, especially when I was preparing for a storm. The reality is I need to be alerted when NWS issues a watch or warning. I have at least two different methods to receive notification by text. Why two? One time I had a notification service not work, a reminder technology is not 100% reliable all the time (Murphy’s Law). Here are some options (please note: I am not endorsing of these services, just giving you options to consider).
- iNWS: sent by NWS, it is an experimental service intended for NWS core partners, including emergency managers, community leaders and other government agencies only.
- Weather Channel: on their home page click on the Sign Up on the top right corner. Once you create an account you can select the type of messages you wish to receive.
- Local TV stations alerting: many local stations also offer weather alerts as well.
- Smart phone apps: FEMA, American Red Cross and many others.
You can find an email and text alerting services at NWS for a broader list, including the Wireless Emergency Alerts from NWS/FEMA. If you are not “on call” at night either the alerting service or your smart phone may give you do not disturb options. The important item to remember is you want your phone to get your attention, text messages and phone calls work better than emails. f course having
Of course having a NOAA weather radio is a great back up at home and work. My NOAA weather radio works great especially if I can’t hear my phone over the children. As a side note, my young kids hear the weather radio making the beeping sound they yell “storms coming!”, run to the window and then run down to the basement. They are future storm spotters in the making.
4) NWS Chat
I love this tool from NWS in so many ways. If I know there is a chance for severe weather I will log in to monitor the updates. All NWS outlooks, special weather statement, storm reports, watches and warnings are in ONE spot. Think of it as a Twitter or Facebook feed. Also the Storm Prediction Center will post a Mesoscale Discussion if contemplating a watch, which includes the probability of a watch being issued. You can check out one mesoscale discussion here. All of this information in one place is an excellent resource and a time saver.
It gets even better, the term “chat” is appropriate since you can send a message to the staff in the Weather Forecast Office if you have questions. Another bonus, the main chat room includes the media who are sharing their storm reports and can share EM information as well to the public. Many county emergency managers have heard of this service, but this may be a new resource for those at the city or university level. One caveat, the website states clearly the groups of people allowed access to this chat, so check that out first.
Funny note, one of the alerts for the chat update is a cow mooing. You know the weather is starting to heat up when you hear the cows mooing away!
Some final thoughts, if you are already using these tools, great job! The next question, what about those on your team or the folks who fill your role during your vacation? Check to see if these people are as familiar with these tools and currently use these tools.
As I mentioned earlier there are a lot of great resources online and on smart phones allowing us to be proactive, I am only sharing some of my top free tools. I will follow up with another post on how I worked with the partners in the community to share the risks of weather and encourage their preparation.
Now it is your turn, what free weather tools do you use in your job?
Please share below, I would love your ideas.