Archive for the ‘Weather’ Category

Xenia tornado (NWS photo)

The Weather Channel’s Tornado Week begins today.  A fitting day.  April 4th is the anniversary of the Super Tornado Outbreak of 1974, which is still the worst tornado outbreak in US history.  From Ottawa to Georgia, 148 tornadoes weaved a path of destruction 2500 miles long, killing 330 people, and injuring more than 5,000. 

Six of those tornadoes were F5’s on the Fujita Scale, with winds over 261 miles per hour.  Places like Xenia Ohio never stood a chance against winds like that.   There were no tornado sirens.  Personal emergency alert systems that notify people by radio, cell phone, etc weren’t yet available.  And the meteorologists didn’t have advanced doppler radar, they had WWII-era radars that were better at picking up solid objects than wind speeds and direction.  This NOAA webpage has some nice links showing the differences in technology since then.  In 1974, a tornado had to be on the ground & someone had to witness it, locate it, and call the authorities who may or may not have been in touch with the weather service.  More often than not, the weather guys only learned of a tornado after it had already done it’s damage.

I was six years old that weekend, living in rural Illinois.   One of the 148 tornadoes hit nearby Decator.  I remember only bits and pieces.  Impressions.  Scenes that may or may not go together, or that may be separated by hours, days, or months. 

  • I was riding the bus home from school one day (Friday, April 3rd?).  The bus driver didn’t like the clouds he could see on the horizon, so instead of driving us rural kids all over the county, he stopped at Dairy Queen just outside of town & we ate ice cream til the winds died down.  I vaguely remember becoming aware that glass windows could be blown out.
  • Then there was the late afternoon/early evening when my mom & two sisters & I went to the basement & sat in a corner with a blanket over our heads.  The baby wouldn’t stop crying.  Our ears rang.  Dad kept going up the stairs to look around outside, which terrified mom so it terrified me.  Besides, I had seen the Wizard of Oz and I knew what could happen!
  • My plastic swimming pool ended up in a tree a mile away.
  • There was one particular night when the air was so hot and still.  It felt like badness.  I got out of bed and went to the living room where my parents were glued to a radar screen on the TV that didn’t seem to tell anybody anything at all. It was green and made me think of submarines.

As a result, I learned that grownups can’t always protect you, they don’t know what to do sometimes, and that nature should be both feared and respected.  Or God.  I wasn’t sure.  So I refused to sleep at night if it was rainy or windy.  This behavior was only reinforced, of course, when we moved to Texas and barely escaped the damage of the Red River Tornado Outbreak of 1979.  Again, all the adults could do was put us in a hallway and make us cover our heads.

The cure for me was a basic meteorology class at the University of Texas in 1995.  I was almost 30, and Troy Kimmel taught me enough that I learned to sleep in the rain if it wasn’t associated with a supercell or other favorable conditions for tornadic development.  Thank you, Troy.

It’s reassuring to me now, too, that the Weather Channel’s Severe Weather Expert, Greg Forbes studied under tornado expert Ted Fujita, that he was on the ground studying the hardest hit areas in the aftermath of the 1974 outbreak, and that according to Wikipedia, he’s the guy who discovered that hook echoes on radar can produce the strongest storms. 

As the 2010 tornado season kicks off I encourage everyone to be alert to weather conditions, have an emergency plan, and keep your loved ones informed as to how to protect themselves from tornadoes.  I’d also like to say how much I love living in Seattle where wind storms are about as bad as it gets (so far!).  Stay safe everyone!

Learn more:


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When U.S. citizens elected Barack Obama as our 44th President, many of us had unreasonable expectations of what he could do for us personally in his first 100 days, his first year, his first Administration, etc.  

People who now question what on earth this guy is actually doing might appreciate this list of 90 accomplishments, compiled Dr. Robert P. Watson at Lynn University in Boca Raton.

But if those things aren’t immediate & personal enough for you, check out Obama Weather.  Not only does the Commander in Chief predict the weather for you (with Weather Channel’s help, of course) but you don’t even have to type in your location.  And he does it through pictorals, too.  A cartoon Obama dresses appropriately for each day’s weather circumstances so you don’t even have to think about it.  Just wear what he does!  (Love the hat & the shades!)

There.  Immediate & personal, and from the President.  Sort of.  Enjoy!

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Looks like it’s that time of year again — time to say, “Thanks for moving out west where we don’t have to put our important papers in Ziploc bags anymore.”  And “Thanks that I don’t have to go buy plywood today.”  And “Hey, isn’t it nice not to have to wrap the computers in plastic?” 

That’s right, hurricane season is firing up.


Weather.com reports that Tropical Depression #2 seems to be worth watching as it leaves the coast of Africa and heads across the Atlantic — and there’s another, possibly more interesting storm behind it.

Being the dork I am, though, I do enjoy tracking hurricanes.  I prefer doing it on paper because then I have an excuse to use my colored pencil set.   Don’t share my proclivity for pastel erasables?  Here are some sites that’ll ensure you never have to pick up a pencil:

Storm Pulse


National Hurricane Center

Penn State Dept of Meteorology (links to models)

More Weather

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