Tuscarawas County
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Severe Weather Awareness Week: Troubling trends regarding severe weather

There were a total of 457 storm reports last year in Ohio. Here is a breakdown of the reports:

Last week we had some severe thunderstorms roll through east-central Ohio. Some of those storms brought pretty strong wind gusts to the Valley. There were even a couple of tornadoes confirmed in Stark County with this system. Luckily, no one got hurt, but there were uprooted trees, broken tree limbs, power outages, and a few homes were damaged.

As warmer weather arrives each year, our area always sees an increase in storm and tornado warnings. This year will likely be no different. Winter exits and spring moves in. The cold air gets replaced by warmer air and a battle ensues resulting in thunderstorms, heavy rain, and occasionally a tornado.

This week is Spring Severe Weather Awareness Week in Ohio. Severe weather weeks are an annual reminder that we should take some time to think about what we can do to reduce the odds of being a victim when severe weather strikes. Today I’ll write about some of the things I’ve noticed over the last several years. Maybe I can prod you into taking some steps that might someday keep you and your family from injury – or worse.

WHAT I HAVE LEARNED FROM SOCIAL MEDIA
I’ve been active on a few social media sites for quite a while now. During this time I’ve noticed some trends that, quite frankly, surprise the heck out of me. And, these trends don’t appear to be getting better, which is why I’m going to talk about them here.

TREND #1: A LOT OF PEOPLE HAVE NO IDEA WHERE THEY ARE ON A MAP

This one shocks me every time I see it on social media. When our weather service issues a Watch or a Warning for our area, I almost always get asked if the warning or watch includes a specific town or village. Each NWS alert almost always includes a map of the area included in the watch/warning area. I try to post these on social media along with a description of the Warning headline.

Take notice that the weather service no longer issues Warnings for the whole county – just for the most likely area of the county where a storm or tornado may affect. Usually, the warned area is in the shape of a polygon. EXAMPLE:

The warning polygon can cover a large area of the county AND it can cover multiple counties. This one happens to cover the southern half of Tuscarawas County. It also extends west and includes a small portion of Coshocton County.

The maps will certainly not include the name of every community in the warning area, but it will show some of the larger, more populated towns and villages. In order to understand whether you’re in the warning area of not you need to be familiar with surrounding communities. From my experience, there are a lot of folks who can’t figure this out.

Thunderstorm and tornado Watches often include large geographical areas and will many times include parts of the state. Again, the weather service will publish a map showing where the Watch area is. In order to know if your area is under a Watch, you need to have an idea of where Tuscarawas (or your) County is in relation to the state. Again, there are those who don’t have a clue.

So, basically, if you don’t have a general idea where you are on a map, you don’t know if weather hazards might affect you or not.

TIP: Familiarize yourself and know where your town, village, neighborhood is in relation to the county. AND use a state map of Ohio to learn where Tuscarawas County is in relation to the state. Memorize the shape of our county – each one is different. Lock it into memory and know where you live. This is basic stuff, I know, but way too many people really have no idea.

Most folks in northern portions of Tuscarawas County follow Cleveland TV stations in severe weather situations. Cleveland and northeast Ohio are under the jurisdiction of NWS Cleveland. However, Tuscarawas County (as well as Coshocton, Carroll, Muskingum, Guernsey, Harrison) full under NWS Pittsburgh coverage area. Weather alerts for our area originate out of Pittsburgh – NOT Cleveland. This is important to know.

TREND #2: MANY PEOPLE SIMPLY DON’T PAY ATTENTION

Everyone is busy these days. Shocker – it’s ALWAYS been that way. We try our best to let folks know about potentially hazardous weather as soon as we can. Sometimes we’ll talk about the potential for severe weather several days in advance.

The Storm Prediction Center, a part of the National Weather Service, monitors the country for severe weather potential and publishes daily outlooks. Those outlooks highlight areas where they think severe weather may develop. We publish these outlooks, along with a map (there’s that map thing again) that shows the area of Ohio most likely to be affected by severe weather. EXAMPLE:

These maps, along with the severe outlook, are published as much as three days before a suspected event. We also publish the 3, 2, and 1-day outlooks when severe weather threatens. This means you can actually have a good idea of the severe weather situation as much as three days ahead of time – THREE DAYS.

That’s your signal to pay a little more attention to the weather over the next few days. As it gets closer to the event, more details will come into focus. The area of greatest concern may change and so will the forecast, but by paying attention, you’ll have a much better idea of what may be headed our way, what the threats are, and who is most at risk.

Not knowing until the last minute – when the tornado warning is issued – is just tempting fate. It’s too late to make a plan; to decide where the safest place is; to get prepared.

Simply paying attention to the weather can be a life-saver.

TREND #3: WAY TOO MANY THINK OUTDOOR TORNADO SIRENS ARE THE ULTIMATE WARNING SYSTEM

Those outdoor tornado sirens were developed out of technology used during the Second World War. For those historically challenged, that’s the 1940s. It is now 2019. We’ve developed better ways of warning for tornadoes – and other hazards as well – over the last 75 years.

Those outdoor sirens DO have their place. If you work outdoors in a community that has them. That’s the real reason why we have them. Tornado sirens were never intended to warn people INDOORS or in a vehicle. You or your family will probably never hear one in the middle of the night when the wind is howling, rain or hail beating on the house and windows.

Sirens are not activated automatically, nor are they activated by the National Weather Service. There is no standard as to when or who activates them – it’s left up to each community to decide that. PLUS, in most instances, tornado sirens are activated ONLY for tornadoes. They usually don’t sound for other severe weather threats like strong winds, hail, and flood.

So, what IS a more reliable way to get weather warnings?

A weather radio is by far the best and most reliable way to receive alerts on EVERY type of weather hazard – not just tornadoes. Plus, much like a smoke and carbon monoxide detector, they will wake you in the middle of the night – when you and your family are most vulnerable. They’re inexpensive ($20 0 $40) and programmable for your area and the hazards you want to be warned for.

Weather radios are activated directly by the National Weather Service. They will sound an alarm the second NWS issues an alert.

You can also use your cell phone. There are many good weather warning apps available for all phone platforms. Personally, I use the FEMA App. It’s programmable and free. It’s non-commercial, so you won’t get any ads. I’ve been using it for 5 years on my phone and it’s never failed me or sent a false alarm. Just make sure you have the volume turned up so the alarm can wake you at night.

Local TV and radio is another way to get warnings during the day but they’re pretty useless at night when you have them turned off.

CONCLUSION

There you have it. My rant on the three biggest severe weather trends I see on social media. I have others but these are most common and repetitive ones that I notice locally.

  • Know where you live
  • Pay attention to the weather
  • Have a reliable way to get information and Warnings

Take some responsibility for your own safety and the safety of your family. Every year we read or see the news stories about the injuries and deaths weather brought to other communities. We think it can’t happen here – but it can happen here. Taking a few simple steps toward awareness and safety can go a long way with reducing your chances of becoming a victim.

The sad part of this for me is that I know the people who should read this probably won’t.