Spring Severe Weather Awareness: Step 3 Know Your Risk

Posted Tuesday, March 23, 2021

In the previous step we talked about the importance of maps and how critical it is for you to be able to spot your general location on a map. Meteorologists use maps extensively to convey severe weather threats and the severity of storm threats. There are several maps and charts that I and many forecasters use to help you understand each situation. You can then use this information to make your severe weather plan.

Forecasters have many good tools at their disposal. However, they are just tools. Weather forecasting also requires skills that only human beings are capable of. We in the U.S. are blessed to have several agencies with well-trained and dedicated folks that continually keep a close eye on weather threats. These entities are saddled with the responsibility of determining the severe weather risk and alerting the public to those risks.

These are mostly technical publications produced by NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center (SPC) in Norman, OK. They are produced approximately every 6 hours and give a detailed explanation of the risk types and risk areas across the country. They do this for every day going out 7 days.

Because weather is constantly changing, weather outlooks change with time. For the most part, we concentrate severe weather outlooks only going out 3 days. This also is a good time period that allows folks to be aware of potentially severe weather in a timely manner giving them ample time to prepare.

I publish the Day-1 through Day-3 outlooks on TuscWeather should the outlooks indicate the potential for severe weather to impact our area. The SPC categorizes the severe weather threat using 5 levels – Level 1 being the lowest threat and Level 5 is the highest.

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The Storm Prediction Center is also responsible for issuing Severe Thunderstorm and Tornado Watches. These are usually issued on Day 1 of the event. A Watch is your cue that conditions for severe storms are present. Pay attention to the weather for changing conditions and the possibility of a Warning.

You can browse the SPC website for severe weather information, get the outlooks and discussions, as well as historic weather information from the past.

HWO’s are published by our local National Weather Service office. Our local office is located in Pittsburgh – NOT Cleveland. Many local folks don’t know this and it’s important to know where your weather alerts originate from.

HWO’s are usually released 34 to 48 hours ahead of any expected weather hazards – including severe storms. I include an HWO on our website home page when it’s issued for our area. It’s another indication that there are chances severe weather may occur in our area.

Watches are issued several hours in advance of impending severe weather. They are yet another indications that the potential for damaging and/or dangerous weather may occur locally. A Watch is a strong signal for you to be ready for severe weather should it develop.

A Warning means that severe weather is occurring or is about to occur. If you hear a Warning, it is your cue to take action and get to your safe space without delay. Warnings are only issued by the local NWS office.

Access NWS Pittsburgh for more information on local severe weather including a complete listing of local tornadoes since 1950.

By the way, weather warnings are NOT based on counties. Many folks don’t know that, either. The NWS has not used counties as a basis for weather Warnings in over 10 years. Warnings are issued and indicated by the use of a polygon. If you hear a warning for your county it doesn’t necessarily mean you. This is yet another reason why it’s so important for you to know where you are on a map.

EXAMPLE of an NWS Warning Polygon that covers parts of multiple counties.

While there are many good commercial weather resources available I personally cannot recommend one. I do not use commercial weather resources. I’m not saying you shouldn’t. I’m just saying I personally don’t use them mainly because I’ve learned to get information directly from the source without delay or embellishment. Your situation may be different and more convenient. I would never rely on a national weather media provider for my information.

Knowing your severe weather risk takes some time and effort. I suggest that you pay special attention of your risk during peak risk days in the spring and summer. Getting a heads up ahead of time can give you extra time to prepare and make changes to your daily plans should severe weather be in the forecast.

The odds of severe storms or a tornado hitting your home or neighborhood is low, but by no means zero. It only takes one storm – the one that hits your neighborhood – that becomes YOUR disaster.

Part of my personal mission with TuscWeather is to help my friends and neighbors become more aware of our local weather and the threats we face here in Tuscarawas County. I’ve lived long enough to witness first-hand the sadness, death, and destruction Mother Nature can do. I encourage you to take simple steps to become more aware and better prepared for what may be an active storm season.

You can help by sharing info with your friends, neighbors, and relatives. Be safe out there.



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