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Severe Weather

By Hanna Nilson



“Spotters” are trained citizens who help to report severe weather damage such as fallen trees, power lines and structures, hail, heavy rain, flooding, tornadoes, strong winds, injuries and fatalities.


- John Haase, a National Weather Service meteorologist.


 A night-time tornado illuminated by a nearby lightning strike.

Photograph by Fred Smith in Florida in 1991

Click image for

In March 30th, Severe Weather Awareness Week – Monday Bob Brenzing reports; “The National Weather Service offices in Michigan and the Michigan Committee for Severe Weather Awareness, as well as Governor Jennifer Granholm, has declared this week as Severe Weather Awareness Week in Michigan.” In the Chicago Tribune - Storms Prompt More Iowans to Watch Weather, Mary Nevans-Pederson referred to John Haase, who is a National Weather Service meteorologist and conducts severe weather spotter trainings each year. In her article, John Hasse explains; “It's important to have as many trained spotters as we can because as good as it is, Doppler radar doesn't always show what's happening on the ground. We need the 'ground truth' of the spotters.” He continues to explain that “Spotters” are trained citizens who help to report severe weather damage such as fallen trees, power lines and structures, hail, heavy rain, flooding, tornadoes, strong winds, injuries and fatalities. There are also lessons which provide a better understanding of sever weather alerts and terminology used during weather reports. Some of these terms include “Severe Thunderstorm Warning”, “Tornado Warning” and “Flash Flood” or “Flood Watch”.

 So what is all the fuss about? Why are people becoming more anxious about paying closer attention to and studying sever weather? Well, the answer seems pretty obvious – Knowledge is power! Even against the mighty forces of Mother Nature; an informed citizen has a better chance of survival if they know what to expect.

Most of us are well aware of the damages severe whether can cause. For example, the Farmers Almanac lists some of the most severe weather reports include Hurrican Katrina of 2005, the Blizzard of 1993 a.k.a. Superstorm ’93 and even the F5 Tri-State Tornado of 1925 which caused a U.S. record death toll of 792 and an additional 2,027 injuries! Granted that as meteorological technology advances, our ability to predict local, national and even global weather forecasts continues to become more accurate. Still, some would argue that this is simply not enough. In the Societal Aspects of 2008 Super Tuesday tornado outbreak study, some of the results proved some of the main reasons for victim’s deaths and injuries:

  1. Two-thirds of the victims were in mobile homes (without a safe shelter to go to).
  2. Some people minimized the warning, waiting until they saw the tornado.
  3. Some believed damage only ‘happens to other people.’

Conclusions suggest that with basic education, individuals and communities will be better prepaid to avoid weather related fatalities, injuries and property damage. The results for this survey also indicate a need for more urgent wording in weather alerts and shelters for mobile home parks.

Sever weather is no joke. Improving our current warning systems and protection strategies is indeed a constant effort. You can help move this along by learning more about your local weather patterns and communities sever weather safety measures.


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