April 29, 2021
I signed up for weather alerts on my phone and email. Frankly, this was more because I thought I “should” than wanting to be in the know. I have found what the weather service calls a severe storm is rarely what I consider to be one. I realize lightning strikes can cause damage but knowing there was a strike 12 miles away does not go high on my severe list. We were watching the Royals last night and my phone began to ping a severe weather emergency. I ignored the ping and continued watching. Five minutes later I got another ping which I also ignored. Then the tornado sirens went off. While I do not pay much attention to the alerts, I take notice when the sirens sound. Melissa decided to switch to a local channel (the Royals broadcast out of KC) to see what was happening.
Several days ago, I saw a feature on our local channel about how advanced weather forecasting has become since our last tornado. On April 21, 1996, a severe weather outbreak stretched from Northwest Texas to the River Valley. The F3 rated tornado was estimated to be about half a mile wide with a ten-mile-long path. Two people died and multiple others were injured. People have formally attempted to predict the weather since the 19th century. These forecasts are made by collecting quantitative data about the current state of the atmosphere at a given place and using meteorology to project how the atmosphere will change. Weather forecasting now relies on computer-based models that take many atmospheric factors into account, but human input is still required to pick the best forecast model to base the forecast on. Weather forecasting is also big business. In 2009, the US spent approximately $5.1 billion on weather forecasting. That amount has risen over the last 12 years.
The rotating funnel clouds do not become a tornado until they touch down. While we did not get a tornado last night, we did have back-to-back warnings as two rotating cloud systems swept over our town. When I lived in Kansas the tornado sirens and the severe weather that prompted them were common. I have even experienced several tornados. The most severe took place when I was very young and even killed a friend of my sister’s. I only remember that storm from family stories. The severe tornado I really remember was on my grandfather’s farm. This storm went right by the house with grandma and us kids down in the basement. It was severe enough to flatten every building on the property, except the house where we were hiding.
Thoughts: What fascinates me about severe storms is the amazing power they release. When I lived in Kansas I loved to watch as the storms rolled across the flat prairie and then crashed over my location. When I lived in California I would try to come back to Kansas around the 4th of July. Most times I would be welcomed by a severe thunderstorm. The last one came as I was leaving the airport in my rental car just before sunset. I pulled into a stop and watched the storm’s power until the sun went down. While weather forecasting cannot mitigate severe storms and the damage they produce, it can make people aware of the danger and allow time to respond and save lives. The same might be said for the recommendations of the CDC. Despite changes to the recommendations over the past year, the severe result of not paying attention have been proven. Follow the science. Change is coming and it starts with you.