Meteorological Twitter has been pretty quiet of late. In fact, the only real “hot-topic” cooking up is about heat—no surprise in the summer months. This subject is revisited every summer and it often has to do with criteria. What constitutes a heat advisory? How about an excessive heat warning? As the weather wise know, answers to those questions vary based on location. But there are some broader points to the heat narrative that inspire further discussion. Scientists always seem to want hard and fast rules—or certain thresholds. Does a certain ambient temperature need to be reached? Should it simply focus on heat index? How does time factor into the equation?
In many regions of the United States, it is severe weather season. Traveling around the country, you might find yourself facing tropical storms, intense straight-line winds, a derecho, flooding, hail large enough to demand you wear a helmet, lightning, and of course, tornadoes. And just when you thought it was safe to enjoy summer!
In the weather community, many professionals from a wide range of positions both public and private have their eyes and thoughts focused on the communication challenges created by the act of weather forecasting. Small wonder given the formidable list of hazards covered in those forecasts. Nature has the upper hand and sometimes the best thing we can do is duck. But we have to know WHEN to do that.
I remember it because I was extremely unhappy with the rain. The rain canceled the scheduled baseball game at Strickland Park in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Never heard of it? Can’t blame you, as most baseball games for 9 and 10 year olds rarely get any press. While we were unable to play the game, an F3 tornado moved through town about an hour after our game, cementing a fascination with severe weather that remains to today. Had I been older, I may have been one of the American Legion team which took shelter in the dugout at their ballpark at Couch Park. (http://stillwaterweather.com/stwfriday13thtornado.html)
It is the season for misinformation! So let’s get things cleared up. Focused on effective communication, Mike Nelson and thewxsocial would like to share some brief and efficient severe weather facts. For continued in-depth analysis of severe weather communication, visit some of our other blogs on the thewxsocial.com homepage!
For meteorologists, lightning is recognized as the thunderstorm hazard with perhaps a greater probability of death than any other. According to the National Weather Service Storm Data, from 1984 – 2013, the United States averaged 49 reported lightning fatalities per year. Only about 10% of people who are struck by lightning are killed, leaving 90% with various degrees of disability.
For the comparatively small number of people lightning directly affects compared to hurricanes and tornadoes, we can’t seem to get the deadly numbers down. This is not about low predictability, advancing science or improving technology. This is about risk perception and the simple fact that humans have a tendency to ignore small probabilities.
I am a product of the Crescent City. Most of everything that I love can be tied back to my hometown — spicy food, great music, and hurricanes. Especially hurricanes.
In the springtime, I remember looking up as giant river barges floated down the Mississippi River above my parents’ home. I spent hours high atop the levees that cradled the mighty Mississippi. To a young flat lander, those levees felt like mountains of the swampland. In a city whose average elevation is only one to two feet below sea level, they were; a 20–25 ft mound of dirt was the farthest and highest I’d ever been from the water.
“Turn around don’t drown” isn’t working—at least not to its full potential. Meteorologists and media outlets couldn’t be more clear about the dangers of high or rushing water. Heck, television live trucks posted up in front of submerged cars apparently aren’t even strong enough visual cues to keep people away.