Storm with lightning.
Photo Credit | Shaun Fisher - FlickrCC

From the Field: Severe Weather Awareness Week 2016

Where does your weather forecast actually come from?

We’ve already sprung forward and hopefully you changed your smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector batteries! Now it’s time to prepare for the spring storms that may come our way. In many states, this week is Severe Weather Awareness Week. Through Severe Weather Awareness Week, the National Weather Service (NWS) wants to make sure the public is informed about the weather hazards spring brings and help them avoid injuries through tips and safety plans.

As Weather Ready Nation Ambassadors, ALPS was invited to an open house at the National Weather Service’s Forecast Office in Pleasant Hill, MO to kick-off Severe Weather Awareness Week 2016. The group in attendance included City/County Emergency Management Officials and others responsible for emergency planning.

(You can find Severe Weather tips and plans from the Kansas City/Pleasant Hill Forecast Office HERE)

SEVERE WEATHER WATCHES & WARNINGS – HOW THEY SPREAD THE MESSAGE

Rather fascinating to learn about how they forecast weather, but almost more so about how they attempt to get that forecast and warnings about severe weather out to the public. The NWS is always seeking the best method they can use to get information out more quickly and in a manner that actually prompts people to take action. TV and the sirens are still the top methods by which the public receives their information about severe weather, though there are weather radios and cell phone alerts too.

How watches, warnings and other alerts are delivered can make the difference between life and death. The Forecast Meteorologist from the NWS team told us a story of a woman driving through Dallas in December of last year. The woman was talking to her friend on her cell phone and mentioned that she was receiving severe weather alerts, but wasn’t sure if she should take cover or not. Unfortunately, the woman receiving the alert died when her car was thrown by a tornado. Though she received the alert, she wasn’t sure how to act on it.

Spreading your message is one thing, but communicating the message in such a way that your audience acts on that message is a real challenge. We face a similar challenge with loss prevention. At ALPS, we are always asking ourselves how we can tailor our methods of communication so that our message is better received and that it actually helps our real estate investors, property managers and tenants protect property and keep families safe. Did our e-blast actually prompt someone to go out and shut the water off at their vacant property before the pipes froze and burst this winter, for example.

DELIVERING AN ACCURATE MESSAGE TAKES A TEAM

Weather forecasting and reporting is something you can simply take for granted, but it takes a variety of partners to accomplish that task. From spotters all around the city to police and fire departments to local news media, it takes a big team to get timely information out to the public. How does it relate to what we do at ALPS? One example, our flood information comes straight from the NWS national site. We rely on their timely data to us so that we can effectively deliver information to help National Real Estate Insurance Group (NREIG) underwrite certain weather-related risks. We also use their data to help us discover areas that may have been affected by tornadoes or other severe weather so that we can reach out to clients in their time of need.

SITE TOUR & NWS TECHNOLOGY

Lastly, we took a tour to see some of the equipment that they use to forecast and make measurements of current weather conditions. Some of it was fairly sophisticated and other methods were so simple that you or I could do them in our backyard… For example, the radar that they use is kind of cool to see… it is housed in what they call the “soccer ball”:

NWS Kansas City's Radar Tower
NWS Kansas City’s Radar Tower

The radar is a dish inside the ball that rotates continually. It takes about 10 minutes to do one rotation (they run it a little faster when severe weather is detected in the area). With each rotation the tilt is changed to scan various levels of the atmosphere. The NWS team did mention that there are new radar technologies coming that can pinpoint scan for a specific storm. Instead of moving in a circular motion, they can scan vertically so that time is not wasted scanning areas that are not relevant to the current weather patterns. The “phased array” radar may not be implemented in our area for a few more years because of the budget, but just another example of their constant quest to deliver timely and accurate information to the public.

Those methods that you or I could do? Well, collecting rain and snow totals on their premises is pretty darn simple. Have a funnel, brass cylinder and a measuring stick? You can see how much it has rained today. Or a couple of plastic plates and ruler? You could measure the snow depth. They did have kind of a cool tube that measures how deep the ground freezes in the winter, but the materials they use for it seemed like they may be available at your local hardware store. I guess some science tools don’t need to be sophisticated to get the job done.

VISIT IMPRESSIONS

Overall, it was a nice afternoon visit and an insider view into something that we can take for granted on a daily basis. It’s really kind of amazing that they are able to get as accurate as they do when you see all the pieces that go into a forecast. Historically, the science of weather forecasting is still relatively new. The invention of the telegraph in the 1840’s allowed weather observations to be communicated to other parts of the country, the use of radar to make weather observations started after World War II and organizing radar into coordinated networks was accomplished as late as the 1970’s.

LOCAL SIREN TESTING THIS WEEK

As part of Severe Weather Awareness Week (and as the luck of the Irish would have it!) there will be a test of the Emergency Broadcast System (Radio/Sirens) in the Kansas City Metro area Thursday, March 17th at 1:30PM. There may be other tests this week in your area. When you hear the siren you should think about what plans you have in place to keep you, your loved ones and your tenants safe in the event of severe weather. And remember that there’s a whole team of people in the community that are committed to your safety. Pretty amazing really.

HOW TO FIND YOUR LOCAL NWS OFFICE & FORECASTS

The NWS Pleasant Hill Forecast Office website is www.weather.gov/kc and they can also be found on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/NWSKansasCity/?fref=ts  and Twitter @NWSKansasCity. As there are 122 local NWS forecasting offices, there may be one near you. To find your local office, simply search by city/state or zipcode on the main NWS site. Each local office has their own website and social media sites so you can stay informed about weather in your area or in any out-of-state property’s neighborhood.

We will also be sharing seasonal weather safety tips on our Facebook and Twitter pages.

This has been an ALPS “From the Field” report,

BreAnn and Rick

Weather-Ready Nation Ambassador™ and the Weather-Ready Nation Ambassador™ logo are trademarks of the U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, used with permission.