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Freak Storms? Are they really that common?

The power of wind is seen as this man struggles just to stand up!
The power of wind is seen as this man struggles just to stand up!
Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Yesterday I heard people who were interviewed by the National Media say things like "this is was a freak storm came out of nowhere." I guess in their mind, it did come out of nowhere. In reality, this was forecast to happen. For a couple days, computer model data indicated that a significant severe weather episode could develop over portions of the New England area. Even Good Morning America's "National" Meteorologist highlighted the threat before it happened. She was also one of first I heard to say that no one should have been caught off guard by the storms.

We have the privileged of living in a world where computer model data gives us information that was unheard of as recently as 20 years ago. The weather community as a whole has come a long way and it continues to break new ground each year learning more and more about this relatively "young" science of meteorology.

All of this happened well away from Alabama. Unfortunately, at last count, at least five people including a child perished in the storms of July 8th. We are all to aware of what we call "pop up" storms that happen on an almost regular basis here in the Deep South. Sometimes a washed out cold front, or an upper level disturbance can enhance the rain and storm chances. From time to time, we have large areas of damaging winds that originate hundreds of miles to our northwest and transcend southeastward toward Alabama giving us quite significant straight line wind events. If these events meet a certain criteria (are large enough, last long enough), they are called a "derecho."

Summer storms tend to being more lightning with them than storms in the cold season. Lightning kills over 100 Americans every year. Although we are equipped with some of the best (if not the best) lightning detection systems in the world, no one knows where that FIRST strike will happen. It's the first strike that is often a deadly one. Hurricanes don't typically produce a lot of lightning in themselves. It's the spiraling bands that become land-born that produce lightning. It's also those that you have to watch out for the potential of producing small (but damaging) tornadoes.

Tornadoes are relatively rare, but not unheard here in this portion of the world this time of the year. Most however are tropical storm/hurricane induced. Once a tropical system makes landfall, the difference in pressure gradient combined with the spiral bands and the shear produced by the tropical system itself, often sets the stage for isolated tornadoes. Then again, some strong hurricanes have hit hard wind and water wise, but failed to produce many tornadoes (sometimes none). We as a weather community continue to study to decide exactly why that is.

So the bottom line is this. My heart aches for the families of those who lost loved ones during yesterdays severe weather in New England, but the fact is, this was an event that was well forecast. We have to get it through peoples minds that they aren't always going to hear a siren (usually most will not). Also, you need to think of severe weather protection as an onion. An onion has layers, and you need several layers of protection to keep you and your family safe during severe weather, regardless of whether it's our traditional tornado season or not.

Think out of the box! Helmets, blankets, flashlights, bottled drinks, and medicine should all be put together on days that severe weather is in the forecast and ready to be gathered at a moments notice. There are a couple of great APPS out there that help you during severe weather. I prefer WeatherCall. It isn't free, but the ones that are free are not INSTANT the way WeatherCall, MyWarn, and others are. When the lives of you and your family counts, EVERY second counts.

Enjoy the remainder of your week, and "weather or not, make it great!"

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