Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Weather and Technology - The Tornadoes

Yesterday, tornadoes killed over 50 people here in the United States while they slept. The local media did a good job of putting up watches and warnings ... but it wasn't enough.

As I write this, the same system that wreaked havoc across four states, is passing over my office with severe thunderstorms .... in the middle of winter. Certainly much less intense than the system that they experienced.

Here in the US, there are several commercial companies, the US National Weather Service, a host of amateur weather stations like ours, volunteer amateur radio operators, as well as professional storm chasers, and others, all of whom contribute to pinpointing dangerous weather.

Weather technology has improved dramatically in the past few years.

Those of you that know me (or have visited some of my other websites or blogs) know that I'm somewhat of a weather fanatic. Last summer, I had the pleasure of touring AccuWeather headquarters in State College, Pennsylvania with my long time internet colleague, friend and AccuWeather meteorologist Jesse Ferrell.

A self-proclaimed seasoned 'weather veteran', I was literally floored by the size, scope, and yes computing power at the facility. Racks on top of racks of computing power, looking at dozens (hundreds?) of computer models, calculating possibilities, and feeding that information to a team of over 100 meteorologists. Prior to this, I had no idea of the independence and intensity of their forecasting ability ... or the sincere pride in what they do.

I was proud to read this account late today from AccuWeather:

"Yesterday, the deadliest outbreak of tornadoes in over twenty years killed more than 50 people across Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Alabama.
In extreme weather situations like this, mere minutes can make the difference between life and death. During this event, AccuWeather fulfilled its mission to save lives and protect property with reliable and timely forecasts.
Beginning on Monday, the free website correctly warned users in the Memphis area of "Severe thunderstorms (which) can bring downpours, large hail, damaging winds, and a tornado (Tuesday night)." Other popular forecasting web sites were calling only for strong storms, even as Memphis was hit by a tornado.
AccuWeather pinpoint-accurate forecasts for numerous business clients, including one manufacturing plant north of Oxford, Miss. Two tornado warnings had been issued by the National Weather Service for parts of the county, but none for the area of the plant itself. correctly warned their client that the manufacturing plant would be hit by a tornado between 5:50 PM and 6:15 PM. The plant took precautionary measures to close down its production line and to protect sensitive equipment and its employees. At 5:59 PM, the plant was indeed struck by a tornado."

The point of this story is fairly simple.

For $20 or $30, your can buy a weather radio receiver that automatically turns on in the event of impending weather, a National emergency, or other life-threatening events.

It doesn't matter where you live as those in Westchester, NY found out last year. Consider the fact that numerous earthquakes occur ever day. As in this case, it's only the larger events that we read about, or see on TV.

I've said it before in other places.

If you don't own a SAME-encoded NOAA weather receiver, get one. It's just as important as the smoke detector in your home.

If this post serves to save one life 10 years from now, it was worth it.

Jesse has posted some videos of yesterday's horrific system here . (Note: Jesse's blog is not story-keyed, so you may have to scroll down). You can also follow him on Twitter here .
He's a modest guy with a complete fascination for weather.

There's no disputing we have a long way to go with the science of predicting weather, particularly when it comes to hurricanes. Many companies are hard at work on it right now.

God's speed and our very sincere prayers to those who lost loved ones in this horrific event.