Southern New England Severe Weather Awareness Week
By: Tim Studebaker
PROVIDENCE, R.I. – We’ve survived winter, and all those nor’easters. Now, in late spring, other weather risks come into the picture, including severe thunderstorms and even tornadoes. That’s why the National Weather Service is using this week to warn people about the dangers, and how best to prepare.
The first week of May is Severe Weather Awareness Week in southern New England. Planning now, instead of waiting until the last second, could make all the difference, keeping you safe when storms strike.
Severe weather may not be as common here in southern New England as in some other parts of the country. But, when the ingredients come together, we can and do see severe thunderstorms, strong winds, hail, and even tornadoes.
Rhode Island has had 13 tornadoes since 1950. That may not sound like a lot, but when they happen, they can have a real impact.
Think back to 2011 when an EF-3 tornado ripped through Springfield, Massachusetts during the evening commute, killing four people and injuring dozens of others. It flipped cars and whipped dangerous debris through the air. All in all, the tornado caused millions of dollars in damage.
It’s a sobering reminder that severe weather doesn’t wait for you to be prepared. It strikes whether you’re ready or not. That goes for every kind of dangerous weather: tornadoes, severe thunderstorms, tropical storms, and hurricanes to name a few.
The ABC6 Stormtracker team of meteorologists has you covered on air, online, and on social media. All through severe weather and hurricane season, we’ll keep you ahead of the storm.
To help you make a severe weather plan, here’s a severe weather FAQ:
Q: What is severe weather?
A: Generally, the term applies to strong thunderstorms that meet particular criteria for wind speed (58 mph or greater) and/or hail size (1 inch or larger in diameter). Tornadoes and any thunderstorms that produce a tornado would fall into the severe weather category as well. These storms have a high potential to cause damage or injury, and are therefore classified differently from a typical thunderstorm. Note: A thunderstorm is defined as severe by these criteria, regardless of rain amounts or lightning frequency. Although these can be quite dangerous, they are not part of the definition of a severe thunderstorm. There are other watches and warnings issued for rain related threats, such as flood or flash flood warnings.
Here in southern New England, for the purposes of weather safety planning, one could consider tropical weather such as tropical storms and hurricanes to fall under the severe weather category.
Q: What’s the difference between a watch and a warning?
A: A watch is issued when the ingredients and potential for the formation of a particular weather event, such as severe thunderstorms or tornadoes, are expected within a particular time frame. A warning means the weather event is happening or highly likely to happen soon. Note: The strength (EF-0 through EF-5) of a tornado is not communicated as part of a warning. Heed the warning and get to a safe place immediately. Tornadoes are rated after the fact, when the National Weather Service can get to the location and survey the damage left behind.
Q: What should I do when severe weather threatens?
A: If a thunderstorm is approaching, whether or not a warning has been issued, make every effort to get to an indoor location, away from windows. In particular, if a severe thunderstorm or tornado approaches, get to the lowest level of a sturdy building, away from windows. It’s important to put as many walls between you and the outdoors as you can. Flying debris, falling trees, breaking windows, and more can become a hazard to you. If you are stuck outdoors, a car may protect you from lightning, but not from large hail, falling trees, or flying debris if winds are strong enough. Make every effort to get to a sturdy building. Mobile homes and other non-sturdy buildings do not protect you from severe weather like a sturdy building can. If stuck outside with no building to go to, lay flat on the ground in the lowest spot you can find and protect your head and neck from flying debris.
Q: Do we ever really see tornadoes in southern New England?
A: We do on occasion. Rhode Island has been averaging approximately one tornado every 5 years, though not necessarily spaced apart evenly. We’ve had 13 tornadoes since 1950. Most are weak, EF-0 or EF-1 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale. Most of New England’s tornadoes happen inland, with fewer at the coast. Stronger tornadoes have happened. Just back in 2011, in and around nearby Springfield, Massachusetts, an EF-3 tornado killed 4 people and caused millions of dollars in damage.
Q: What should I do now to prepare?
A: Come up with a plan. Keep in mind, severe weather may strike at any point in your day. You may be at home, work, school, or on the road. When severe weather is in the forecast, plan safe places into your day so you are never caught off guard. Stock up on supplies such as non-perishable food, water, batteries, and a battery powered radio so you can receive updates during and after severe weather. Have more than one way to receive severe weather alerts in case power fails. Alerts can be received via television, radio, smart phone, NOAA weather radio, and more. Have a plan to reunite with family if communication tools are not available.