It was only a few days ago that Kentuckiana saw its first episode of gnarly springtime weather; tornadoes, heavy rain, local flooding, and dangerous lightning. As Spring approaches we can expect with certainty the potential for similar weather phenomena to occur.
In fact, the National Weather Service has confirmed that two tornadoes touched down in Kentucky as a cold front swept through the Bluegrass State very early Monday morning. Kentucky State Police Trooper Michael Webb said that one of the tornadoes started in southern Indiana and then crossed the river into northeast Jefferson County, and then spun into Oldham County.
Given the timing of the severe weather and the National Weather Service’s new warning system, many in Jefferson County said they did not hear the warning sirens activate. The National Weather service now uses a polygon-warning method that can better determine and narrow down the area where a tornado is imminent.
In this severe weather episode, the sirens did not activate. A report is soon expected, in which the NWS will examine why there was a rare disconnect between Louisville's MetroSafe system and the weather service, which resulted in no audible severe weather notification being initiated by the sirens.
Most of Kentuckiana’s residents were undoubtedly asleep at the time of the severe weather occurrence, and therefore wouldn't have been able to hear the sirens had they been activated. Many people probably had no other indication that severe weather was upon us other than the loud spanking of rain on the roof, or the eerie sounds of howling wind outside.
That’s why Ben Pine, meteorologist for the WHAS11 First Alert StormTeam says it is so important to purchase a weather radio.
Pine said, “Number one thing: Get a NOAA weather radio; preferably, one that will automatically alert you by sound or light when a tornado warning is issued. Most of us have smoke detectors, and weather radios are just as important. Meteorologists are most afraid of the overnight severe weather event, when most people are sleeping, because they may not wake up in time. An automated weather radio can wake you up if damaging storms are on the way!”
Don't disregard nature's warning: Lightning. If you hear thunder, or see lighting, that's nature's way of alerting you to go inside. It's never safe to be outside in lightning, and you never know what exactly that thunderstorm might be packing - hail, damaging winds, or possibly a tornado. If you hear thunder, go inside and turn on the TV and find out what's going on.”
For the mobile smart phone users out there, there are services available to alert you anytime the National Weather Service issues any kind of advisory, watch or warning deemed serious enough to threaten life or property. The notification comes through to your mobile device via email or text, whichever you prefer. This type of warning system would be ideal in a nighttime situation given the device volume was loud enough to wake you. One advantage of the weather radio is that they are able to produce bright flashes of light in case of a weather warning. You can obtain these mobile alerts from The Weather Channel or Weather Bug.
Pine also says that it's important to note that weather sirens are only capable of alerting those within ear shot of the sound origination.
Pine said, “Remember too, that warning sirens are outdoor warning sirens. They are not meant to alert you indoors. Their main function is to alert you if you are outdoors running errands, or on the soccer field. The indoor alert needs to be from the weather radio or television, not necessarily the outdoor warning sirens.”
The mechanics behind all of this severe weather are a result of the Jet Stream flow changing its transgression across the continental United States in a way that encourages relatively warm, moist air to flow northward into the Ohio Valley while at the same time bringing cold dry air in behind it. There is still lots of cold air to work with this time of year, and the air in the southeast is quite warm and moist given the seasonal increase of the sun’s angle of incidence. Provide a mechanism to cause upward vertical motion of this unstable air and like magic, thunderstorms can and will develop. Mix in a few small variables, and severe weather is possible.
Unfortunately, there is one variable present this season that could amplify all other variables as they pertain to severe weather development. Kentuckiana will be under the influence of the El Niño phenomenon.
The El Niño phenomenon according the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) is defined as unusually warm ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific, as opposed to La Niña, which characterized by unusually cold ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific. La Niña generally translates into more moisture being introduced into the Ohio Valley which provides more readily available fuel for weather in general and especially rain or thunderstorms.
As Kentuckiana gets further into severe weather season, all of us can do something to prepare and keep us abreast of the current weather situation day or night. The consequences of leaving it to chance are all too great.
Photo: Chas Kuhn