WRAL WeatherCenter Blog

Severe Weather Awareness Week

Posted March 2, 2009 7:20 a.m. EST

Many of us woke up this morning with a coating of snow on the ground, so it's hard to think that springtime weather is just around the corner! 

We are on the verge of transitioning into another season, going from the cold, short days of winter to the longer, warmer days of spring and summer. It’s this time of year where we see the weather become more volatile and menacing — certainly not like the winter atmosphere which was more docile. In the coming weeks and months our atmosphere has the potential to churn out some of the most ferocious storms seen anywhere on our planet, so we need to understand what could lie ahead.

Today is the start of Severe Weather Awareness Week across North Carolina. During this week, each of us in the Weather Center — Greg Fishel, Elizabeth Gardner, Mike Moss, Kim Deaner, Nate Johnson and I — will post our impression of what this week means and how you should be aware of the weather situations we could face this spring, summer and fall.

One Threat: Big Hail

Most of us may think that severe weather is confined to the spring months but we here in North Carolina are well aware that severe weather can happen in any month of the year. The atmosphere though is most violent from March through June as we tend to see outbreaks of severe storms due to the clash of the air masses. The month of May in North Carolina usually sees the peak of hailstorms with sights like this quite common.  Hail the size of pennies, nickels, quarters, golf balls, tennis balls and baseballs have been reported throughout the state.

The criterion for severe hail, according to the National Weather Service, is 3/4” in diameter — that's about the size of a penny. Interestingly, there has been a recent push to change that minimum to an inch in diameter. Research conducted by Texas Tech University demonstrated a lack of property damage due to hail until the hailstone sizes reach the 1” diameter threshold. This is roughly the size of a quarter. We will let you know if this push is successful, but for now, hailstones of at least 3/4" diameter count for severe.

Bigger Threat: Nighttime Tornadoes

We do see severe weather through the summer months and into the fall, as well, with another peak in severe weather actually coming in the month of November. More disturbing is the time at which many of our tornadoes strike — at night!  Some of our deadliest tornadoes have occurred in he middle of the night. According to a recent study, our state was ranked first in the nation with the greatest percentage of killer night time tornadoes. Since 1950, out of all the tornado fatalities we have seen, 82% of them occurred at night. This is a very scary statistic, and it begs for the use of a NOAA Weather Radio or a service WRAL Weather Call for protection while we sleep.

The latest of these nighttime tornado outbreaks happened last November in Johnston and Wilson counties.  You may remember the storms that struck the towns of Kenly, Wilson, and Elm City before sunrise. Of course, folks in Raleigh also recall the November 1988 tornado which was particularly devastating.  The worst in recent memory, though, might be the Red Springs outbreak back in March of 1984.  Those storms killed 42 people!  On Wednesday, Chief Meteorologist Greg Fishel will share his recollections of some of the worst tornado outbreaks in the area.

More Threats

Lightning and flooding are also part of the severe weather equation in North Carolina.  Did you know the Tarheel state is struck by lighting around half a million times on average every year?  We also deal with our fair share of flooding which, by the way, is the leading severe weather killer nationwide.  Meteorologists Mike Moss and Elizabeth Gardner will be talking about those on Tuesday and Thursday of this week.

Time to Get Ready

This year the National Weather Service in Raleigh has come up with a new campaign called “Get In, Get Down and Cover Up” devised after such plans as “Turn Around, Don’t Drown” in cases of flooding and “Stop, Drop and Roll”. This campaign describes how you can save your life when severe storms strike.  We'll all have a chance to practice this on Wednesday, when the state will conduct our annual tornado drill at 9;30am.  (Talk to your kids before and after and see what they learn!)

In spite of our best efforts, many people are still injured and even killed by severe weather every year. Whenever severe weather threatens, watches and warnings will be posted, alerting you to the possibility (or actual happenings!) of severe weather. Meteorologist Nate Johnson will follow up on the watch/warning system on Friday.

This week, we hope you learn something about severe weather, not to fear it but respect it and protect yourself from the threat of it.