Severe Weather Awareness Week: Dangers of severe thunderstorms

LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) – It’s no secret that the High Plains receives a variety of weather.

The spring and summer tend to be an active time of year, with a high potential for lightning, large hail, damaging winds, heavy rain and tornadoes.

March 27 through 31 is Severe Weather Awareness Week.

Now is the time to make preparations that could save your life.

The United States sees about 100,000 thunderstorms a year, but only 10% tend to be severe.

A thunderstorm becomes severe when it produces at least one of the following:

  • Quarter-size hail or larger
  • At least 58 mph winds
  • A tornado

But it didn’t always used to be that way.

“Originally, the criteria for hail was ¾-inch hail,” said Brian Smith, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Valley. “We were issuing a lot of warnings for just ¾-inch-diameter hail. And there was a big fear of us desensitizing the public with severe thunderstorm warnings.”

By 2010, the criteria was pushed to 1 inch.

But it does not take long for a severe thunderstorm to ramp up in intensity — just 30 minutes on average.

That means one or more aspects of a thunderstorm could pose a threat to life and property before you realize.

“We can get winds sometimes that can go over 100 miles an hour,” Smith said. “And when you get to 70 to 75, you start getting trees that will come down. You’ll get power lines coming down. Even bigger hail, baseball or softball size, that type of hail can injure or even kill you if you’re out there unprotected. It has a fall speed of about 90 to 100 miles an hour.”

Usually, you notice that a large area goes under a watch first, covering numerous counties or states.

That’s the time to be ready to act while staying informed.

“It’s kind of nice to have a watch and then a warning, but that doesn’t always occur,” Smith said.

In that case, sometimes meteorologists have to go straight to issuing a warning, meaning severe weather is imminent or occurring. It is time to take shelter.

Warnings usually cover a smaller area around the size of a city or small county.

Before severe weather strikes, develop a plan of action.

Have multiple ways to get weather alerts because all have their limitations.

Again, taking the time now to make preparations could save your life.

Meteorologist Jessica Blum 
Twitter: JessicaBlumWx 
Facebook: JessicaBlumWx

Categories: Channel 8 Eyewitness News Weather, News, Severe Weather, Top Stories, Weather