SKYWARN urges islanders to become weather spotters
There are still fresh memories of Hurricane Charley, which drove a swath of destruction through each of Sanibel and Captiva islands in 2004.
Scars of Charley still persist, despite over a decade of tropical growth. But as every Southwest Floridian knows, weather is a big issue on the coast.
The National Weather Service, as well as local weather forecasters, have the best technology the world can offer for tracking dangerous weather cells and where it maybe going.
But even with all the radars, satellites and technology, the NWS still depends on the human eye to help send out warnings and advisories.
This was the topic during the SKYWARN Captiva Hurricane Preparedness Committee’s annual program at the Captiva Yacht Club Tuesday, March 17, in front of a full house.
“When we get weather spotter reports, it lends more credibility to our reports,” said NWS warning coordination meteorologist Daniel Noah, who is based out of Tampa Bay.
A thunderstorm is rated severe when winds reach up to 58 miles per hour or there is quarter-inch size hail. When a “watch” is issued, it means be cautious and watch the sky. A “warning” means take shelter.
One of the most effective ways weather spotters can be used by the NWS is by reporting rotation in the clouds. Even though radar can detect tornados or water spouts, they cannot see underneath the storm, thus making weather spotters reporting rotation in them a vital component.
For the NWS to issue a tornado warning, they want to be sure one is a serious threat to the public.
“We don’t want to issue bad tornado warnings, because then people stop listening to them,” Noah said.
Some steps to take if a tornado is on the ground, which happens on average 52 times a year in Florida – good for 10th in the United States – include:
n Watch for other tornadoes which could form in the vicinity of the tornado you are watching.
n Never try to outrun a tornado. Immediately get into a sturdy structure.
n Do not take shelter under bridges or overpasses.
Flying and falling debris is the most dangerous hazards during a tornado, that’s why getting into a sturdy shelter is important.
“Also, for it to be considered a water spout or tornado, you must see rotation,” Noah added.
When observing potential dangerous weather, a weather spotter needs to call into the NWS and report their sighting. They will be asked their location and exactly where they are seeing the potential bad weather.
There are other hazards which come from the sky, as well, including lighting, downbursts (a strong downdraft with an outrush of damaging winds on or near the ground, which can reach up to 100 mph), hail and severe thunderstorms.
“Shelf clouds can be green, black, blue or white,” Noah said. “Green equals dangerous, because it either has a boatload of water in the cloud or there is big hail.”
Of course, the big daddy of them all is the hurricane or tropical storms. Although the winds of a hurricane are damaging, storm surge is devastating.
In the last 163 years, 82 storms came within 75 miles of Fort Myers.
“Luckily, most were tropical storms, but in the case of having an unfortunate Category 3 or 4, we have had 22 of them,” Noah said.
Last year, there were eight storms formed out in the tropics from a 5,000 mile range between Brownsville, Texas and the coast of Africa. The average is 12 storms per year.
“None affected this area and we haven’t had a hurricane since 2005, which puts us in a nice hurricane drought,” Noah said. “That has never happened in our current history, which started being recorded in 1851.”
But Noah added forecasters can’t use statistics to predict hurricanes, because there just isn’t enough data to do so.
When a hurricane is predicted to come through a certain area, it is recommended to evacuate tens of miles from the path, not hundreds of miles.
An evacuation is issued for two reasons, which include if you live in the path of a storm surge or if you live in manufactured homes.
Noah and FOX 4 meteorologist Jaime Kagol, who also spoke at the presentation, recommended to follow local coverage, because they are much more detailed than the national weather channels.
“We work hand-in-hand with the National Weather Service and we act as the loudspeaker to the public,” Kagol said. “My mantra is take one day at a time, one storm at a time. All storms have their own personalities.”
Noah also included the NWS is seeking ambassadors, who once signed up, will be sent email notifications about education. The ambassador then will share that information with friends and their groups, just to get the word out.
Go to www.weather.gov/tampa to become an ambassador or a weather spotter or to find out forecasted weather.
The Captiva Hurricane Preparedness Committee will also host a presentation Thursday, May 7, at the new Captiva Fire Station, starting at 3 p.m. The public is welcome or go to www.mycaptiva.info.
Paul McCarthy of Captiva Cruises added they will be hosting a weather cruise aboard the Lady Chadwick for everyone who attended the March 17 presentation at the Captiva Yacht Club.
Kagol will be the featured speaker during the cruise.