Severe Weather Awareness Guide

Be prepared for severe weather this season

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(WZZM) - The 2015 Severe Weather Season is here and we can be certain that we will have storms. We will probably have several "run-of-the-mill" thunderstorms, for sure, but we will also likely see some storms that pack a little more punch. West Michigan does get hit by storms with high winds, vivid lightning, and damaging hail, but last summer was a great reminder, we can get hit by tornadoes too.

In this guide, we'll take a look back at the Palm Sunday Tornado of 1965 when West Michigan was hit by one of the strongest tornadoes in state history. We'll also take a look back at just last summer when a tornado surprised us all on a Sunday night and caused significant damage in Wyoming and Kentwood. And, of course, we'll give you the information and the resources to help keep you safe this season.

Palm Sunday 1965

The Big One Hits

The 1965 Palm Sunday tornado outbreak occurred on April 11–12, 1965. Tornadoes struck in Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa. 47 tornadoes were reported, and at the time, it was the second-largest outbreak on record. A total of 271 people were killed throughout the Midwest.

In West Michigan, five people were killed when a large F4 tornado tore through Comstock Park and Alpine Township. Thirty-four homes were destroyed and nearly 200 others damaged. 150 people were injured.

Click here for our Palm Sunday Tornado Anniversary Special

Another smaller tornado killed one person north of Middleville where a trailer and five homes were destroyed. Two F3 tornadoes tore through Kalamazoo and Barry Counties, destroying dozens of homes and buildings. All-in-all, 28 people were killed in Michigan by tornadoes on April 11.

Seventeen of the tornadoes that day across the 450-mile path were F4 in strength. Today, we have the "Enhanced Fujita" scale to represent tornado strength. Some of the F4s that day could have been EF 5 today.

In comparison, the tornado that struck Wyoming and Kentwood in July of 2014 was an EF 1.

July 6, 2014

Wyoming and Kentwood Surprise

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On the night of Sunday, July 6, a strong thunderstorm moved onshore in Ottawa County. A Severe Thunderstorm

Warning was issued, but as the storm moved east and no severe weather was reported, the warning expired.

But the storm cell moved into Kent County and strengthened as it sped along the M-6 corridor. As the cell was leaving Wyoming, a tornado developed and started a six-plus-mile path of destruction into Kentwood.

The tornado started near the M-6 and US-131 interchange and knocked over construction cranes for rent at Titan Equipment Center on Clyde Park Avenue SW.

Tornado caught on surveillance video

After skipping over US-131 and damaging some businesses along the highway, Ideal Park in Wyoming took a direct hit. Homes in Kentwood were next in the path as the tornado wound its way though the shopping plaza at 44th and Kalamazoo and then finally dissipated near 32nd and Breton SE.

Miraculously, no one was killed or even seriously injured. Damages though totaled in the several of millions of dollars and Ideal Park in Wyoming needs to be completely rebuilt - a process beginning this summer.

Staying Safe and Definitions

Know What To Do When The Sirens Go Off

From the National Weather Service...

Before a tornado:

During any thunderstorm, listen to local news or a NOAA Weather Radio to stay informed about tornado watches and warnings

Know how your community sends warning. Some communities in tornado prone areas have sirens. Others depend on media and smart phones to alert residents to severe storms.

Pick a tornado safe room in your home such as a basement, storm cellar or an interior room on the lowest floor with no windows. Make sure all members of your family know to go there. Don't forget pets if time allows.

Conduct a family tornado drill regularly so everyone knows what to do if a tornado is approaching.

Take CPR training so you can help someone hurt during a tornado.

Include the phone number for your local power company in your cell phone so you can report outages.

Have a family plan that includes an emergency meeting place.

During a tornado:

The safest place to be is an underground shelter, basement or safe room.If no underground shelter or safe room is available, a small, windowless interior room or hallway on the lowest level of a sturdy building is the safest alternative.

Mobile homes are not safe during tornadoes or other severe winds.

If you are caught outdoors, seek shelter in a basement, shelter or sturdy building.If you cannot quickly walk to a shelter immediately get into a vehicle, buckle your seat belt and try to drive to the closest sturdy shelter.

If you see large objects flying past while you are driving, pull over and park. You now have two choices:Stay in the car with the seat belt on. Put your head down below the windows, covering with your hands and a blanket if possible.

If you can safely get noticeably lower than the level of the roadway, in a deep ditch for instance, exit your car and lie in that area, covering your head with your hands.

After a tornado:

Continue listening to local news or a NOAA Weather Radio

If you are away from home, return only when authorities say it is safe to do so. Listen to the radio, TV or other media.

Tornado debris may include sharp or dangerous objects. When walking through a tornado site, wear long pants, a long-sleeved shirt and sturdy shoes.

Watch out for fallen power lines or broken gas lines. Report downed lines immediately to your local power company.

Stay out of damaged buildings.Use battery-powered flashlights when examining buildings. Do NOT use candles which could start a fire.If you smell gas or hear a blowing or hissing noise, open a window and get everyone out of the building quickly. Once everyone is out, immediately call the gas company or fire department.

Carbon monoxide poisoning is one of the leading causes of death after storms when areas are dealing with power outages. Never use a portable generator inside your home or garage. Review generator safety.

Use the telephone only for emergency calls so rescue operation lines aren't tied up.

Check for injuries. If you are trained, provide first aid to victims in need until emergency responders arrive.

Lightning

Lightning strikes the United States about 25 million times a year. Although most lightning occurs in the summer, people can be struck at any time of year. Lightning kills an average of 51 people in the United States each year, and hundreds more are severely injured.

Outside: NO PLACE outside is safe when thunderstorms are in the area! If you hear thunder, lightning is close enough to strike you.When you hear thunder, immediately move to safe shelter: a substantial building with electricity or plumbing or an enclosed, metal-topped vehicle with windows up.Stay in safe shelter at least 30 minutes after you hear the last sound of thunder.

Indoors: Stay off corded phones, computers and other electrical equipment that put you in direct contact with electricity. Avoid plumbing, including sinks, baths and faucets. Stay away from windows and doors, and stay off porches. Do not lie on concrete floors, and do not lean against concrete walls.

Last Resort Outdoor Risk Reduction: If you are caught outside with no safe shelter anywhere nearby the following actions may reduce your risk: Immediately get off elevated areas such as hills, mountain ridges or peaks. Never lie flat on the ground. Never shelter under an isolated tree. Never use a cliff or rocky overhang for shelter. Immediately get out and away from ponds, lakes and other bodies of water. Stay away from objects that conduct electricity (barbed wire fences, power lines, windmills, etc.)

Floods

Sometimes floods develop slowly and forecasters can anticipate where a flood will happen days or weeks before it occurs. Oftentimes flash floods can occur within minutes and sometimes without any sign of rain. Being prepared can save your life and give you peace of mind.

Before a flood

Create a Communications Plan - It is important to be able to communicate with your family and friends in the event of a disaster. Whether it is having a specific person identified to contact for status updates or a safe location to meet up with family members, having a plan in place will give you peace of mind if disaster does strike.

Assemble an Emergency Kit - It is good practice to have enough food, water and medicine on hand at all times to last you at least 3 days in the case of an emergency. Water service may be interrupted or unsafe to drink and food requiring little cooking and no refrigeration may be needed if electric power is interrupted. You should also have batteries, blankets, flashlights, first aid kit, rubber boots, rubber gloves, and a NOAA Weather Radio or other battery operated radio easily available.

Know Your Risk- Is your home, business or school in a floodplain? Where is water likely to collect on the roadways you most often travel? What is the fastest way to get to higher ground? Knowing the answers to these questions ahead of time can save your life.

Sign Up for Notifications - The Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service provides RSS feeds for observed forecast and alert river conditions to help keep the public informed about local water conditions.

Prepare Your Home - If you have access to sandbags or other materials, use them to protect your home from flood waters if you have sufficient time to do so. Filling sandbags can take more time than you may think. Have a professional install check-valves in plumbing to prevent flood waters from backing up into the drains of your home. Make sure your sump pump is working and consider having a backup. Make sure your electric circuit breakers, or fuses, are clearly marked for each area of your home.Since standard homeowners insurance doesn't cover flooding, ensure coverage by contacting your insurance company or agent to purchase flood insurance. This must be done before there is even a threat of flooding as insurance companies stop issuing policies if there is a threat of flooding. (i.e. an approaching hurricane). Many flood insurance policies take at least 30 days to go into effect so even if you can buy it as a storm is approaching, it may not protect your investment.

Prepare your Family/Pets - You may be evacuated, so pack in advance. Don't wait until the last moment to gather the essentials for yourself, your family and/or your pets.

Charge Your Essential Electronics - Make sure your cell phone and portable radios are all charged in case you lose power or need to evacuate. Also make sure you have back-up batteries on hand.

Leave - If it is likely your home will flood, don't wait to be ordered to leave; evacuate yourself! Make alternative plans for a place to stay. If you have pets, take them with you or make arrangements to board them at a facility well away from the flooding danger.

During a flood

During a flood, water levels and the rate the water is flowing can quickly change. Remain aware and monitor local radio and television outlets. Avoid flood waters at all costs and evacuate immediately when water starts to rise. Don't wait until it's too late!

Stay Informed - Monitor local radio and television (including NOAA Weather Radio), internet and social media for information and updates.

Get to Higher Ground- Get out of areas subject to flooding and get to higher ground immediately.

Obey Evacuation Orders - If told to evacuate, do so immediately. Be sure to lock your home as you leave. If you have time, disconnect utilities and appliances.

Practice Electrical Safety - Don't go into a basement, or any room, if water covers the electrical outlets or if cords are submerged. If you see sparks or hear buzzing, crackling, snapping or popping noises --get out! Stay out of water that may have electricity in it!

Avoid Flood waters

Do not walk through flood waters. It only takes six inches of moving water to knock you off your feet. If you are trapped by moving water, move to the highest possible point and call 911 for help.

Do not drive into flooded roadways or around a barricade; Turn Around, Don't Drown! Water may be deeper than it appears and can hide many hazards (i.e. sharp objects, washed out road surfaces, electrical wires, chemicals, etc). A vehicle caught in swiftly moving water can be swept away in a matter of seconds. Twelve inches of water can float a car or small SUV and 18 inches of water can carry away large vehicles.

After a flood

When flood waters recede, the damage left behind can be devastating and present many dangers. Images of flood destruction depict destroyed homes and buildings, damaged possessions, and decimated roadways. However, what you can't see can be just as dangerous. Floodwaters often become contaminated with sewage or chemicals. Gas leaks and live power lines can be deadly, but are not obvious at first glance.

Stay Informed - Stay tuned to your local news for updated information on road conditions. Ensure water is safe to drink, cook or clean with after a flood. Oftentimes a boil water order is put in place following a flood. Check with utility companies to find out when electricity or gas services may be restored. Carbon monoxide poisoning is one of the leading causes of death after storms when areas are dealing with power outages. Never use a portable generator inside your home or garage. Review generator safety.

Avoid Flood Waters - Standing water hides many dangers including toxins and chemicals. There may be debris under the water and the road surface may have been compromised.

If it is likely your home will flood, don't wait to be ordered to leave; evacuate yourself! Make alternative plans for a place to stay. If you have pets, take them with you or make arrangements to board them at a facility well away from the flooding danger.

Avoid Disaster Areas - Do not visit disaster areas! Your presence may hamper rescue and other emergency operations.

Heed Road Closed and Cautionary Signs - Road closure and other cautionary signs are put in place for your safety. Pay attention to them!

Wait for the "All Clear" - Do not enter a flood damaged home or building until you're given the all clear by authorities. If you choose to enter a flood damaged building, be extremely careful. Water can compromise the structural integrity and its foundation. Make sure the electrical system has been turned off, otherwise contact the power company or a qualified electrician. Contact your insurance agent as soon as possible to discuss the damage done to your property. If you have a home generator, be sure to follow proper safety procedures for use. You can find generator safety information at: http://www.usfa.fema.gov/citizens/co/generator.shtm

Contact Your Family and Loved Ones - Let your family and close friends know that you're okay so they can help spread the word. Register with or search the American Red Cross's Safe and Well listings

Definitions and Descriptions

Know What The Weather Person Is Saying

From the National Weather Service...

A Tornado WATCH is issued by the NOAA Storm Prediction Center meteorologists who watch the weather 24/7 across the entire U.S. for weather conditions that are favorable for tornadoes. A watch can cover parts of a state or several states. Watch and prepare for severe weather and stay tuned to NOAA Weather Radio to know when warnings are issued.

A Tornado WARNING is issued by your local NOAA National Weather Service Forecast Office meteorologists who watch the weather 24/7 over a designated area. This means a tornado has been reported by spotters or indicated by radar and there is a serious threat to life and property to those in the path of the tornado. ACT now to find safe shelter! A warning can cover parts of counties or several counties in the path of danger.

A Severe Thunderstorm WATCH is issued by the NOAA Storm Prediction Center meteorologists who are watching the weather 24/7 across the entire U.S. for weather conditions that are favorable for severe thunderstorms. A watch can cover parts of a state or several states. Watch and prepare for severe weather and stay tuned to NOAA Weather Radio to know when warnings are issued.

A Severe Thunderstorm WARNING is issued by your local NOAA National Weather Service Forecast Office meteorologists who watch a designated area 24/7 for severe weather that has been reported by spotters or indicated by radar. Warnings mean there is a serious threat to life and property to those in the path of the storm. ACT now to find safe shelter! A warning can cover parts of counties or several counties in the path of danger.

A thunderstorm is classified as "severe" when it contains one or more of the following: hail one inch or greater, winds gusting in excess of 50 knots (57.5 mph), or a tornado.

FLASH FLOOD or FLOOD WATCH:Flash flooding or flooding is possible within the designated watch area - be alert.

FLASH FLOOD or FLOOD WARNING:Flash flooding or flooding has been reported or is imminent - take necessary precautions at once! Get to higher ground!

URBAN and SMALL STREAM ADVISORY:Flooding of small streams, streets and low-lying areas, such as railroad underpasses and urban storm drains is occurring.

FLASH FLOOD or FLOOD STATEMENT:Follow-up information regarding a flash flood/flood event.

Hail is usually pea-sized to marble-sized, but big thunderstorms can produce big hail. The largest hailstone recovered in the U.S. fell in Vivian, SD on June 23, 2010 with a diameter of 8 inches and a circumference of 18.62 inches. It weighed 1 lb 15 oz.

Estimating Hail Size

Hail size is estimated by comparing it to a known object. Most hail storms are made up of a mix of sizes, and only the very largest hail stones pose serious risk to people caught in the open.

Pea = 1/4 inch diameter

Marble/mothball = 1/2 inch diameter

Dime/Penny = 3/4 inch diameter

Nickel = 7/8 inch

Hail quarter-size or larger is considered severe

Quarter = 1 inch

Ping-Pong Ball = 1 1/2 inch

Golf Ball = 1 3/4 inches

Tennis Ball = 2 1/2 inches

Baseball = 2 3/4 inches

Tea cup = 3 inches

Grapefruit = 4 inches

Softball = 4 1/2 inches

High Winds

Straight-line wind is a term used to define any thunderstorm wind that is not associated with rotation, and is used mainly to differentiate from tornadic winds.

A downdraft is a small-scale column of air that rapidly sinks toward the ground.

A downburst is a result of a strong downdraft. A downburst is a strong downdraft with horizontal dimensions larger than 4 km (2.5 mi) resulting in an outward burst of damaging winds on or near the ground. (Imagine the way water comes out of a faucet and hits the bottom of the sink.) Downburst winds may begin as a microburst and spread out over a wider area, sometimes producing damage similar to a strong tornado. Although usually associated with thunderstorms, downbursts can occur with showers too weak to produce thunder.

A microburst is a small concentrated downburst that produces an outward burst of damaging winds at the surface. Microbursts are generally small (less than 4km across) and short-lived, lasting only 5-10 minutes, with maximum windspeeds up to 168 mph. There are two kinds of microbursts: wet and dry. A wet microburst is accompanied by heavy precipitation at the surface. Dry microbursts, common in places like the high plains and the intermountain west, occur with little or no precipitation reaching the ground.

A gust front is the leading edge of rain-cooled air that clashes with warmer thunderstorm inflow. Gust fronts are characterized by a wind shift, temperature drop, and gusty winds out ahead of a thunderstorm. Sometimes the winds push up air above them, forming a shelf cloud or detached roll cloud.

A derecho is a widespread, long-lived wind storm that is associated with a band of rapidly moving showers or thunderstorms. By definition, if the wind damage swath extends more than 240 miles (about 400 kilometers) and includes wind gusts of at least 58 mph (93 km/h) or greater along most of its length, then the event may be classified as a derecho.

A typical derecho consists of numerous microbursts, downbursts, and downburst clusters.

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