Mineral Wells Index, Mineral Wells, TX

May 21, 2013

Expert explains causes behind recent severe weather


Mineral Wells Index

— By CHRIS AGEE



Following last week’s devastating local storms, the nation’s midsection took a beating over the weekend with serious damage reported in Oklahoma and Kansas.

Sunday’s storms were defined by severe hail and numerous tornadoes – similar to those that destroyed structures and automobiles throughout Mineral Wells and killed six in Granbury last Wednesday evening.

Research Meteorologist Harold Brooks, a regional spokesperson for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, explained some of the factors that can lead to potentially deadly storms.

“Anytime we have severe thunderstorms, we’re looking for a set of ingredients,” Brooks explained.

Experts first look for warm, moist air at low levels and winds that increase with height.

“That’s what we had over the past few days,” he noted, “and if we look back a week ago, the flow aloft in the middle of the atmosphere was from the northwest.”

Such conditions, Brooks explained, were exacerbated by the arrival of significant moisture.

“We were really starved of moisture in the central part of the U.S. until this weekend,” he said, noting a “large-scale weather system came out across the Rockies. It was sort of over northern Idaho, Montana, and it dove southeast. Now what we’ve got is a pattern where it’s over southern Arizona and moving toward the Northeast.”

With moisture arriving from the gulf, Brooks said conditions for serious storms are “much more favorable.”

The most damaging twister of the weekend  hit Shawnee, Okla., and received a preliminary rating of EF-4 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale – the same designation given to Wednesday’s tornado in Granbury. Both storms contained wind speeds up to 200 miles per hour.

The Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., received 24 tornado reports Sunday as at least two individuals in the state were killed and nearly two dozen injured.

The American Red Cross offers advice for those in tornado-threatened areas, urging residents to prepare for such disasters in advance.

Tornadoes are ushered in with signs including dark, sometimes greenish clouds, large hail, a wall cloud or funnel cloud, flying debris, and a loud roar. In the event of an impending twister, the organization urges individuals to gather in a predetermined safe room – a basement, storm cellar, or a windowless interior room on the first floor.

Those in mobile homes should preemptively seek shelter in a permanent structure prior to a visible tornado and anyone left outside during such a storm should immediately find shelter.

The Red Cross offers a free application that alerts users when a tornado warning has been issued by the NOAA and allows individuals to easily send the message “I’m safe” to concerned loved ones.

Following a tornado, the agency urges individuals to wait for authorities to issue instructions before returning home and offered several other safety tips.

• Report fallen power lines or broken gas lines to the utility company and stay clear of such dangers and any damaged buildings.

• Wear long pants and long-sleeved shirt during the examination of a residence.

• Use flashlights, not candles, when examining buildings.

• Open and window and immediately leave any building upon smelling gas or hearing a blowing or hissing noise.

More information is available on the Red Cross website, redcross.org. The Red Cross Tornado App is available in the Apple App Store and Google Play Store for Android.