Today is the first day of this 2012 spring/summer season where we have the widespread potential for strong to severe thunderstorms. As with many other things, the first time things happen (like big snow storm) it can catch some off guard. That's especially true with scenarios like thunderstorms, which we haven't seen since late last year.
So as a humble reminder I love going through the logistics of what severe thunderstorms are capable of, what the warnings/watches mean, and what to do in case you find yourself caught in a dangerous situation.
Severe thunderstorms are capable of producing hail the size of quarters (or larger) and possibly-damaging wind gusts of 58 mph (or higher). That is, by definition, what the National Weather Service classifies as severe. It's not dependant on how much lightning, thunder, and rain a storm is producing. However lightning and heavy rain usually accompany the hail and damaging wind threat.
Watches versus Warnings
If you hear of the term 'Severe Thunderstorm Watch' that means be on standby for the possibility of severe thunderstorms. It doesn't mean we have a storm, confirmed on the ground, producing hail and high winds and it's heading your way. It means an area 'x' wide by 'y' long is at risk for potentially severe weather.
If you hear the term 'Severe Thunderstorm Warning' that is more serious. That means the National Weather Service has found enough evidence of a storm that can produce hail and strong winds, it is on the radar and moving toward select areas. Generally towns will be listed in severe thunderstorm warnings. This is more 'time sensitive' than a watch because depending where you are, a storm could bear down on you within minutes. The watch however, is issued for several hours in advance, where again we have that possibility of storms.
What To Do
So I know when we have 'the chance for thunderstorms' that we must all go on with our lives and can't just sit in side and wait for us to maybe get hit by a storm. But if you find yourself in a particularly dangerous situation, here are some reminder tips on what to do.
So while all of this may not happen Wednesday, it's still a great reminder to adhere to the warnings and watches that local meteorologists issue. Smartphones are becoming ever so popular and many of the applications automatically alert you when your area has a dangerous warning in effect. Stay safe and when possible report damage to your local media and/or National Weather Service office.
-Meteorologist Steve Glazier