SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK
I’ve been complaining about winter weather in a lot of my columns, so I thought maybe it was time to complain about something else:
Yes, spring will arrive this year, or so they tell me. March is the traditional Hoosier changeover time (yeah, it’s April now, let it go), which is another way of saying we can have a snowstorm one day, a flood the next, grass fires the day after that, and an ice storm during basketball playoffs. I suppose it comes as no surprise that the Governor declared March 16th through 22nd to be Severe Weather Preparedness Week, which I’d have done myself if security hadn’t kicked me out of his office.
I waited to put this column out until after that week, so if something horrible happened it wouldn’t seem like I was going for ironic.
As part of the celebration … er … observation, the State of Indiana wants to educate everyone, conduct alert system tests, and otherwise try to keep people from getting killed. Honestly, nothing brings down a wonderful spring day like death. The plan was for you to hear the media alerts and tornado sirens being tested on March 20th … if weather permits.
Officials often try to make people understand what watch and warning levels and storm terms are, so I thought I’d help out a bit:
A Watch means you should stay at your cookout, gaze at the blue sky and make fun of the weatherman right up until the first wind gust blows away your “kiss the cook” hat.
A Warning means that if you haven’t sought shelter, you will die.
A Funnel Cloud should not be mistaken for a funnel cake, which generally kills only one person at a time. Funnel clouds are just tornadoes that haven’t touched the ground; maybe they will, maybe they won’t. If you want to gamble, go to Vegas. Just to make it more fun, sometimes tornadoes reach the ground and start tearing things up even though the bottom part is still invisible. You could be looking at a “funnel cloud” right up until the moment your mobile home changes zip codes.
A Tornado is really, really bad.
Straight Line Winds can cause as much damage as tornadoes, but aren’t associated with rotation. You can often tell the damage path of these winds by finding people who are standing in the debris, insisting it was a tornado.
A Squall Line is what happens when I forget my wedding anniversary.
Thunderstorms are storms that produce thunder. See what I did, there?
Lighting kills a lot more people than tornados, but of course tornadoes are more fun … um … attention grabbing. Tornadoes are like people who get drunk and try to jump motorcycles over sheds using homemade ramps: They’re senseless, spectacular, injury rates are high, and in the end nothing good comes from them except to remind people they’re bad.
Just the same, lightning’s also no fun, and can strike miles away from where you think the storm is. Of people struck by lightning, 70% suffered serious long term effects, 10% are permanently killed, and 20% don’t admit being hurt, or didn’t hear the question.
The material I received from the National Weather Service also had tips for heat stroke and heat exhaustion, which I’m sure will be a big deal in a few months. But right now the thought of being warm is almost as funny as the thought of a tornado is not.
The average forward speed of a tornado is 30 mph … but then, the average high temperature in northern Indiana the day I wrote this was 50 degrees, and it didn’t get anywhere close to that. They can go up to 70 mph … or remain motionless, which would be really unfortunate if you happen to be under one at the time.
The average width of the funnel on the ground is about 100 yards. Think about that. And, like a flatulent Godzilla, that doesn’t include the wind damage around it. Some can get over a mile wide. (Tornadoes, I mean, not gassy Godzilla’s. Wow.) If you think about it, trying to outrun a 70 mph mile wide tornado in a car is about as smart as trying to jump a shed from a homemade ramp after your tenth beer.
Tornadoes are most likely from April to June, which means pretty much nothing these days. The last time I took an airplane flight it was delayed by a tornado—in November. In fact, in November of last year 28 tornadoes hit Indiana, the third highest number in a single day ever for our state.
So, when do you need to prepare for severe weather? Anytime. Remember, no matter what the season, it only takes a few beers to start building a ramp.