The Warnings: A Region 8 Stormteam Investigation

The Warnings: A Region 8 Stormteam Investigation
(Source: KAIT)
(Source: KAIT)

(KAIT) - It's easy to see that severe weather season is in full swing here in Region 8.

An active pattern so far has allowed us to see wave after wave of damaging storms and we're only getting into the start of May.

But because we are so active this year, it is imperative that we are preparing for and reacting to warnings in an urgent way.

Unfortunately, it can be so easy to minimize the threat of severe thunderstorm warnings in comparison to tornado warnings, leaving us unprepared during very damaging storms.

Region 8 News spoke with Gary Woodall, the warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Memphis, to get his perspective on this common misconception.

"It really doesn't matter if the wind is blowing straight or if it's blowing around in a circle," said Woodall, "It's going to cause a lot of destruction and a lot of impact to whatever it hits."

A good example was the severe thunderstorm in Fulton County last year that completely demolished the Salem airport.

This was all thanks to straight-line winds.

Region 8 News spoke with the National Weather Service out of Little Rock last year to get the results of their damage survey.

"Our damage survey, even though it's straight-line winds do have the winds between 85 and 100 miles per hour, which is actually EF1 scale damage if it was a tornado," said Joe Goudsword of the NWS. "So even though it wasn't a tornado, it still had the same effects because of the strength of the winds."

Another example is June 5, 2014. Winds reached more than 95 miles per hour and left damage across multiple Region 8 counties.

That particular storm was widespread in nature, however, and impacted a long stretch of the United States.

This is just another reason why severe thunderstorms need to be taken seriously.

Gary Woodall said, "The line began in southeast Kansas, pushed through the Jonesboro area then ended in north Georgia, leaving widespread damage due to its long-lived nature."

Tornadoes can be very destructive and definitely require urgency, especially the large, long-lived tornadoes; however, severe thunderstorms can often cause more widespread damage than the average twister.

With that being said, a fast-moving line of storms can produce brief, spin-up tornadoes.

This is exactly what happened in Diaz on March 1, 2017.

Tory Ross of the Diaz Fire Department was asleep until the storm hit.

"It was after 3 a.m. so most were asleep," said Ross, "I didn't wake up until it went through my backyard."

A severe thunderstorm was issued for this storm, although it did produce an EF1 tornado.

The National Weather Service did write the possibility of a tornado into the warning, however.

Another severe warned thunderstorm that caused a lot of damage was on March 25th in Greene County.

Region 8 News spoke with Bill Foster, a victim of the storm, who lost his shed and found multiple items ways away from his property.

"We were in shock… I would have thought it was a tornado but nobody ever said for sure," said Foster.

And a lot of the time, the damage can be difficult to differentiate.

According to the National Weather Service, surveyors look at the direction of the damage path alongside radar images and spotter information to indicate the type of storm that went through an area.

But no matter if the storm produced a tornado or straight–line winds, Woodall said. "Again, we don't need to be worried about if the winds are in a circle or straight, we need to take the threat seriously and respond and give the threat the respect it deserves."

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