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Severe Weather Awareness Week – Part 1

It’s springtime in Montana and that means our thunderstorm season and the chances for severe weather will be increasing in the weeks to come.   As we have seen in recent years, Montana thunderstorms can produce strong tornadoes along with damaging winds and hail, threatening lives and causing significant property damage.  Plan now so you can act quickly when the next round of severe weather threatens.

 Staying Aware of the Weather

Ready, Set, Go: This is the mindset we want people to be in when it comes to being prepared for hazardous weather.

Ready: At this stage, the National Weather Service sees something on the horizon that may end up being a widespread severe weather event in the future. The Hazardous Weather Outlook issued by the local NWS offices will give you this information. Also, the Storm Prediction Center issues thunderstorm outlooks that give an idea of where severe thunderstorms may develop in the next 8 days.

Set: In this stage, we are confident that a hazardous weather event will occur, but are not sure of the exact timing, location, or impact of the event. For severe thunderstorms and tornadoes, a Watch is issued to give the public a heads up that they need to be prepared for the possibility of severe weather within the next 8 hours.

Go: When we hit this stage, we are confident that a thunderstorm is producing severe weather and we issue a Warning. The lead time can be just precious minutes out to an hour. At this stage, you should take action by seeking shelter.

Terminology

Funnel Cloud: A funnel-shaped cloud, extended outward or downward from a thunderstorm, that corresponds to a rotating column of air. If the rotation is violent and reaches the ground, the funnel cloud is associated with a tornado.

Tornado: A violently rotating column of air, in contact with the ground, that extends from the base of a thunderstorm to the ground. This is often visible as a funnel cloud with swirling dust or debris near the surface.

Severe Thunderstorm: A thunderstorm that produces hail of 1 inch or larger (quarter size) and/or a wind gust to 58 mph or higher.

Microburst: A convective downdraft with an affected outflow area of less than 2� miles wide and peak winds lasting less than 5 minutes. Microbursts may induce dangerous horizontal/vertical wind shears, which can adversely affect aircraft performance and cause property damage.

Straight-line Winds: Generally, any wind that is not associated with rotation, used mainly to differentiate them from tornadic winds.

Flash Flood: A sudden inundation of water in low-lying areas, usually brought on by heavy rain, dam break, rapid snowmelt or ice jams.

Watch: The potential exists for severe weather to occur within the next 8 hours but the exact location and timing is not known. Action can be taken to protect property such as putting your vehicle in the garage, putting away patio furniture, etc.

Warning: Severe weather either is occurring or will be shortly. Immediate action should be taken to protect yourself by going to the lowest portion of a sturdy building, or into a closet, hallway or room without windows.

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