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Brian Davidson/Getty Images
Brian Davidson/Getty Images

4 Reliable Ways to Get Severe Weather Warnings—and 1 Unreliable One

Brian Davidson/Getty Images
Brian Davidson/Getty Images

Tornado season ramps up this month. Seconds count when your life is on the line. Your ability to quickly react to a dangerous situation is critical. Knowing how and when to act is especially important when severe weather bears down on your home or office. Warnings from meteorologists are the best way you can keep yourself safe from dangerous weather. If you wait until you can hear the wind or see the water rising, it’s probably too late to get to safety. Having a decent amount of lead time to get you and your family to a safe place can save your life, and it’s possible if you know how to get the alerts as fast as possible.

1. YOUR CELL PHONE CAN SAVE YOUR LIFE.

Most modern smartphones are equipped with a nifty feature known as Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA). If you own one, you’ve likely been startled by the abrupt, screeching tone that suddenly emanates from your device.

These alerts are targeted to you based on the nearest cell phone tower to your location. This enables you to receive alerts only for hazards that are expected to affect you and not some town 30 miles away. The WEA can be activated for tornadoes, severe thunderstorms, flash floods, and other local emergencies like dust storms, hazmat situations, and even AMBER Alerts.

However, these alerts only help if you don’t shut them off. Lots of people wind up disabling their phone’s emergency alerts after the first unwanted interruption. That’s not a good idea. The alerts are proven life-savers. Just recently, eight people in southern Georgia sought shelter after their cell phones alerted them to an approaching tornado. The storm destroyed the home, yet everyone inside survived.

Wireless Emergency Alerts are enabled by default on iOS and Android devices. You can check your settings on an iOS device by opening your Settings app and looking under the “notifications” option. If you have an Android device, look for the “emergency alerts” option in the settings of your phone’s default text messaging app.

2. SPRING FOR A WEATHER RADIO.

It’s always good to have a reliable backup in case severe weather alerts don’t come through on your cell phone. Investing in a NOAA Weather Radio is a smart way to keep you and your family safe when bad weather strikes. Modern weather radios allow you to program your county’s unique six-digit code into the device so it can sound a loud alarm when a watch or warning is issued for your county. Some higher-end devices even allow you to select which alerts you’d like to receive and which you’d rather ignore.

NOAA Weather Radios aren’t foolproof—during the April 27, 2011, tornado outbreak, early morning storms knocked out multiple weather radio transmitters before an astonishing 363 tornadoes tore through later that afternoon—but it’s an excellent backup to ensure that you receive an alert if your television goes out or your cell phone doesn’t work.

3. WATCH THE TV NEWS.

Getting your news from the television may seem outdated in the age of the internet, but your local television news stations are a great resource for detailed weather information. Most local stations go wall-to-wall with coverage when there are severe thunderstorms or tornadoes in their coverage area, and a trained meteorologist will track the storm with Doppler radar, showing the worst of the storm as it moves from neighborhood to neighborhood. Television is prone to outages and interruptions, but it’s always helpful to listen to a calm voice guiding you through a bad storm.

4. IF ALL ELSE FAILS, FM RADIO STILL EXISTS!

If you’re in your car, you can usually switch on the radio and search for a station broadcasting live weather information. When a particularly dangerous tornado outbreak is in progress, many radio stations—especially in tornado alley—will preempt programming and switch over to a live audio feed from a local television station’s coverage of the storms.

5. TORNADO SIRENS ARE AN UNRELIABLE RELIC OF THE PAST.

One of the first ways entire communities were alerted to an approaching tornado was the use of tornado sirens. These loud outdoor alerting systems were designed to tell people who were outdoors to seek shelter inside before the storm arrived. Despite widespread belief in their effectiveness and continued use in rural areas, tornado sirens are an unreliable way to receive warnings. The sirens are not designed to be heard indoors, and variables likes wind direction, power outages, and equipment failures can render them useless. Don’t rely on tornado sirens for your warnings. Stick with modern technology to keep you safe.

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Weather Watch
Thanks to Desert Dust, Eastern Europe Is Covered in Orange Snow
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iStock

Certain areas of Eastern Europe are starting to look a bit like Mars. Over the last few days, snowy places like Sochi, Russia have experienced an unusual snowfall that coated mountains in orange powder, according to the BBC.

The orange snow was the result of winds blowing sand from the Sahara east to places like Moldova, Romania, Bulgaria, Ukraine, and Russia. The sand mixes with precipitation to form orange-tinted snow. According to the BBC, the phenomenon occurs semi-regularly, turning snow orange about once every five years, but this year is especially sandy. As a result, skiers are navigating slopes that look like they're from a different world, as you can see in the video below from The Guardian.

The Sahara rarely gets snow, but when it does, the landscape can look somewhat similar, as you can see in this image of the Atlas mountains in Morocco.

Instagram is currently filled with photos and videos from Eastern Europe featuring the odd-looking snow. Check out a few samples below.

[h/t BBC]

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Jessica Kourkounis, Getty Images
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Weather Watch
What Is Thundersnow?
Jessica Kourkounis, Getty Images
Jessica Kourkounis, Getty Images

The northeastern United States is dealing with its second major nor'easter in a week, with rain and heavy snow—and the associated power outages—cutting a path across the Mid-Atlantic and New England. But news of the adverse impacts of the snowstorm is being accompanied by an unusual buzzword: thundersnow. Thundersnow occurs during a thunderstorm that produces snow instead of rain. The mechanisms that produce rainy thunderstorms and snowy thunderstorms are largely the same, even if the air temperature is below freezing.

A band of snow can become strong enough to produce lightning through two processes known as convection and forcing. Convection occurs when an area of warm air quickly rises through cooler air above it. Convective snow is most common during lake effect snow events like those you’d find on Lake Ontario or Lake Erie, since the process requires extreme vertical temperature gradients that can result from bitterly cold air flowing over a warm body of water.

Forcing is slightly different. A strengthening low-pressure system involves fast, dynamic changes in the atmosphere, especially when one of these storm systems quickly gains strength. Such a fast-developing storm can cause large amounts of lift in the atmosphere, a process that forces air to swiftly rise like you’d see during convection. This creates intense bands of snow that can grow so strong that they produce thunder and lightning. This process is responsible for the thundersnow that occurs during blizzards and nor’easters, those powerful storms that regularly hit the eastern coast of the U.S. during the winter. Thundersnow can be pretty exciting—just ask The Weather Channel's Jim Cantore:

The name “thundersnow” can be a bit misleading. One of the most enjoyable things about a snowfall is how silent it is outside when there’s a thick blanket of snow on the ground. Snow absorbs sound waves so efficiently that you can usually only hear ambient noises immediately around where you’re standing. Snow muffles the sound of thunder for the same reason. Thunder that might be audible for many miles during a rainy thunderstorm might only be audible for a few thousand feet away from where the lightning struck. Unless the lightning strikes very close to where you are, you might only see a bright flash during thundersnow without ever hearing the thunder.

While thundersnow is a fascinating phenomenon to encounter, it does involve lightning, after all, and it’s just as dangerous as any other lightning bolt you’d see in a rainy thunderstorm. If you’re ever lucky enough to experience thundersnow, the event is best enjoyed indoors and out of harm’s way.

This piece originally ran in 2017.

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