This week is Severe Weather Awareness Week in Alabama. Each Spring the National Weather Service holds this event ahead of the severe weather season to help residents prepare. Tuesday, February 7 was the second day of awareness week and the topic that was discussed was lightning safety and severe thunderstorm criteria.
Lightning can strike 10 to 50 miles from the parent thunderstorm, this is why we always say “‘When thunder roars go indoors.” On average, lightning kills about 20 people each year. In 2022, 19 people were killed by lightning, and one of those deaths occurred in Alabama. The best thing you can do during a storm is to move into a sturdy structure and away from windows.
So how exactly does lightning form?
Lightning is just a giant spark of electricity between the atmosphere or the atmosphere and the ground. The cloud tops consist of positive charges while the bottom is negatively charged. Opposites attract which brings us cloud-to-cloud lightning or cloud-to-ground lightning. At first, the air acts as an insulator between the positive and negative charges, but then differences become too large which leads to rapid discharge of electricity. Positive lightning is the most dangerous, as it originates in the anvil of the cloud and can strike many miles away from a thunderstorm. Lightning can heat its surrounding air to five times hotter than the surface of the sun. This means 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit!
Watch VS. Warning
Knowing the difference between a watch and a warning is crucial in weather safety. When a watch is issued, it means that the ingredients are in place for strong to severe storms to develop. It is during that time that you have a plan in place if a warning ends up being issued for your area. If a warning is issued, that means you need to take action and move indoors to the centermost portion of a sturdy structure.
Watches can last for hours while a warning can last upwards of an hour. It is important to know the county you live in because when a watch is issued, an entire county will be included. The weather forecast office in Huntsville covers 11 counties in North Alabama along with Franklin, Lincoln and Moore counties in Southern Middle Tennessee.
What Qualifies As A Severe Thunderstorm Warning?
Here in our area thunderstorms are not uncommon. We can experience them all year. During the spring and fall seasons, the environment is primed to support the development of strong to severe storms.
The National Weather Service forecast office in Huntsville is the one that issues warnings. For a thunderstorm to meet severe thunderstorm warning criteria, winds of 58 mph or higher, hail diameter of one inch or larger and/or tornado must be occurring. These warnings would be polygon based and could last up to an hour.
Huntsville National Weather Service Information
Preparation Is The Key To Staying Safe
Preparation before active weather strikes is key to keeping you and your family safe. Having a safety kit full of necessary items like batteries, non-perishable food, water and blankets is a great thing to have on hand. You also want to make sure you have multiple ways to receive weather alerts when they are issued. The Weather Authority Live Alert 19 App or NOAA weather radio are two perfect items to have on hand. They will automatically alert you when a watch or warning is issued in your area.
It is important to note that the Sales Tax Holiday this year will be held from February 24-26. In previous years it has coincided with severe weather awareness week but that will not be the case this year! You can learn more here.