How to spot severe weather - Cincinnati News, FOX19-WXIX TV


How to spot severe weather

Hundreds of people die every year in tornados, floods and lightning storms.

Even with sophisticated radars and warning systems, you can suddenly find yourself trapped in severe weather, sometimes without sufficient shelter.

Recently, America Now met up with a professional storm chaser and meteorologist to find out how to 'read' the sky and stay safe.

"It takes a lot of training and a lot of experience to know how to read the sky," said Gerard Jebaily, who is a meteorologist and storm chaser.

Jebaily says there are some tried and true weather-watching tricks everyone should know.

Out on the road, he uses high-tech radar to see what's happening high above the clouds, but he relies on his own two eyes to spot from ground level the first sign of a bad storm, which is called a rope cloud.

The taller and darker the rope cloud, the stronger the storm behind it, in most cases.

Consider it your first visual warning to seek shelter, because by the time your second warning occurs or lightning streaking across the sky, you will most likely already be in danger of a strike.

A car is one of the safest places to be during lightning because the metal serves as a protective cage.

If a storm occurs when a home or vehicle is not available for you to seek shelter, you should keep your feet together and crunch down.

The odds are that a strike will pass by you instead of traveling up one leg and down the other.

Lightning is a good storm tracker. After you see a flash, count the seconds until you hear the thunder.

If you are curious as to how far away the storm is, divide the number of seconds you count by five to get the number of miles.

Then, get moving to shelter.

Now that you know how to read the sky and stay safe from a lightning strike, experts recommend you leave the storm chasing to the pros.

Chances are when you see their radar up and they're speeding down the road, you'll want to be driving in the opposite direction.

"It may not be a wise idea to follow me everywhere I go, that's for sure," Jebaily said.

NOAA's National Weather Service trains people all across the country as trained severe weather spotters.

These volunteers help keep their communities safe by sending reports from right outside their door back to the National Weather Service.

If you want to learn more about becoming a professional eye-in-the-sky, you can volunteer with Skywarn. Click here for more information ( 

Additional Information:

The following information is from Meteorologist Gerard Jebaily. Click here to access his website.

  • It takes only six inches of swift-moving water to pick up and carry your vehicle.
  • To read more about Gerard Jebaily, click here (

The following information is from Dr. Mathew Eastin, a professor of Earth Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

  • Sudden wind and drop in temperature are a good storm indicator.
  • The more spread out the "anvil shape" of a cloud, the stronger the storm.

The following information is from Skywarn's website in an article entitled "Severe Weather Safety Guide" (Source:

  • Tornadoes are the most violent atmospheric phenomenon on the planet. Winds of 200-300 mph can occur with the most violent tornadoes.
  • IN HOMES OR SMALL BUILDINGS: Go to the basement (if available) or to an interior room on the lowest floor, such as a closet or bathroom. If you do not have an interior room, go to a room on the side of the structure farthest away from the approaching tornado, typically the east side. Wrap yourself in overcoats or blankets to protect yourself from flying debris.
  • IN SCHOOLS, HOSPITALS, FACTORIES, OR SHOPPING CENTERS: Go to interior rooms and halls on the lowest floor. Stay away from glass enclosed places or areas with wide-span roofs such as auditoriums and warehouses. Crouch down and cover your head.
  • IN HIGH-RISE BUILDINGS: Go to interior small rooms or halls. Stay away from exterior walls or glassy areas.
  • IN CARS OR MOBILE HOMES: ABANDON THEM IMMEDIATELY!! Most deaths occur in cars and mobile homes. If you are in either of those locations, leave them and go to a substantial structure or designated tornado shelter. The picture below illustrates clearly what a violent tornado can do to a car.
  • DO NOT HIDE UNDER AN OVERPASS!!! People in the May 3rd, 1999 Oklahoma City tornado were badly injured and killed doing this very thing.
  • DO NOT GO OUTSIDE TO LOOK FOR THE TORNADO! Only the people in the business to do so should be observing the tornado. Spotters, storm chasers, law enforcement, etc. are trained to know how to stay out of the path, and when to take cover.
  • IF NO SUITABLE STRUCTURE IS NEARBY: Lie flat in the nearest ditch or depression and use your hands to cover your head.
  • In lightening:
    WHEN INSIDE: Avoid using the telephone (except for emergencies) or other electrical appliances. Do not take a bath or shower.
    IF CAUGHT OUTDOORS: Go to a safe shelter immediately! such as inside a sturdy building. A hard top automobile with the windows up can also offer fair protection. If you are boating or swimming, get out of the water immediately and move to a safe shelter away from the water! If you are in a wooded area, seek shelter under a thick growth of relatively small trees. If you feel your hair standing on end, squat with your head between your knees. Do not lie flat! Avoid: isolated trees or other tall objects, bodies of water, sheds, fences, convertible automobiles, tractors, and motorcycles.
  • Conventional weather radar only indicates areas and intensities of precipitation and larger scale wind fields. It does not give any indications of cloud formations.
  • Doppler radar gives some indication of air motions inside a storm but not down to the ground level.
  • Radar occasionally suggests severe weather when none is in actually present. The trained eye of a storm spotter is the most accurate.

The following information is from the National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office website in an article entitled "Storm Spotter Reference Guide" (Source:

  • A thunderstorm is a process which takes heat and moisture near the earth's surface and transports it into the upper levels of the atmosphere.
  • At any given moment, it is estimated that there are 2,000 thunderstorms in progress around the world.
  • Less than 1% of all thunderstorms produce hail 3/4 inch in diameter or larger, and/or strong down burst winds.
  • A small fraction of storms that do become severe actually produce tornadoes.
  • No place in the United States is completely immune from the threats of severe weather. Severe weather can strike at any place, and at any time!
  • The Developing Stage: Characterized by a single updraft within the thunderstorm. As precipitation begins to fall out of the storm, a downdraft is produced.
  • The Mature Stage: Marked by the co-existence of an updraft and a downdraft within the thunderstorm.
  • The Dissipation Stage: The storm becomes dominated by the downdraft, which moves away from the storm and cuts off its inflow. The downdraft may trigger new thunderstorm development as it encounters additional warm, moist, unstable air.
  • Thunderstorm Types
    • Single Cell Storms
      Lifespan of 20 to 30 minutes, and are usually not strong enough to produce severe weather. The storms that do become severe will produce marginally severe hail and/or brief microbursts.
    • Multi-Cell Storms
      A group of cells at different stages of maturity, moving along as one unit, having a lifespan of several hours. Moderate threat for severe weather, which include moderate-sized hail, strong downbursts, and small tornadoes.
    • Supercell Storms
      A highly organized storm posing an inordinate threat to life and property.
      Contains a rotating updraft, known as a mesocyclone.
      Severe weather includes giant hail, strong downbursts, and strong to violent tornadoes.
  • Watch - Conditions are favorable for severe weather in or near the watch area. Watches are issued for tornadoes, severe thunderstorms and flash floods, and are for relatively large geographic areas, such as portions of or multiple states.
  • Warning - The severe weather event is imminent or occurring in the warned area. Warnings are issued for tornadoes, severe thunderstorms, flash floods and river flooding and are for relatively small geographic areas, such as single or small groups of adjacent counties.
  • Severe Thunderstorm - A storm that produces hail one inch in diameter or larger and/or wind gusts of 58 mph or more.
  • Flash Flood - A rapid rise in water, usually within 12 hours of a period of heavy rain or other causative agent (i.e. dam break).
  • Downburst - A strong downdraft with an outrush of damaging wind on or near the ground.
  • Funnel Cloud - A rotating cone-shaped column of air extending downward from the base of a thunderstorm (or a wall cloud), but not in contact with the ground.
  • Tornado - A violently rotating column of air extending from the base of a thunderstorm (or a wall cloud), in direct contact with the ground.
  • Rain Free Base - An area of smooth, flat cloud base beneath the main storm tower, where little or no precipitation is falling.
  • Wall Cloud - An isolated lowering of the rain-free base found near the updraft/downdraft interface, indicating the strongest inflow or intake into the thunderstorm.

Wind guide:

  • 25 - 31 mph: Large Branches in motion; whistling in telephone wires.
  • 32 - 38 mph: Whole trees in motion.
  • 39 - 54 mph: Twigs break off of trees; wind impedes walking.
  • 55 - 72 mph: Damage to chimneys and TV antennas; pushes over shallow- rooted trees.
  • 73 - 112 mph: Peels surface off roofs; windows broken; mobile homes overturned.
  • 113 + mph: Roofs torn off homes; weak buildings and mobile homes destroyed; large trees uprooted.

Tornado Guide:

  • (F0) Gale Tornado (40 - 72 mph): Light Damage. Some damage to chimneys; breaks branches off trees, pushes over shallow-rooted trees, damages sign boards.
  • (F1) Moderate Tornado (73 - 112 mph): Moderate Damage. Lower limit is the beginning of hurricane-force winds. Peels surface off roofs; mobile homes pushed over; moving autos pushed off roads.
  • (F2) Significant Tornado (113 - 157 mph): Considerable damage. Roofs torn off frame houses; mobile homes demolished; boxcars pushed over, large trees snapped or uprooted; light-object missiles generated.
  • (F3) Severe Tornado (158 - 206 mph): Severe damage. Roofs and some walls torn off well-constructed homes; trains overturned; most trees in forest uprooted; heavy cars lifted off the ground and thrown.
  • (F4) Devastating Tornado (207 - 260 mph): Devastating damage. Well-constructed homes leveled; structures with weak foundations blown off some distance; cars thrown and large missiles generated.
  • (F5) Incredible Tornado (261 - 318 mph): Phenomenal damage. Strong frame homes disintegrate or lifted off foundations and carried considerable distance; trees debarked.

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