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Record Wildfire Year Shaping Up Out West – Is Your Child’s School “Tornado Tough”?

4 May 2014, 6:25 am

Is Your Child’s School Tornado Tough? Some school districts are thinking ahead, finding the funding and making the investments in reinforcing school structures, anticipating future tornadoes and other extreme weather events. Here’s a video and article from WMC-TV in Memphis that caught my eye. What steps is your school taking to keep your kids as safe as possible? “…At Lakewood Elementary and Middle School in Paris, Tenn., safety is top priority. That’s why over 10 weeks last summer, three existing hallways inside the school were retro-fitted with a six-inch steel frame, designed to withstand tornado-strength winds. “Everybody realizes that once springtime comes, we always have that chance of a tornado spawning,” said Jason Pirtle, TLM Associates. “What those panels do is they are designed to resist a 250 mile-an -hour wind load and pressures resulting from that as well as a debris impact from a 15 pound two-by -four traveling at 100 miles per hour…”


Tornado Preparedness Tips for School Administrators. Here’s a good place to start; an excerpt from a long and detailed set of suggestions and variables to consider from Roger Edwards at NOAA’s SPC, Storm Prediction Center, in Norman, Oklahoma: “The most important part of tornado safety in schools, and in similar logistical arrangements such as nursing homes, is to develop a good tornado safety plan tailored to your building design and ability to move people. Sample School SchematicI have found, through damage surveys and other visits, that a lot of schools settle for a cookbook-style, “one size fits all” approach to tornado safety — often based on outdated literature — which can be dangerous when considering the fact that every school is built differently. The basic concept in the schematic at right is usually correct; but it must be adapted to your unique school arrangements! For example, the idea of a relatively safe hallway becomes invalid if the hall is lined with plate glass, or if it has windows to the outdoors. Hallways can turn into wind tunnels filled with flying glass and other dangerous objects…”

Some specific tips from NOAA SPC include:

  • If the school’s alarm system relies on electricity, have a compressed air horn or megaphone to sound the alert in case of power failure.
  • Make special provisions for disabled students and those in portable classrooms. Portable classrooms are like mobile homes — exceptionally dangerous in a tornado.
  • Make sure someone knows how to turn off electricity and gas in the event the school is damaged.
  • Keep children at school beyond regular hours if threatening weather is expected; and inform parents of this policy. Children are safer deep within a school than in a bus or car. Students should not be sent home early if severe weather is approaching, because they may still be out on the roads when it hits.
  • Lunches or assemblies in large rooms should be postponed if severe weather is approaching. As illustrated above, gymnasiums, cafeterias, and auditoriums offer no meaningful protection from tornado-strength winds. Also, even if there is no tornado, severe thunderstorms can generate winds strong enough to cause major damage.

Photo credit above: National Weather Service office, Lubbock, Texas.


175 Tornadoes Last Week. Data from NOAA SPC and HAMweather shows a total of 175 tornadoes in the last 7 days, touching down from Iowa and Illinois southward to Florida. The most intense tornadoes touched down north of Little Rock and across Mississippi Tuesday and Wednesday.


Tornado Recap. This overview from the Birmingham office of the NWS includes some of the meteorological dynamics that resulted in a major outbreak.


7-Day Rainfall. Texas is forecast to see soaking rains with the heaviest amounts north of Dallas, but heavy showers are likely from the Pacific Northwest eastward to the Dakotas, Upper Midwest and Ohio Valley as a sharp north-south temperature contrast sparks a series of storms, some potentially severe by midweek.


GFS Model. As jet stream winds buckle northward by midweek, sending a surge of 70s and 80s into the Midwest, the risk of strong to severe storms will increase. Heavy rain brushes Seattle and Portland, while California remains bone-dry. Guidance: NOAA and HAMweather.


Southern California Blaze Kicks Off What Could Be Especially Dangerous Wildfire Season. 100% of California is now in some stage of drought and fires flaring up in late April are a bad omen of the year to come. TIME Magazine has a recap; here’s a clip: “…That’s because the Golden State is primed to burn. California is suffering through its most severe dry spell in decades, with the entire state now in some category of drought. At the beginning of May the snowpack level in the Sierra Nevada mountains—a key source of stored water—was just 18% of normal. This winter, meanwhile, was the warmest on record for the state. The drought and the heat mean that plants and trees haven’t grown as many green leaves as usual. Those leaves help trees maintain moisture—and without them, the plants are that much more likely to ignite in a blaze…”

File photo: Karl Greer. U.S. Forest Service.


U.S. Wildfire Trends. The AP and Daily Astorian included a set of graphics that shows recent trends in wildfires across the nation.


Spelling for 100. No, you can’t make this stuff up. I’m just glad this guy isn’t operating a nuclear power plant.



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Welcome to the WeatherNation blog. Every day I sift through hundreds of stories, maps, graphics and meteorological web sites, trying to capture some of the most interesting weather nuggets, the stories behind the forecast. I’ll link to stories and share some of the web sites I use. I’m still passionate about the weather, have been ever since Tropical Storm Agnes flooded my home in Lancaster, PA in 1972. I’ve started 5 weather-related companies. “EarthWatch” created the world’s first 3-D weather graphics for TV stations – Steven Spielberg used our software in “Jurassic Park” and “Twister”. My last company, “Digital Cyclone”, personalized weather for cell phones. “My-Cast” was launched in 2001 and is still going strong on iPhone, Android and Blackberry. I sold DCI to Garmin in 2007 so I could focus on my latest venture: WeatherNation. I also write a daily weather column for The Star Tribune And if you’re on Twitter, you’ll find me @pdouglasweather

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