February 19th through the 25th is Severe Weather Awareness Week in Texas and Oklahoma. Considering forecasters are predicting that 2012 will be a very active season for severe weather, the awareness week could not have come at a better time.
2012 is predicted to bring above-average severe weather to "Tornado Alley", in addition to states further east such as the mid-Mississippi and Ohio Valleys. Severe weather is caused by warm, humid air moving up from the Gulf of Mexico and clashing with the drier, cooler air from the Rockies. However, because of a significantly strong La Niña in 2011, severe weather was pushed east of the traditional "Tornado Valley". La Niña is a phenomenon where temperatures of the ocean in the Equatorial Pacific are significantly cooler than normal. When this happens, the Pacific Jet Stream across the United States becomes stronger. Stronger jet stream means stronger streams of cool, dry air from the Rockies mixing with Gulf air that trigger more severe weather.
This year, La Niña is weakening and should return to normal levels by April. However, there is evidence that the air coming from the Gulf is warmer and more humid than normal. Therefore, the prediction is that the areas typically affected by severe weather that got a somewhat of a break in terms of number of storms last year such as Northern Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas should see an increase in severe weather this year. While, forecasters say that is it unlikely that the exact same areas of the Deep South will be hit struck by tragic tornadoes as they were in 2011, there could still be damaging thunderstorms in the Gulf states this year. According to AccuWeather.com, they are predicting severe weather to hit Texas and other Gulf states as early as March. By April, severe weather will begin to travel north into the lower Ohio and mid-Mississippi valleys. However, as these are simply predictions, it would be unwise to assume that severe weather will not occur in many areas of the country.
Facts about Thunderstorms
- They may occur singly, in clusters or in lines.
- Some of the most severe occur when a single thunderstorm effects one location for an extended time.
- Thunderstorms typically produce heavy rain for a brief period, anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour.
- Warm, humid conditions are highly favorable for thunderstorm development.
- About 10 percent of thunderstorms are classified as severe - one that produces hail at least three quarters of an inch in diameter, has winds of 58 mph or higher or produces a tornado.
Severe Thunderstorm Watch - Tells you when and where severe thunderstorms are likely to occur. Watch the sky and stay tuned to local news for information.
Severe Thunderstorm Warning - Issued by the National Weather Service when severe weather has been reported by spotters or indicated by radar. Warning indicate imminent danger to life and property to those in the path of the storm.
How to be Prepared
- You should always have an emergency plan in place with your family or business.
- Remove dead or rotting tree limbs and branches that could fall during high winds.
- Postpone outdoor activities.
- Secure outdoor objects that could cause damage.
- Remain indoors during severe weather.
- Unplug electrical equipment before the storm arrives to prevent items from shorting out.