Tornadoes pose biggest danger for area residents
SIKESTON -- Snow and ice storms aren't the only winter weather worries anymore. Area residents should also be on the lookout for tornadoes during the cool season.
"Seems like it hardly ever snows anymore so our big threat really is tornadoes we get during the cool season. ... We may look at some winter storm cases, but we only have one every three or four years so this is the bigger emphasis for us," said Pat Spoden, science operations officer for the National Weather Service in Paducah, Ky.
Last month set a record at the Paducah office for the most tornadoes in October. The record previously belonged to October 2004.
"Everyone needs to understand tornadoes don't just happen in the spring and summer. One of our worst tornadoes happened in a January," said Joe Burton, director of Scott County Emergency Management Agency.
These tornadoes often come without warning, which is why Burton suggested using NOAA radios, which can be programmed to a specific county and alert people of tornadoes at all times of day.
"Tornadoes in the cool season are lot harder to find on the radar," Spoden said. "They're a lot harder to get reports from because they happen at all times during the day and night, and a lot of times they can't be seen because they're masked in rain and are moving 60 or 70 miles per hour," he said.
There are a couple key things that happen every time a tornado occurs in the cool season, Spoden said.
In the summer and spring, heat provides energy to cause a tornado. In the winter, wind shear provides the energy. Wind shear is the change in wind speed and/or direction with height. A strong wind shear aids rotation in storms and causes a tornado, Spoden said.
"Tornadoes occur in every month of the year. Some of our worst tornadoes in the season come in the cool seasons -- November, December, January and February," Spoden said.
Winter tornadoes form within 10 minutes or less, which is a problem for the public because the warning time is shorter, Spoden said.
In the summer storms usually die after sunset, but in winter time, they won't. Generally tornadoes get strong in the winter because of all that shear.
"In spring and summer, we see the rotation well before it comes down, it's just a matter of when," Spoden said.
Data shows the region is experiencing more tornadoes in the cool season, Spoden said. However, this could be because there really are more that weather experts are reporting or investigating more or both.
Regardless, there are some common sense tools people can use to detect cool season tornadoes, Spoden said.
"When it is warm and humid during winter, this means the atmosphere is signaling severe weather is possible within the next day or day or so," Spoden said.
Be a cloud watcher, Spoden said. If clouds are rocketing across the sky, that's a sign severe weather could be approaching, and if the dew point is 58 degrees or more, there is a potential for a tornado, he said.
"Just be aware," Spoden said. "... We can only issue a watch or warning. It's up to you to do something about it."