Spring and summer bring just as many weather extremes as winter. Severe spring and summer weather in the form of hurricanes, thunderstorms, floods and tornadoes cause devastation, destruction and loss of life. You need to prepare for the coming potential weather much as you did for winter. However, instead of blankets, you will need alternative ways to stay cool and take extra precautions to stay safe during supercell thunderstorms, hurricanes and tornadoes. Severe weather, whether it is in winter, spring or summer has the potential to cause power outages and loss of utilities. Are you ready?
I always say the more you know, the better prepared you can be. Before diving right into what to buy and how to prepare, let us look at the top weather events most likely to occur in spring and summer and how they can affect you.
There are two major types of floods—overland flooding and flash floods. Overland flooding is the most common type. This occurs when a stream, river, creek or other body of water overflows its banks due to heavy rain or snowmelt. Overland flooding may also happen when city drains or other containment or drainage systems cannot hold the water.
Flash floods generally occur quickly and will happen within minutes. Heavy rains, levee or dam failure, or an ice jam releasing melting snow and ice causes flash floods. Flash floods are dangerous because they are quick, difficult to predict and can carry large objects for miles. In fact, according to ready.gov, flash floods are “the number one weather-related killer in the U.S.” Any type of flooding may also result from hurricanes, tropical storms and city development. Floods cause damage to buildings, utilities and infrastructure, and have a great potential to contaminate drinking water.
- Floods are more likely to occur in the spring and summer due to snowmelt and heavy rainstorms.
- Most flood fatalities are due to people thinking floodwater is passable.
- It only takes 18 inches of water for a typical sedan-sized car to float away.
Did you know?
Even though Hurricane Katrina was one of the most destructive natural disasters in the United States, the 1889 Johnstown Flood in Pennsylvania killed over 2,200 people—373 more people than Hurricane Katrina.
I have always thought hail was such a weird occurrence for spring and summer, as you would expect balls and lumps of ice to fall from the sky when it was cold. A hailstone is formed when ice pellets mix with water droplets in the Earth’s atmosphere in a cumulonimbus cloud. These water droplets stick to the ice pellets and freeze when strong updraft winds throw the mix back up into the colder parts of the cloud. A thunderstorm’s downdraft winds and gravity pull the ice and water drops mix down, gathering more water and ice. They go through this up and down cycle a few times until the ice and water mix gets larger and eventually fall to the ground in the form of hail.
When a thunderstorm produces hail with a diameter of 5 millimeters or more, weather experts call it a hailstorm.
Hail causes damage to cars, crops, rooftops and can even take lives. In June 1992 in Wichita, Kansas, hail caused the near ruin of the wheat crop—resulting in a loss of $100 million dollars to farmers. In March 2000, a softball-sized hailstone fatally hit a 19-year-old man from Lake Worth, Texas.
- March, April, May and June are the peak months for hailstorms.
- Hail causes an average $1 billion dollars in property damage a year.
- Hails injures about 24 people a year.
Did you know?
Found in Vivian, South Dakota in 2010, the largest hailstone ever recorded weighed 1.93 pounds and measured 8 inches in diameter.
When heat and moisture from the Earth gets sent up into the atmosphere and turns into clouds, precipitation and wind, a thunderstorm forms. For a thunderstorm to occur, three things must happen:
- Moisture in the lower and middle atmosphere
- Instability in the air—when warm air and cold air mix
- Lift—which makes the updraft winds
The vertical wind shear defines what type of thunderstorm will happen. The vertical wind shear describes the change in wind direction, speed or height. Weather experts categorize thunderstorms according to severity: single cell, multi-cell cluster, multi-cell line and supercell.
Single cell thunderstorms generally last from 20 to 30 minutes, do not usually create severe conditions and are quite rare. NOAA defines severe as one inch or larger hailstones, 57.5 mph winds or a tornado-producing storm.
Multi-cell cluster thunderstorms are the most common, can last hours and are weak, but intense—in comparison to single cell and super cell thunderstorms. A multi-cell cluster produces heavy rain, high winds, hail and can produce weak tornadoes.
Multi-cell line thunderstorms, also called a squall line, are long line of storms that produce hail, heavy rain and weak tornados.
A rotating updraft called a mesocylone creates the supercell thunderstorm. Winds measure anywhere from 150 to 175 miles per hour. Supercells create large hail, 80 mph winds and severe tornadoes.
- Around 16 million thunderstorms happen every year around the world. That is as many as 1,800 occurring at the same time.
- Only about 10% of thunderstorms are considered severe.
- Florida experiences the most thunderstorms a year out of any other state.
Did you know?
The costliest thunderstorm in history was a hail-producing thunderstorm that occurred in May of 1995 in Fort Worth, Texas. The storm caused $2 billion in damages in Forth Worth and took over 20 lives.
All thunderstorms create lightning. Simply put, lightning is the electrostatic discharge from the electrically charged area between a cloud and the surface of the Earth. There are three basic types of lightning—within the cloud itself, between clouds and cloud to ground. Of course, cloud to ground lightning is our greatest concern.
- Lightning can be as hot as 53,540 degrees Fahrenheit—fives times hotter than the surface of the sun.
- You have a 1 in 3,000 chance of being struck by lightning.
- Lightning, on average, kills 300 Americans a year.
Did you know?
Someone who has been struck by lightning does not hold the charge. They cannot shock or electrocute you, so they are safe to touch and help.
A tornado is when a rotating cloud forms out of a thunderstorm and reaches the ground. National Geographic says, “Tornadoes form when the updrafts of air that supply storms with warm, humid air become a vortex, or high-speed whirlwind.” I know this does not say much, but NOAA says, “The truth is that we don’t fully understand” how tornadoes form. On average, America experiences about 1,200 tornadoes a year. Though they can happen all year round, May through June is peak tornado season.
- A tornado has only a 0.1 percent change of being classified as an F5 tornado.
- There are about 800 tornadoes a year in the United States.
- Tornadoes can occur any time, but most likely happen between 3-9pm.
Did you know?
America’s worst tornado occurred March 18, 1925. It traveled a path of 219 miles through Missouri, Illinois and Indiana. Called the Tri-State Tornado, it lasted 3.5 hours and killed 695 people.
A hurricane is when a large, circulating storm starts in a warm ocean—a tropical storm—reaches a surface wind speed of 74 miles per hour. The Atlantic hurricane season starts June 1 and goes through November 30. While Eastern Pacific hurricane season runs from May 15 to November 30.
- Hurricanes are usually 2,000 times bigger than tornadoes.
- The ocean has to be at least 200 feet deep and over 80 degrees for a hurricane to form.
- On average, hurricanes last about 10 days.
Did you know?
The world’s deadliest hurricane occurred in 1970 in Bangladesh—it was East Pakistan then. The Bhola Cyclone killed over 500,000 people and was a category three hurricane, reaching wind speeds of 115 miles per hour.
The National Weather Service and the Texas Weather Network provide detailed, but easy to understand explanations of thunderstorms and tornadoes that go into much more depth than I have room for here.
Now that you know what you need to look out for, tomorrow we will discuss NOAA-approved weather alert radios.
What kind of spring and summer weather does your area experience? Tell us about it in the comment section.