Natatia Bledsoe is the public information officer for the Fredericksburg Police Department.
Are you ready for weather?
Since today’s FLS weather blog mentions the word “tornado” in the forecast later this week, today seems to be an opportune time to post the following important information that comes to you courtesy of our partners at the Fredericksburg Fire Department and the Virginia Department of Emergency Management:
With hurricane season winding down and winter around the corner, now is a time of relative calm to get ready for the possibility of severe weather conditions. The weather is fascinating to some people and an inconvenience to others. Mother Nature delivers many different types of weather events to our region, and these can be good news or they can be downright dangerous. The National Weather Service (NWS) does a tremendous job of notifying localities of forecasted events, but sometimes there is confusion about what the message from the weather service actually means.
The two most frequent watch and warning notices issued in our region during the spring, summer and fall are for severe thunderstorms and tornados. It’s important to understand the difference between these two types of notices.
With severe thunderstorms, a watch is an announcement to the population that conditions are right for a thunderstorm to develop. These storms can develop seemingly out of nowhere, even during a sunny day. But the NWS looks at many features of the climate and environment that are invisible to the naked eye, which is why we are sometimes issued a severe thunderstorm watch when the skies are still clear. The goal for issuing this type of watch is to keep the public aware of the potential for severe weather.
A severe thunderstorm warning indicates that a storm is imminent or actually occurring based on the signals from Doppler radar. Severe thunderstorms can include hail, wind gusts over 57 mph, and possibly deadly lightning. People should take shelter indoors during a severe thunderstorm warning due to the dangerous conditions out of doors.
Often a flash flood watch or warning may accompany or immediately follow a severe thunderstorm. A flash flood watch indicates that flooding is to be expected within 6 hours of the rain event, while a warning means that a flash flood is occurring. Flash flooding is the development of rising and swiftly moving water in areas like creeks, streets and low lying land. Flash flooding can happen very suddenly and can cause items as large as cars to float away.
Sometimes a tornado watch or warning also accompanies a severe thunderstorm, and many people get confused about the severity of these notices. A tornado watch indicates that conditions are right for the development of a tornado, while a warning means that a tornado has been sighted on the ground or there is significant evidence indicated by Doppler that a tornado has developed in the atmosphere. Watches should never be ignored, because a tornado can occur during a watch before a warning is ever issued.
Tornados in our area are typically very short lived and only travel a few short miles. But the danger of a tornado is real and significant, and people should always take appropriate measures to find safe shelter during a tornado watch and monitor media closely for updates.
The best way to receive notice of severe weather is to subscribe to services such as Fredericksburg Alert. During a severe weather event, subscribers receive notices via email, text message, and voice mail depending upon their own selected preferences. The Fredericksburg Alert service immediately transmits weather alert messages that are broadcast by the National Weather Service. Most of the surrounding counties also have similar alerting systems in place.
In addition to being prepared for severe weather, every person should be equipped to manage emergencies of all kinds. Ready Virginia is an initiative designed to prepare citizens for catastrophic events. Ready Virginia stresses the vital importance of having a plan in place: “Emergencies and disasters can strike anyone, anytime and anywhere. They can happen quickly and without warning, and they can force you to evacuate your neighborhood or require you to stay in your home.
It is vital that you understand what a disaster could mean for you and your family. Each person’s needs and abilities are different, but every individual can take important steps to prepare for all kinds of emergencies and to put plans in place. Get ready now.”