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Extreme weather manual for Washington Huskies enthusiasts visiting Houston for NCAA National Championship game


Thousands of college football enthusiasts are making the journey from the Pacific Northwest and Great Lakes to Houston to witness the Washington Huskies and Michigan Wolverines contend for the NCAA College Football Playoff National Championship game Monday evening, but the weather awaiting them will feel nothing like home.

Forecasts show a potentially hazardous extreme weather threat for the Houston area on Monday, with a risk for supercell thunderstorms capable of producing strong tornadoes, damaging wind gusts, frequent lightning, and large hail.

The competition is being held indoors at NRG Stadium, but extreme weather could be a factor at times throughout the late afternoon and into the early night. And many coming from the Northwest likely have little to no experience with extreme weather as thunderstorms are rare along the Pacific Coast.

Number of Extreme Thunderstorm Warning and Tornado Warnings issued by National Weather Service office over the past 5 years.  (IEM / Iowa State University)

Over the past five years, there have been just a handful of extreme weather warnings issued around the Seattle area, compared to hundreds to thousands across the Midwest and East. Neither Washington nor Oregon have ever been inside a Tornado Watch.

With that in mind, here is a manual for those who may not be familiar with the extreme weather terminology and alerts that may be broadcast around Houston on Monday.

Before the storms arrive:

Storm Prediction Center issues extreme weather risk

Monday morning, NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center upgraded the Houston area to include the city under a more perilous threat of extreme weather later in the day. 

Monday Extreme Weather Threat
(FOX Weather)

 

The SPC has a 5-level scale that estimates the likelihood, coverage, and intensity of extreme weather.  A Level 1 “Marginal” risk would mean just isolated extreme thunderstorms are possible, while a Level 2 “Slight” risk means severe storms are forecast to be a bit more prevalent.  Once you reach Level 3 and higher, a more widespread extreme weather event is likely.  Houston in now in a Level 3 risk zone. 

THE 5-POINT EXTREME THUNDERSTORM RISK CATEGORY SCALE EXPLAINED

The SPC will also issue specific outlooks for possibilities for tornadoes, large hail or damaging winds inside severe storms. Houston is now inside a “hatched area” on the map to indicate an additional risk of upper-end extreme weather events, such as tornadoes of EF-2 or stronger strength on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, wind gusts of 75 mph or greater, or hail of at least 2 inches (approximately golf ball size).

Monday Gulf Coast Extreme Weather Threat
(FOX Weather)

 

WHAT DOES A ‘HATCHED AREA’ MEAN ON A EXTREME WEATHER MAP?

Extreme Thunderstorm or Tornado Watches issued

When extreme weather is mere hours away, the Storm Prediction Center might issue Extreme Thunderstorm or Tornado Watches. In Monday’s case, a Tornado Watch has been issued for a swath of the Gulf Coast that includes the Houston area until 9 p.m. CT.

Tornado Watch along Gulf Coast for Monday Jan. 8, 2024.
(FOX Weather)

 

A “watch” means conditions are favorable for the event — for extreme thunderstorms, that means thunderstorms carrying large hail and/or damaging wind gusts of 58 mph or greater. A Tornado Watch means conditions are favorable for tornado development and close attention to the weather is warranted.

HOW YOU SHOULD PREPARE FOR A TORNADO

When the extreme storms arrive:

When threatening storms develop and move into an area, now the local National Weather Service will issue warnings, meaning dangerous conditions are happening or imminent.

Extreme Thunderstorm Warning: Thunderstorms that are carrying damaging wind gusts of at least 58 mph and/or contain at least quarter-sized hail are occurring or imminent.

Flash Flood Warning: Flash flooding is occurring or imminent. Watch for quick moving waters and remember if approaching water-covered roads, turn around, don’t drown. 

Tornado Warning: A tornado has either been indicated by Doppler Radar or confirmed sighted by spotters. If you’re in an area when a Tornado Warning is issued, seek shelter immediately.  If inside the stadium, follow all directions from stadium staff. Area hotels should have a designated

Guidelines for using the tornado refuge and subsequent actions within the area in the event of a Tornado Warning.

If participating in a tailgate in the parking lot, endeavor to enter the stadium or an adjacent building expeditiously and put as many barriers between you and the outdoors as possible. While cars can provide protection from lightning, this is not the case for a tornado.

If driving to or from the event, and a tornado warning is issued or you detect an approaching tornado, the best course of action is to pull over and seek shelter. If there are robust structures in the vicinity, enter one and proceed to its lowest level devoid of windows. If there is no such shelter available, locate the lowest point on the ground, such as a ditch or culvert, and recline while shielding your head with your hands. In this scenario, NOAA advises that you try to distance yourself as much as possible from your vehicle. Endeavor to avoid locations with trees or other objects that could be swept up by the tornado.

HERE’S WHAT TO DO IF YOU ARE DRIVING AND A TORNADO IS ON THE GROUND

Key Phrases for Severe Weather:

Below are some phrases you may encounter during weather reports concerning severe occurrences:

  • Supercells: The most potent thunderstorms capable of generating the majority of long-lasting strong and violent (F2-F5) tornadoes, as well as causing downburst damage and large hail.
  • Funnel Cloud: A “tornado” that does not reach the ground. Once it makes contact with the ground, it becomes a tornado.
  • Mesocyclone (or “Meso”):  An area of rotation, usually around 2-6 miles in diameter, located in a supercell thunderstorm that signifies a potential tornado development zone.
  • Hook Echo: A radar pattern characterized by a hook-shaped display. Often associated with a mesocyclone, it indicates favorable conditions for tornado development.
  • Shear: Fluctuation in wind speed and/or direction over a short distance in the atmosphere. A crucial element for rotation.
  • Squall Line: A line of intense thunderstorms, either continuous or with intervals
  • Derecho: A widespread and typically swift-moving windstorm triggered by a line of intense thunderstorms. They generate damaging straight-line winds over expanses hundreds of miles long and over 100 miles wide.
  • Downburst: A potent downdraft from an intense thunderstorm. Downdrafts can produce destructive winds at ground level.
  • Gust front: The leading edge of vigorous surface winds from thunderstorm downdrafts
  • Scud: Small, frayed, low cloud fragments that are not connected to a larger cloud base. Sometimes mistaken for funnel clouds.

ADDITIONAL TERMS FOR SEVERE WEATHER

Receive crucial weather notifications using the FOX Weather app

Mobile devices have made it simpler than ever to stay up to date on the weather. Before severe storms hit, make sure your device is fully charged and configured to receive weather alerts.

The FOX Weather app can provide alerts whenever severe weather is approaching your area. Here’s how to set them up:

  • Select the gear icon in the top left corner of the home screen.
  • Tap “Locations,” and ensure that you have enabled the “Enable current location” feature.
  • Return and then select “Notification Management.” Verify that the “Current Location” option is turned on under “Severe Weather Alerts.”

You can also access live FOX Weather coverage at any time within the app by tapping the “Watch” button.

Hopefully, severe weather will not disrupt the big game, but if it does, you’ll be prepared to evade its impact.



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