How to make sure you’re ready

With Colorado’s inclement weather season well underway, there’s no better time than now to prepare for severe storms. Here in Colorado, we are no strangers to the extreme and unusual weather conditions that occur at any time of the year. From blizzards and flash floods to forest fires and tornadoes, we all get them. But right now, in May, June, July and August, severe storms that carry hail, high winds and sometimes tornadoes tend to sweep through our landscapes more frequently.

If you were here for the billion dollar hail disaster in May 2017, you know that hail and severe storms are no joke and can quickly get expensive. Lightning strikes and flash floods from severe storms are some of Colorado’s deadliest types of weather, and destructive winds can cause a huge problem for anyone in their path.

To avoid any unexpected severe storm trauma, the best thing you can do is prepare for any severe weather that we may encounter in Colorado in the spring and summer.

To understand threats, you need to understand forecasts. The Storm Prediction Center (SPC) based in Norman, Okla., Monitors severe storms and publishes a daily threat-based forecast. These range from a general risk of afternoon storms to a “high” risk of damaging storms hitting an area.

At the start of a severe weather day, these threat levels will likely be the first thing you see in a morning forecast. The areas exposed to these risks are generally quite large and can cover several states.

Then come the watches and warnings. A watch, which can be a severe storm watch or a tornado watch, means “beware” of possible severe storms. When these “watches” are issued, they typically include a smaller, more refined area, equivalent to half the size of the state of Colorado, such as the Eastern Plains.

A severe thunderstorm or tornado “warning” is very localized and typically includes parts of counties that are about to be struck by a severe thunderstorm or tornado. Having a way to be alerted to these types of warnings is essential during inclement weather season. Use a NOAA weather radio or the FEMA app to receive these alerts quickly. Most “warnings” will be sent to your phone as a Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) if your location at that time is in the threat zone.

Tornadoes

The threat of a tornado in Colorado increases in May and continues through August. Ninety percent of Colorado’s tornadoes occur during that four-month period, but tornadoes have been reported as early as February and through November. According to the NWS, on average Colorado experiences 53 tornadoes per year and they have occurred in most areas of the state, but historically 95% of tornadoes occur along and east of Interstate 25. where heat and humidity in the lower atmosphere are often more abundant. . Tornadoes can occur at any time of the day, but most occur between 1 p.m. and 8 p.m.

An easy phrase to remember for tornado safety is “get in, get down and cover yourself”. Enter a sturdy building, descend to the lowest floor or most interior rooms, and cover your head. The best option for tornado safety is to be inside a well-built structure in a basement, safe room, or underground storm shelter. If neither of these options are available, move to a hallway or small interior room on the lowest level, such as a closet or bathroom. A room without windows is preferable.

Flash floods

In case of flooding turn around, don't drown - NWS chart
NWS chart

Flash floods refer to a sudden and dangerous rise in water along a stream, river, or area of ​​normally dry land. Flash floods can occur within minutes or hours and can travel at surprisingly high speeds, hitting with little warning. These types of events are quite destructive due to the force of moving water and accumulating debris, such as trees and rocks, which can destroy roads, bridges, and buildings.

Burn scars from forest fires are a complication of flash flood forecasting. Heavy rains on burn scars, even for a brief period of time, can cause flash floods and debris flows. Burn scars pose a higher risk of flooding for up to five years after a forest fire. Residents in and near burned areas should plan in advance for flood response. Almost half of all flash flood deaths are vehicle-related – don’t enter a flooded roadway, instead, ‘turn around, don’t drown’. In rapidly rising waters, backing away from the water may be safer. One or two feet of water will wash away most vehicles, and you also can’t tell if the road is damaged under moving water.

Greet

Bethune, CO Hailstone - Photo by the NWS
Photo provided by an employee of the NWS

Hail often occurs in Colorado. Hail forms in storms while liquid water freezes in the middle and upper cold levels of storms. Hailstones are kept aloft by strong upward winds for some time, then fall to the ground. In Colorado, hailstones range from the size of a pea, about 3/8 inch in diameter, to the size of a softball, about 4 1/2 inches in diameter. State record hail fell on Bethune on August 13, 2019. Measuring 4.38 inches, it had a circumference of almost 13 inches and weighed over half a pound.

Hailstones can cause enormous damage to crops, either as large hailstones or as a build-up of large numbers of small hailstones to a depth of several inches. If you find yourself outside in a hailstorm, the first thing to do is to immediately take shelter in the way you can. Hailstones can fall to the ground at speeds of 40 to 100 km / h and can be the size of a tennis ball or a soft ball, and something of this magnitude flying towards the ground can cause injury to humans. and animals. Parking your car under some sort of blanket will help minimize damage to your vehicle, but hail is rather difficult to predict, especially where large damaging hail will fall, so preparing for severe storms, in general, is the way to go. best way to compensate for any unforeseen events. met.

Lightning

Lightning typically kills and injures more people in Colorado than any other thunderstorm hazard. Looking at National Weather Service lightning data from 1980 to 2019, lightning killed 99 people and injured 485 people in Colorado.

Colorado Lightning Victims - NWS Colorado Lightning Resource Page
NWS Colorado Lightning Resource Page

Lightning also ignites most forest and range fires in the Centennial State. Many of these forest fires occur when lightning is generated by thunderstorms that produce little or no precipitation. This type of lightning is called dry lightning.

The safest thing for you to do, if you are outside and lightning or thunder begins to occur, is to immediately enter inside a fully enclosed building such as a house, a business or a church. Cars and trucks with metal roofs also provide excellent lightning protection. Once inside, keep all windows and doors closed and do not touch any metal inside the vehicle. It is recommended to wait at least 30 minutes after the last roar of thunder before returning outside.

As the inclement weather season continues, remember to take these threats seriously and always know the forecast before you set out to explore our wonderful state. Afternoon thunderstorms are almost a guarantee during the summer months and those caught outdoors hiking or enjoying the water can find themselves in a strong or severe storm that can result in multiple dangers and being prepared for them is a good way to insure yourself. stay safe and ready.

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