Severe Weather Awareness Week
Host: Rachael Hoagland
Guest: Robert Swanson, Director USGS Nebraska Water Science Center
Guest: David Pearson, Service Hydrologist, National Weather Service
Rachael Hoagland: Welcome to the 13th episode of Nebraskast, where we talk with real USGS scientists about the important water resources work they're doing all over Nebraska. My name is Rachael Hoagland. Today we're here with Bob Swanson, director of the US Geological Survey Nebraska Water Science Center, and David Pearson, a service hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Omaha. Severe weather awareness week is coming up here in Nebraska, March 25th through the 29th. Dave, I'm going to ask you the first question. What kind of severe weather can we expect going into the next few weeks, and when? David Pearson: Well, in Nebraska we'll see all kinds of severe weather, as we do pretty much every summer. Large hail, strong winds, and tornadoes are all a threat, just like every year. We're just beginning the time period where we can start worrying about severe weather, especially into April. The big months, though, are generally May, June, and a July, which is when we see our most severe weather. Rachael: Bob, I would like you to describe a little bit about how the US Geological Survey works with the National Weather Service to help protect lives and property. Bob Swanson: Well the US Geological Survey and the National Weather Service have some common ground between them where we're both very interested in heavy rainfall and flooding events, but our missions are very different. The US Geological Survey collects a lot of the information that the National Service needs to be able to make predictions. That's where the US Geological Survey mission ends. We don't do the predicting. The National Weather Service does. Rachael: Dave, how is severe weather different for the Midwest compared to other parts of the country? What should people be doing to prepare? David: The severe weather we see here runs the full gamut. We do see everything, the large hail, the strong winds, the tornadoes. I would say, though, here we see a lot of the large hail and winds. We still get tornadoes, obviously, about 50 or so per year in Nebraska. But certainly here we tend to favor the large hail and the winds compared to, say, areas further south, into Oklahoma and Texas and even into the Deep South too. Rachael: What should they be doing in anticipation of some of these kinds of weather? David: Well, I think the best thing to do is to think about it before it happens. If you're going to be at home, have a plan for what you're going to do if there's a tornado or a bad storm coming at you. Do you have a place that you can seek shelter? Do you have a way to get the information? These days there's many ways to get information, smart phones, NOAA Weather Radio, the Internet, TV. But think about those things before the event actually occurs. Where am I going to get the information and what am I going to do when I hear it? Rachael: Bob, we all know that flood can be a risk during this time of year when we get large amounts of precipitation. Most Nebraskans know that we're coming out of a very big drought year. We're probably going into another drought year. How is that going to affect our flood risk this spring and summer? Bob: The fact that we've been through the driest year on record for Nebraska doesn't mean that there's less of a risk for severe weather. In fact, during a drought storms tend to be of a higher intensity as opposed to during a wet period where we get more rainfall but the intensity is less. We can expect to have, perhaps, some more-severe storms during a drought. Rachael: Dave, what are some of the tools that the National Weather Service has that people should be aware of that they can access and get more information about what might be happening hour to hour or minute to minute? David: To get information about severe weather there's obviously our website, weather.gov/Omaha. From there you'll get the latest forecast, the latest warnings that are in effect, access to our radar data to see where the storms are going, where they're traveling, if you're in the path. Again, when it comes to severe weather, it's best to know how you're going to get the information from us, whether that's from the NOAA Weather Radio, from your smartphone, from the local TV. Have an idea of where it's coming from, to start. Rachael: I'd also heard that you're going to be updating your radar system here very shortly and that might be offline for some time. Can you give us an idea of what that window is and what you're improve capabilities will be as a result of the updated system? David: Starting March 18th our radar is going to be taken offline for maybe up to two weeks. We're hoping for less, but for several days we will not have a radar at the Valley/Omaha office. That's to upgrade our radar to better technology that will allow us to better estimate rainfall, to see storms better, and improve especially rainfall detection, but also help improve some detection of severe weather, too. There's a lot of information on what that upgrade actually entails, again, on our website, weather.gov/Omaha. It outlines the specifics of what we're doing. When our radar's down, though, what we'll have to do is utilize other radars like at Hastings and North Flats, Sioux Falls, as well as satellites, to bridge the gap if there is severe weather that's going on. We're not going to be without information. Rachael: Bob, what about some of the USGS tools that you want to make sure that listeners know about as we go into the spring? Bob: Well, if the listeners are living near waterways, rivers, that have stream gauges on them, we have a couple of tools. One of them is Water Alert, which you can subscribe to. We'll list the URL for that later. If a particular stream is rising, when it gets to a certain point that you set, it will send you an alert either by text message or email, you choose. Another tool is called Water Now. That's more of an interactive tool that you can simply put a USGS stream gauge number and send a text or an email request and it will return what the current value is within a few seconds. Bob: Well I think both Dave and I, what we want you to be is to be aware. Know that there's tools that you can use, both the National Weather Service and the US Geological Survey, to be able to help to stay prepared. There's a lot of things that every family should do. You should have an emergency preparation kit put together with 24 hours of food and water that, if you need it, you've got it. Rachael: Alright, well I'd like to thank both of you for taking the time to talk to me today. David: Thank you. Bob: Thank you.
Severe weather season is upon us. Director of the USGS Nebraska Water Science Center, Robert Swanson, and National Weather Service Hydrologist David Pearson discuss tools to stay connected and the importance of having a safety plan in the event of severe weather.