Chances are that if you’re a student at Union University, you’ve had the unpleasant experience of dealing with the threats posed by severe weather. Union’s unique location near what is now coined “Dixie Alley” or “The New Tornado Alley” puts it in the threat zone for strong storms more frequently than most other places in America. Each year a variety of weather hazards impact campus, none more dangerous, however, than those that include the threat for tornadoes. Knowing how to properly respond to these threats is an important part of living at Union, and one that every student should take seriously. In order to help you know more about these threats and make your life less stressful when they occur, I have compiled a list of helpful weather tips for next time stormy weather impacts campus.
Know what to expect, but don’t freak out –
Most severe weather at Union is advertised at least a day or so in advance. Have a method for being informed on these matters. Follow a local meteorologist on social media, be friends with Union’s own weather geek (that’s me), or have some other way to check into local/reliable sources. Weather apps can be great products for day to day weather forecasts but are not well suited for detailing severe weather threats. Also remember that a forecast is just that, a prediction. It is not designed to cause fear, but to provide you with the opportunity to plan ahead and make informed decisions.
Know the terminology –
What is the difference between a tornado warning and a tornado watch? This is one of the severe weather questions I get asked the most. A tornado watch is issued to alert people to the possibility of a tornado developing in your area. At this point, a tornado has not been seen but the conditions are very favorable for tornadoes to occur at any moment. The watch area is typically large, covering numerous counties or even states, and is often in effect for many hours.
A tornado warning means that a tornado has been sighted or indicated by weather radar. There is imminent danger to life and property. Warnings typically encompass a much smaller area (around the size of a city or small county) that may be impacted by a tornado identified by a forecaster on radar or by a trained spotter/law enforcement who is watching the storm.
Know what to do –
As Union students, this has been drilled into our brains from day one. In the event of a tornado warning, we are told to take shelter in the bathrooms of a lower floor dorm. If you are in the library, the first floor bathrooms are where you take shelter.
However, there are situations where this is obviously not an option. One of the most dangerous places to be during a tornado is on the road. If a tornado warning is issued while you are driving, the best option is to pull into the nearest public building and seek shelter in a restroom. Small interior rooms in sturdy buildings are ideal, but don’t spend too long trying to find the perfect location and risk being caught outside.
Don’t become complacent –
It’s easy to do. Union experiences an average of two tornado warnings per year, a large majority of which are never actually accompanied by a tornado. This is complicated even further by an alert system that is initiated by warnings which may not even affect campus (but simply clip a portion of Madison county). Despite attempts by the NWS to move away from county based warnings through the use of polygons, this has yet to become incorporated into many local warning systems (such as tornado sirens or UU alerts). Such a situation took place earlier this year when a tornado warning more than 14 miles south of campus initiated UU and city alert systems, despite the storm never posing a threat to the University (see image).
As a result of such inconsistencies, I have observed the tendency of Union students to react nonchalantly to many warnings. While it may seem that most are unwarranted, playing the odds is a very dangerous game. There may be times when a tornado warning is issued and you have very little time to respond. Unless you have access to information indicating otherwise, it is wise to treat every warning as though a tornado is imminent.
Get a good radar app –
I believe everyone has the capacity to understand detailed radar data. Unfortunately the radar imagery provided to you by most weather apps is low quality data that often lags and is highly misleading. Being able to observe storms ahead of time on radar, along with accompanying warnings can be a huge help as you anticipate severe weather. One of the best sources of detailed radar and storm information is the user friendly RadarScope™ application. I highly recommend this product to anyone who wants access to high resolution radar data and warnings. This product is available on the the iOS and Android app stores. You can also check out their website here: www.radarscope.app.
*written by Grant Wise. You can follow his Union weather updates on his Facebook page!