As spring approaches, so does severe weather season

Nick Mikulas is a contributing meteorologist for KALB.
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ALEXANDRIA, La. (KALB) - This surge of warm springlike air got me thinking about our rapidly approaching severe weather season.

I started digging through some research on watches, warnings, and found that in a typical year, our area sees 12-15 tornado watches, along with 8-12 severe thunderstorm watches. So in a given year, I’ll assume an average there are 24 watches, at roughly 6 hours apiece. That means that, on average, we are under a threat of severe weather, to the point that these products are issued, for about 144 hours, or 6 full days in a year.

Then I dug deeper. Strap in, because here come some numbers.

I used the date I arrived in Alexandria, which was January 18, 2002, as my starting date. Since that day, just over 16 years ago, we’ve had 104 tornado warnings in Alexandria, spanning almost 54 hours. Or about 6.5 tornado warnings per year. These numbers were skewed a bit by the tornado warning fiasco that surrounded Hurricane Gustav. If I go only on post-Gustav numbers, we still average about 5.8 tornado warnings per year. This omits all severe thunderstorm warnings, and only includes warnings for the city of Alexandria itself. I’m going somewhere with all of this, so stay with me.

Of those 104 warnings in Alexandria, I found 4 confirmed reports of tornado damage in, or very near to, the city limits. There was a small tornado in south Alexandria August 3, 2002. We had the December 9, 2008 tornado that touched down at the airport and ended near I-49. We had the December 25, 2012 Christmas tornado that impacted areas of the Garden District and downtown. And of course, there was the April 2, 2017 tornado from last year that rolled right through town from south to north. There have been other damage reports with these warnings, but these were the confirmed tornadoes. In that span of 16 years, there have been 24 confirmed tornadoes in Rapides Parish. Eight of those were EF0, 13 were EF1, and 3 were EF2.

There are a few takeaways here. First off, even with the advanced technology we have today, tornado forecasting, even in the very near term, is hard. I can’t guarantee my numbers are 100% accurate, but they are close. The data is skewed here because I’m only showing tornadoes that have impacted Alexandria. The false alarm rate isn’t as high as I’m showing when you include the entire tornado warning area, and other tornadoes that have impacted the parish. Basically, the National Weather Service does an incredible job, and they are continually getting better. However, this kind of data tends to breed apathy, and it’s a dangerous attitude to have.

The way I see it is, we were under a tornado warning for 53.6 hours out of a little more than 16 years. Or 0.038% of those 16 years. Or about 3 hours and 20 minutes each year. 200 minutes each year where we ask you to inconvenience yourself and seek shelter. I know it sounds trite to say things like “have a plan”, but you really should, and it doesn’t have to be complex.

The main things are finding the spot in your house with the most walls between you and outside, doing all you can to not travel into threatening weather, and I know this is more of an inconvenience, but try and find a substantial shelter or family member to stay with if you’re in a mobile home. Even if that’s only during the events we deem to be potentially significant. Of course, ideally, you would be able to get to that safe place during any event. Trust me, I’m not saying that’s easy to do. But it’s very important to think calmly about what you would do in the event of a potential tornado bearing down on you and your family before the event is unfolding.

I still believe we were incredibly blessed to only see the damage we saw on April 2nd last year. That storm had all the hallmarks of being a large, significant tornado, right through the heart of town. I take that as our get out of jail free card. Just be alert, pay attention to the warnings, and trust the team at KALB. We are watching this stuff 24 hours a day, and will keep all of Central Louisiana informed as severe weather season approaches.

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