Severe weather may play tricks on residents of west central Minnesota this year
MORRIS — Although 2012 was an unusually quiet year for tornadoes and damaging winds in the Upper Midwest, it was an active season for much of Stevens County.
While it’s still early to look at trends for the upcoming severe weather season, some indications show the region could expect a more active season.
In advance of Severe Weather Awareness Week and local training for severe weather spotters next weekend, we’ll offer a recap on the 2012 season, a look at what Stevens County residents can expect in 2013 and share resources for staying informed about severe weather events in the community.
2012 season kicked off strong
Mother Nature wasted little time in kicking off the 2012 severe weather season for Stevens County; coincidentally, she did so April 21, the same day as the local weather spotter training class in Morris.
Shortly after the class, the area was hit with a round of tornadoes, hail and very heavy rainfall. A confirmed EF-0 tornado touched down in a farm field in rural Everglade Township just northwest of Chokio. The same storms then went on to produce hail and funnel clouds to the east near Donnelly and another EF-0 tornado in neighboring Swift and Chippewa counties near Milan.
Other significant local severe weather events in 2012 included a widespread damaging wind and large hail event on Father’s Day, June 17, and two damaging large hail events in August. One occurred Aug. 15, producing golf ball- to tennis ball-sized hail and strong winds near Morris and Donnelly. The other was on Aug. 23, when golf ball-sized hail fell for more than 20 minutes and caused significant crop, vehicle and structural damage near and southwest of Hancock.
Looking ahead to 2013
At this point it is anyone’s guess as to exactly how the severe weather season will unfold. Long-range forecast model data and current climate pattern trends are suggesting a more normal to active severe weather season compared to 2012.
This is largely due in part to northern states staying much cooler, longer into the spring and the southern states becoming warm very quickly and remaining that way through the early summer. This could keep the main storm track parked up over Minnesota and North and South Dakota, potentially increasing the chance for severe weather.
Staying informed in Stevens County
Many new and useful information-gathering tools and personal alerting resources are available to receive severe weather alerts and other critical emergency information this spring.
The Stevens County Sheriff’s Office of Emergency Management uses an advanced Emergency Alert Notification System that sends out civil emergency notifications and significant severe weather alerts via phone, text message, pagers, fax, teletype and email.
This notification system is specifically designed to warn the public of in-progress or imminent significant threats to public safety and/or property within Stevens County.
The Stevens County Sheriff’s Office also uses social media and local radio stations for disseminating emergency information to the public, including a Facebook page at www.facebook.com/StevensCountySheriffsOffice.
The sheriff’s office has also been proactive in providing cutting-edge severe weather spotter training, as well as continuing education to its dispatchers, deputies, local first responders, firefighters and other critical emergency services staff within the county.
Some new weather alerting information coming online from the National Weather Service for 2013 will include the new Impact Based Warnings System, which will use highly enhanced wording based on the severity of the type of weather and situation at hand.
For example, if a developing tornado is suggested by radar data but has not been confirmed, a tornado warning may still be issued but with less enhanced wording than a tornado that has been confirmed on the ground by law enforcement or trained weather spotters.
This new system’s goal is to help reduce the public complacency to severe weather warnings and reduce false alarms.
People also might consider buying a weather alert radio from an electronics store. The radios, which automatically alert to severe weather warnings in your specific area or county, typically cost $40 to $70.
Severe Weather Awareness Week
Minnesota’s Severe Weather Awareness Week will be April 15-19, with a different topic covered each day. People interested in becoming a trained volunteer weather spotter for the National Weather Service, or those just interested in severe storms, can attend a free local spotter training course from 2 to 4 p.m. April 6 at the West Central Research and Outreach Center in Morris. For more information on the course, call Nick Elms at 763-516-1146.