What to watch to learn of severe weather

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-118902522224550.jpg’, ‘Photo courtesy of celebrating200years.noaa.gov’, ‘The 1965 Palm Sunday tornado outbreak was a turning point for the National Weather Service. A massive double-funnel tornado near Dunlap, Ind., between Goshen and Elkhart, tore up everything in its path. Photo courtesy of Paul Huffman of the Elkhart Truth.‘);

Living in a city with no storm sirens, I tend to watch local weather and The Weather Channel a lot. You never know when it may save your life.

I don’t sleep well during storms, so whenever thunder, strong winds or heavy rains wake me during the night, I turn on the TV to see 1) if I need to panic, and 2) how long it might be before I’ll be able to get back to sleep.

I live on a hill, so excessive rain doesn’t affect me like it does the people near Keith Creek who’ve been so hard hit in recent months, or people near the Rock River who know the river could overflow its banks with just one more torrential rain.

Even so, water is seeping into my basement, so every couple hours I’m downstairs mopping and re-positioning fans to help dry the water while reminding myself I’m one of the lucky ones. Yet, I constantly check TV weather, hoping the local radar will show the rain is going north or south of us, or dissipating altogether.

Even before the latest flood, I couldn’t imagine the desperation people living near Churchill Park felt when the local radar showed storms “training” over Rockford, with Doppler estimates saying we had more rain in one day than we normally get all month.

Unpleasant as they sometimes are, forecasts alert us to possible danger from wind, rain, tornadoes, even ice and snow.

Forecasts aren’t infallible, so I like to compare all of the local forecasts and the Weather Channel’s “Local on the 8s” to see which scenario seems most likely.

On a recent weekend, WTVO’s Eric Nefstead noted some storms might dip into our area overnight. He joked about sleeping with his NOAA Weather Radio on so he could wake up and rush to the studio at the first sign of severe weather. Meanwhile, WIFR’s Mark Henderson said the threat of severe weather was slight, and probably wouldn’t arrive until nearly dawn.

Around 2 a.m., the sound of thunder woke me up. (Of course, that’s happened so often in recent weeks I could have the time wrong.) Tons of lightning. My dog was freaking out. So I checked the local channels, now and then flipping to the Weather Channel for our “Local on the 8s.” Nefstead was on the air within minutes, WREX had someone on the air, and WIFR aired an AccuWeather broadcast.

Every so often, AccuWeather repeated part of WIFR’s 10 p.m. forecast, with Henderson saying there was little threat of severe weather overnight, while the National Weather Service Severe Thunderstorm Warning scrolled along the bottom of the screen. That’s the first time I can recall bursting into laughter while waiting out a severe thunderstorm.

You can’t blame Henderson, since meteorologists use several different models to predict when and where weather will hit. They’re basically interpreting the odds of what might happen when, and even then weather can be highly unpredictable. But you have to admit, it was funny.

Local weather resources on the Web

www.wifr.com has Instant Alerts

www.wrex.com has eAlerts and Personal Forecast

www.mystateline.com (for WTVO and Fox39) has Your Weather Cast

www.weather.com is The Weather Channel’s Web site, where you can sign up for mobile phone alerts and “Weather Your Way”

www.accuweather.com has e-mail alerts and the iPhone Weather Widget

Paula Hendrickson is a regular contributor to Emmy magazine and Variety. Send in your Tube Talk suggestions to tubetalking-paula@yahoo.com.

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