Personal Safety

Situational Awareness (AKA Be Alert!)

This section has very little to do with severe weather spotting. It has much more to do with personal safety. While WARN’s mission is the former, many people look to us for the latter also. We receive many inquiries from people wanting information on severe weather safety. Since the main goal of our mission is improved public safety, we feel that addressing some of the safety aspects of severe weather is another avenue of achieving our goal.

Some time ago, I exchanged some eMail with one of the television meteorologists in the Cincinnati area. He stated that he attended a seminar where the topic of SITUATIONAL AWARENESS was discussed. His comments kind of struck a nerve with me. It seems so obvious, yet so many people seem to miss the point. This is a fancy term for being alert. One of the most common uses of the term situational awareness relates to pilots being alert to what factors are affecting the operation of their plane, including performance of the plane, other aircraft in the area, terrain, weather, and in military situations, what the enemy is doing around you.

When it comes to severe weather, situational awareness is the best way to insure your safety. It’s hard to turn on a radio or television without being exposed to weather information. It’s readily available on the Internet. Most severe weather events are discussed hours, or in some cases, days in advance. Why is it then, that so many people say they were taken by surprise when severe weather occurs? The fact is that many people want someone to point a finger at them and say “It’s time for YOU to seek shelter”. Until then, they won’t do it. The fact is, forecasting severe weather is not an exact science. The NWS is now better than ever at forecasting severe weather, but it is not perfect. Therefore, a large part of your safety is YOUR RESPONSIBILITY.

If you see or hear a weather forecast in the morning that says severe weather is possible later in the day, that is your cue to be on heightened alert. The definition of a severe weather watch is that “conditions exist that are favorable for” whatever the watch is for; tornadoes, severe thunderstorms, etc. That means be ready for it. It doesn’t mean “We’ll issue a warning before you really have to worry”. Sometimes time doesn’t permit. So when a watch is issued, be ready for immediate action. Keep a TV tuned to a local station. Better yet, stay near a weather radio. Most of all, use common sense. If the sky turns threatening, take shelter. Don’t wait for someone to tell you to.