Spring weather threats

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- While it's not news to natives of the Midwest, newcomers to Whiteman may be shocked when they watch a calm Missouri afternoon sky darken as a thunderstorm rolls in with a vengeance, spouts its sound and fury, and rolls out in a matter of minutes.

Though tornadoes may be the most infamous among severe weather phenomena, the truth is, other events such as flash-flooding and hailstorms cause more deaths and damage to property per year, according to National Weather Service. Because each Spring weather threat brings with it its own potentially "killer" effect, it is important for Whiteman members to be informed.

Flash-flooding events kill an average of 140 people per year, making it the most lethal of the Spring weather threats, according to National Weather Service. The majority of these deaths occur at night, when people try to cross running water in their vehicles and are swept away.

Hailstorms occur much more often than tornadoes and account for more than $1 billion in damage to crops and property each year, on average. Some larger stones fall at a rate of more than 100 miles per hour.

Spinning winds are dangerous, but when wind blows in a straight line at more than 100 miles per hour, the effects can become more wide-spread. Straight-line winds can be as dangerous as tornadoes, and aren't as visible, adding to their lethality.

The National Weather Service classifies weather threats and issues advisories to TV and radio stations to broadcast. Here are the terms and their meanings:

Tornado - A violently rotating column of air, usually pendant to a cumulonimbus, with circulation reaching the ground. It nearly always starts as a funnel cloud and may be accompanied by a loud roaring noise. On a local scale, it is the most destructive of all atmospheric phenomena

Severe Thunderstorm - A thunderstorm that produces a tornado, winds of at least 58 mph (50 knots), and/or hail at least ¾" in diameter. Structural wind damage may imply the occurrence of a severe thunderstorm. A thunderstorm wind equal to or greater than 40 mph (35 knots) and/or hail of at least ½" is defined as approaching severe.

Flash Flood - A flood which is caused by heavy or excessive rainfall in a short period of time, generally less than 6 hours. Also, at times a dam failure can cause a flash flood, depending on the type of dam and time period during which the break occurs.

Tornado Watch: Tornadoes are possible in your area. Remain alert for approaching storms. Know what counties or parishes are in the watch area by listening to NOAA Weather Radio or your local radio/television outlets.

Severe Thunderstorm Watch: Tells you when and where severe thunderstorms are likely to occur. Watch the sky and stay tuned to know when warnings are issued.

Flash Flood Watch - Issued to indicate current or developing hydrologic conditions that are favorable for flash flooding in and close to the watch area, but the occurrence is neither certain or imminent.

Tornado Warning: A tornado has been sighted or indicated by weather radar.

Severe Thunderstorm Warning: Issued when severe weather has been reported by spotters or indicated by radar. Warnings indicate imminent danger to life and property to those in the path of the storm.

Flash Flood Warning - Issued to inform the public, emergency management, and other cooperating agencies that flash flooding is in progress, imminent, or highly likely.

When the sky turns black on what seems to be a perfect, spring day, keep a wary eye on the weather. Unlike other aspects of life in the Midwest, the weather is one thing that moves fast.