Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Tornado Watch Issued Six Hours Before Monday Tornado in NJ

Monday's tornado touchdown location. Image from NWS.
New Jersey’s latest tornado occurred on Monday in Paramus, Bergen County. The National Weather Service in Upton, New York, which handles the forecasting and warnings for that area, has confirmed that an EF1 tornado touched down around 3:16 PM with maximum wind speeds estimated to be around 100 MPH. The path width was 100 yards and the path length was 1.25 miles long.

The tornado that occurred was the typical type that New Jersey experiences. It quickly spun up and then diminished—all within a few minutes—and it was a weak tornado. These factors made it very difficult for meteorologists to detect it and a tornado warning was not issued as a result. There was a severe thunderstorm warning in effect for Bergen County at the time the tornado occurred. 

But the real story here was that residents of Bergen County had a solid 6 hours to prepare for a possible tornado. The Storm Prediction Center placed all of New Jersey and surrounding areas in a tornado watch box at 9:00 AM meaning conditions were favorable for the development of severe weather, including tornadoes. Individuals had sufficient opportunity to check their preparedness requirements and review their plan of action for tornadoes. It is certainly possible that the watch may have saved lives on Monday. The tornado watch likely prompted individuals to tune into local media and as a result, they kept an eye to the sky which allowed them to respond to the sudden appearance of a tornado. 0 injuries and 0 fatalities occurred Monday while the tornado was on the ground. 

Tornado Watch that was issued on Monday Morning at 9:00 AM.
Sometimes we can become complacent when a tornado watch is issued in our region since tornadoes are very isolated in nature and most areas don’t see anything more than the typical downpour in any given thunderstorm. It is easy to be complacent, but a mistake that can cost lives. How many times have tornado watches come and gone and we wake up the next day and everything is still here around our homes, untouched? Just look at Monday—the watch covered 6 states and this was the only tornado. Many also will quickly point to the fact that it is not the Midwest or South where tornadoes are larger, stronger, and more widespread. These factors make it an everyday battle for area forecasters who try to encourage individuals to take action on watch days. However, even the weakest tornadoes can do quite a bit of damage and result in fatalities. It only takes one in the right spot to inflict large amounts of casualties. 
Remember, tornado watches also imply that damaging winds and large hail is possible. Several reports of damaging wind gusts occurred in the watch area, especially in New York.  

The bottom line is watches do mean something and serve a purpose. You shouldn’t ever dismiss them. When a watch is issued, you shouldn’t wait until a warning is issued to take action. No, you shouldn't run into the basement as soon as a watch is issued. But there are things you should do as soon as a watch is active for your county. It is always a good idea to postpone regular activities on these days until the next good weather day—especially in this part of the United States where tornadoes occur with limited to no lead time due to their quick formation and weak strength. Tune in frequently to your favorite media outlet. Check the radar for changing conditions. Ensure that you have a spot free inside an interior closet if you don't have a basement. Make sure you have a flashlight and a battery powered radio ready to go. Don't forget to check the batteries! Find a blanket and have it available-to cover yourself in the event of flying debris. These are just some suggestions. There are many more out there.

Did you take action on Monday? If so, what did you do? Will you consider taking action in the future when a tornado watch is in effect? Odds are many schools remained open and many businesses did as well. It might be impractical to shut these facilities, but you can certainly be vigilant and ready and avoid any unnecessary activities.

For Paramus, it appears the watch served its purpose.